SSI Disability vs. Social Security Disability Benefits: What’s the Difference Between SSI and SSDI?

by Lisa Allen   ·  3 months ago  

Confused about the differences between SSI disability and Social Security disability benefits? You’re not alone! It can be hard to understand these programs when you’re applying for benefits on your own.

Let’s break it down here a bit in a way you don’t need an attorney to understand. First, SSI (Supplemental Security Income) pays benefits to children and adults with very few resources, little to no income, and no recent work history.

Meanwhile, SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) pays benefits to disabled adults with a minimum work history and documented payment into the social security trust fund, little to no income, and no means of continuing to work. Here’s a breakdown of the benefits and eligibility requirements for both SSI and SSDI so you can find the best disability program to help you.

SSI vs SSDI: A Comparison of Both Programs

  • SSI provides benefits to those with limited resources or income and no recent work history, while SSDI is for disabled adults with a work history and little to no income.
  • SSI benefits are funded by federal tax revenue, while SSDI benefits are funded by Social Security payroll taxes.
  • SSI maximum monthly benefits are $943 for individuals and $1,415 for married couples, while SSDI benefits vary based on work history and earnings.
  • To qualify for SSI, applicants must be age 65 or older, have low income and resources, or have a qualifying disability or blindness, while SSDI applicants must meet Social Security’s definition of disability and have a sufficient number of work credits.
  • SSI qualifies applicants with Medicaid healthcare benefits, while SSDI provides applicants with Medicare benefits after a 2-year waiting period.

What is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

SSI disability caters to three specific types of people:

  • People who haven’t worked in at least 5 years. This includes stay-at-home parents and people caring for aging parents or relatives.
  • People age 65 and older, simply by virtue of their age.
  • Children and working-age adults who are either blind or have a qualifying disability.

The SSI program pays benefits funded by the federal government’s general tax revenue. There is a limit to how much SSI a person can receive: $943 per month for an individual or $1,415 for married couples.

Eligibility Criteria for SSI

People aged 65 or older that meet the program’s low income and resource limits should automatically qualify for SSI benefits. Unlike Social Security disability, you don’t have to show your employment history to collect SSI disability. This is because the money for SSD benefits comes from a dedicated Social Security payroll tax. However, not all people work in jobs that pay into the Social Security trust funds. Some examples of people who might not qualify for SSD despite their work history include Realtors, teachers, and state or federal employees.

You must, however, fall below a certain income limit in order to qualify for SSI disability. SSI calls this income Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). Work is “substantial” if it involves significant physical or mental effort (or a combination of both). The program defines “gainful” as work that you perform for pay or profit, even if your employer fails to profit from it.

The SGA amount for people with disabilities other than blindness is $1,550 per month in 2024. For a blind person, that amount is $2,590.

Additionally, since SSI helps disabled people with little to no income, the SSA uses resource limits to decide who’s eligible. In order to qualify for monthly benefits, eligible SSI applicants must:

  • Have less than $2,000 in resources available to you individually (or $3,000 for couples). Your home, vehicle, wedding rings, clothing, appliances and furniture don’t count towards your resource limits in order to qualify for SSI. However, the SSA does count cash, savings bonds, land, life insurance and anything else you can sell towards this limit.
  • Receive less than $1,470 in monthly income. This is what the SSA calls “substantial gainful income,” and it covers more than just work wages. It also includes your non-wage earnings, like alimony, child support, dividends and earned interest as well as “free” housing or meals from family members.

What that means in plain English is that you cannot earn more than the amount shown above and qualify for SSI. This doesn’t mean, however, that all income you have access to will automatically count against you. Rent subsidies under HUD, for example, do not count as income when you apply for SSI. There are several other exceptions as well.

How Much SSI Disability Pays in Monthly Benefits

The maximum SSI disability pays each month in 2024 is $943 for an individual and $1,415 per month for a married couple.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) can reduce this amount if you have money coming in from other sources. Some examples of what we mean include things like workers’ comp payments or VA benefits.

The SSA can also deny your claim for SSI disability if your monthly income is higher than the maximum allowable limit, which is:

  • $1,550 per month for individuals who are not blind
  • $2,590 for blind applicants

So how can you be sure you know what income counts and what doesn’t when you apply for SSI? Many people find this part of the claim process very confusing. When in doubt, request a free consultation from a local attorney to review and discuss your situation.

Other Benefits That Come With SSI Approval

If you qualify for SSI disability, then you may also automatically qualify for other aid programs that offer significant advantages.

SSI disability approval usually qualifies you for SNAP benefits (i.e., Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). SNAP is what people commonly refer to as food stamps, or money to help pay for groceries each month. It might also qualify any school-age children in your home for free or reduced lunches. SNAP benefits can help you purchase things like:

  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Bread and grains
  • Meat and other proteins
  • Dairy products
  • Snack foods
  • Non-alcoholic drinks
  • Edible seeds and plants

However, you cannot spend SNAP benefits to purchase:

  • Alcohol
  • Live animals
  • Foods that are hot at the point of sale
  • Vitamins and supplements
  • Medications
  • Items that humans cannot eat, such as pet food or cleaning supplies

Qualifying for SSI disability also provides access to discounted health insurance through Medicaid. Once the SSA awards you SSI disability, your Medicaid coverage begins the same month as your benefit payments.

How Do I Apply for SSI?

To apply for SSI, you can go to the SSA application portal online. During the initial part of the process, you’ll need to provide the following information:

  • Name, date of birth, and Social Security number
  • Mailing address, telephone number, and email address (optional)
  • Name, phone number, and email address of anyone helping with your application, such as a lawyer

Upon completion of the online application, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will either mail or email you an appointment date for you to meet at your local Social Security office to continue the application. This appointment date will be provided within 7-14 days but may arrive sooner if you supplied an email address.

If you don’t have internet access or otherwise can’t apply for SSI online, you can also request an appointment at your local SSA office by calling 1-800-772-1213.

What is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

Whereas anyone over 65 or disabled with limited means to support themselves may qualify for SSI, you can only qualify for SSDI if you have an established work history. SSDI caters to individuals who:

  • Meet the SSA definition of disabled
  • Have a sufficient number of work credits based on your age
  • Have worked 5 out of the past 10 years (if 31 years or older)
  • Are between the ages of 18 and 64

Eligibility Criteria for SSDI

You may be eligible for SSDI disability benefits if you are between the ages of 18-64, are permanently disabled, and have a qualifying work history.

Unlike SSI, which anyone can access regardless of work history, SSDI benefits are only issued to individuals with sufficient work history where you paid Social Security taxes on your income. The program is designed for Americans who have worked but are no longer able to due to acquiring a disability.

To qualify for SSDI disability benefits, you will need to show your employment history to the SSA. The program operates by determining how many “work credits” you’ve earned over the lifetime of your employment history, with one work credit being earned for each quarter you worked and one year of work history accounting for 4 work credits.

The number of work credits you need to qualify depends on your age.

  • If you’re younger than 24: You need 6 work credits within the past 3 years
  • If you’re between 24 and 31: You need working credits to account for half the time between age 21 and the start of your disability
  • If you’re 31 or older: You need 40 work credits in total, with 20 credits having been earned in the 10-year period prior to the start of your disability

You can find out how many credits you currently have by logging into the SSA website, making an account, and viewing your credit earnings under “Eligibility and Earnings.” You can also request a statement via mail by printing, filling out, and mailing a “Request for Social Security Statement” form (Form SSA-7004).

In addition to having a substantial work history, you need to be able to prove that you have a serious medical condition that prevents you from working and is likely to last a year or more.

How Much SSDI Disability Pays in Monthly Benefits

The maximum monthly payment you can earn from SSDI is $3,822 per month, though most people aren’t likely to get that much. By comparison, the average SSDI benefit sits at around $1,537 monthly. Your monthly payment is calculated by looking at your average indexed monthly earnings (AIME), which is determined by how much you’ve earned and how much Social Security tax you’ve paid while working. Your benefits are based on this number.

Your wages are first adjusted for inflation, then reviewed to find your highest-earning 35 years of life. From there, they use that number to calculate your PIA, or your Primary Insurance Amount.

Your PIA is determined by breaking up your AIME into three slices:

  • The first $1,174 of earnings
  • Earnings between $1,175 and $7,078
  • Earnings above $7,078

They then take 90% of that first slice, 32% of the second slice, and 15% of the third slice, using that to calculate your final SSD earnings.

Other Benefits That Come With SSDI Approval

As with SSI, SSDI qualification offers a number of additional benefits besides monetary payments designed to help disabled individuals support themselves and live more comfortably. Chief among them is eligibility for Medicaid healthcare: Members of the SSDI program automatically qualify for Medicare after a 24-month waiting period from the start of benefits (if you have ALS, this waiting period is waived).

Though not tied directly to their SSDI benefit, most SSDI users also qualify for SNAP.

How Do I Apply for SSDI?

To apply for SSDI, visit the SSA website or call their phone number between 8 a.m and 7 p.m. to schedule an appointment. The SSA also supplies a TTY number for deaf and hard of hearing individuals, available during the same timeframe.

  • Website:
  • Phone Number: 1-800-772-1213
  • TTY Number: 1-800-325-0778

You will be expected to provide the following data:

  • Information about your condition
  • Social Security Number
  • Where you were born
  • Recent work history
  • Current and past marriages
  • Direct deposit information for benefit payments
  • Name of any eligible children

Key Differences Between SSI vs SSDI

While there is significant overlap in the relief SSI and SSDI provide for their beneficiaries, they’re as varied as they are similar. Here’s a quick look at how the two programs differ.

Eligibility based onAge (65+) OR blindness (any age) OR disability (any age) AND limited/no income and resourcesDisability AND sufficient work credits through own/family employment
When benefits begin1st full month after the date the claim was filed or, if later, the date found eligible for SSI6th full month of disability; 6-month period begins with the first full month after the date SSA decides the disability began
Average benefit (monthly)$676.60 (as of October 2023)$1,352.32 (as of October 2023)
Maximum benefit (monthly)$914/$1,371 (single/married couple) in 2023 (based on income)$3,636 in 2023 (based on work history)
Health insuranceAutomatically qualifies for Medicaid upon receipt of SSI (in most states)Automatically qualifies for Medicare after a 24-month waiting period from time benefits begin (no waiting period for persons with ALS)

Financial Benefits Can Vary Significantly Between SSI and SSDI

When you’re asking, ‘What’s the difference between SSI and SSDI?’ one of the biggest answers is the amount each program pays out. The maximum monthly payment for SSI is $943 for individuals and $1,415 for married couples as of 2024. Meanwhile, the current maximum payment for SSDI is $3,822.

Though the difference between the maximum payments is stark, the difference between the average payments brings the two benefits much closer together. The average SSI payment is $674, while the average SSDI payment is $1,537.

Different Eligibility Rules for SSI and SSDI

The eligibility rules are much different when comparing SSI and SSDI. SSI is a resource intended for all disabled Americans and Americans 65 or older who lack the means to support themselves. To qualify, you only need to prove your disability and your inability to perform “significant gainful activity” (SGA) to support yourself.

By contrast, SSDI is meant as a form of insurance for Americans with a work history. To be eligible for SSDI benefits, individuals need to prove the same criteria as above, have their disability included on a list of eligible disabilities, and have a sufficient work history before they can be considered.

Different Healthcare Options in Each Program

Another key difference between SSDI and SSI is the eligibility for healthcare coverage. With SSI, beneficiaries are immediately eligible for Medicaid in most states. Meanwhile for SSDI, all beneficiaries qualify for Medicare after a 24-month waiting period, only waived for individuals with ALS.

Is It Easier to Get SSI or SSDI?

While both programs have specific requirements for the approval process, many consider it harder to be approved for SSDI due to how strictly it defines disability and the extensive work history requirements. However, if we take a look at the bigger picture, we actually find the approval rate for SSDI is ultimately higher than with SSI.

This misconception likely stems from the first-time approval rates for each program and the strict eligibility requirements for SSDI. With SSDI eligibility, only 34% of applicants are approved their first time, compared to 36% for SSI. However, when appealing the SSDI ruling, a much larger 51% of SSDI are ultimately approved.

Which Type of Social Security Disability Benefits Are You Most Likely to Qualify For?

The Social Security Administration manages two different programs that provide monthly disability benefits to eligible applicants. To see which one you may qualify for, the last thing the SSA checks is your work history and current age. (You can also check your eligibility online in less than 2 minutes using this form.)

There are no resource limits to qualify for SSDI, but you can’t earn more than $1,470 in monthly income. Income and resource limits that determine your SSI eligibility are listed below.

 Supplemental Security Income (SSI) ProgramSocial Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Program
Your current age must be:Any18-66
Have you worked full-time for at least 5 in the last 10 years full-time and paid FICA taxes?NoYes
Unemployed 5+ years, worked part time and/or seasonal jobs, or didn’t pay FICA taxes?YesNo

Can You Be Eligible for SSI and SSDI at the Same Time?

The short answer: yes! If you meet the eligibility requirements for both the SSI and SSDI, you can qualify for both SSA disability programs. To do so, applicants will need to prove both their limited income and resources, as well as their work history. They will also need to go through the application process for both programs, each of which has its own requirements, processes, and waiting times.

SSI vs SSDI: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How does Social Security define disability?

Social Security defines disability as the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA) due to a medical condition that has lasted or is expected to last at least one year or result in death.

How long does it take for my SSI or SSDI application to be processed?

Processing times for SSI vs SSDI applications vary but generally take several months. Delays can occur due to the complexity of your case, medical evidence gathering, and administrative backlog.

If I am close to retirement age and disabled, does it make sense to apply for SSDI or early Social Security benefits?

If you are close to retirement age and disabled, it is generally better to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) rather than early Social Security retirement benefits. If you claim early retirement benefits before reaching full retirement age (66-67 depending on the year you were born), your monthly benefit will be reduced.

However, SSDI benefits are not affected by the age at which you start receiving them. Therefore, if you’re disabled and unable to work, applying for SSDI closer to retirement age would likely result in a higher monthly benefit than claiming early retirement benefits.

Do SSI and SSDI offer healthcare options?

Medicare is available to individuals receiving SSDI after a 24-month waiting period. Medicaid, a health program for low-income individuals, is available to many SSI recipients. The eligibility for both programs varies depending on factors like income, resources, and state policies.

What happens if my SSI or SSDI application is rejected?

If your SSI or SSDI application is rejected, you have the right to appeal the decision. You can request a reconsideration, a hearing before an administrative law judge, an Appeals Council review, or file a lawsuit in federal court. It’s important to understand the deadlines and follow the necessary steps to appeal the decision.

Is Social Security Disability the same as SSI?

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a separate program from Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSDI provides benefits to individuals who have worked and paid Social Security taxes, while SSI provides benefits to disabled individuals with limited income and resources. However, both programs are administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Lisa Allen
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Lisa Allen is a writer and editor who lives in suburban Kansas City. She holds MFAs in Creative Nonfiction and Poetry, both from the Solstice Low-Residency Program in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College. Prior to becoming a writer, Lisa worked as a paralegal, where she specialized in real estate in and around Chicago.