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What is the Difference Between SSDI and SSI?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers two types of disability benefits: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). While both programs supplement the income of individuals who are unable to work due to a medical disability such as blindness, SSDI and SSI serve two distinct populations.

The main difference between SSDI and SSI is eligibility. SSDI is available to those who have "paid into" the system through taxable income. SSI, on the other hand, serves as a safety net for those who do not qualify for SSDI and have limited means. In other words, SSDI is intended for individuals who used to work but can no longer do so due to a physical or mental impairment, while SSI assists low-income individuals who have not worked enough to earn the credits necessary to quality for SSDI.

The following information will give you a general idea of the differences between SSDI and SSI benefits for disabled workers. Please refer to FindLaw's main Social Security Disability Benefits page for more articles and resources pertaining to SSA-administered disability benefits.

SSDI at a Glance

  • Revenue from payroll taxes paid by employers, workers, and the self-employed provides the funding for SSDI benefits. Similar to Social Security retirement benefits, only those individuals who have earned enough credits based on their lifetime payroll tax contributions are eligible for SSDI benefits.
  • You are eligible for SSDI benefits if you have earned 20 or more "quarters of coverage" (QCs) in the last 10 years and are fully insured.
  • The physical or mental disability must be expected to last for a minimum of 12 months or until death.
  • After receiving SSDI benefits for two years, disabled workers are automatically covered by Medicare.
  • SSDI benefits are payable to disabled or blind workers, as well as their children, surviving spouses, and adults who have been disabled since childhood.
  • Monthly SSDI benefit amounts are based on the insured worker's Social Security earnings record. For example, the higher your salary was, the higher monthly benefits would be.
  • There is a five-month waiting period for SSDI, allowing the SSA to validate that a worker's disability is long term. The worker is not entitled to benefits during this validation period.
  • If the claimant suffers a serious medical condition found on the SSA's Compassionate Allowance list, his or her claim may be processed more quickly. A claimant has the right to appeal rejections. Appeals are typically heard by an administrative law judge.

SSI at a Glance

  • Revenue from general taxes pays for SSI benefits. In addition, SSI benefits are not based on a recipient's prior work history. Thus, claimants who did not earn enough taxable income to be eligible for SSDI may apply for SSI.
  • SSI benefits are payable to individuals who are 65 and older, adults who are disabled, and children who are blind or disabled (see "Social Security Benefits for Disabled Children" for more details).
  • Monthly SSI payments are based on each individual applicant's income and resources, up to the maximum federal benefit rate. Some states supplement SSI benefits with an additional monthly sum.
  • In most states, disabled workers automatically become eligible for Medicaid once they become SSI beneficiaries.

SSI Eligibility Requirements

Unlike SSDI, SSI is not based on an individual's work history. Instead, it's based solely on an individual's financial need. For individuals to qualify for SSI, they need to meet general income requirements. The SSA determines an applicant's income by calculating his or her resources, such as cash or property. An applicant with more resources is less likely to qualify for SSI, while an applicant with fewer resources is more likely to qualify for SSI. Important SSI factors include:

  • An individual adult must have $2,000 or less in cash or combined bank accounts ($3,000 for a married couple).
  • The value of an individual's home is considered separately and will not disqualify an applicant from receiving SSI.
  • Automobiles with a fair market value of up to $4,500 will not be counted in an individual's resources.

For more information on determining whether an applicant falls below the SSI income threshold, please see the following articles: Understanding Supplemental Security Income: SSI Income and Supplemental Security Income: SSI Resources.

Should You Apply for SSDI or SSI Benefits? Get Help From an Attorney Today

The Social Security Administration's rules and regulations are more complicated than those of nearly any other administrative agency in the country. Simply determining the form of Social Security assistance you qualify for can be a daunting task. If you find yourself uncertain about your eligibility for SSI or SSDI, a good first step is to speak with a Social Security disability benefits attorney in your neck of the woods. 

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Contact a qualified social security lawyer to assist in your social security disability matter.

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