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What is the Difference Between SSDI and SSI

  • Synopsis: Published: 2009-03-14 (Revised/Updated 2017-01-25) - Explains the difference between U.S. SSDI and SSI federal programs that provide assistance to people with disabilities - Carolyn Magura (

Main Document

Quote: "Supplemental Security Income is a welfare program for disabled people who meet the Social Security medical and SGA disability rules and whose income and assets are below the eligibility levels."

I have had, and continue to have, numerous questions about the difference between SSDI and SSI. Summarized below are the key differences.

The SSDI and SSI programs are the largest of the Federal programs that provide assistance to people with disabilities. Generally, the medical requirements for disability eligibility are the same under SSDI and SSI programs, but the way these programs are funded differs.

The SSDI program is funded by the Social Security taxes paid by employed individuals. Therefore, the SSDI program is based on a person's work experience. The SSI program is funded by general tax revenues and pays benefits to people with disabilities who have limited income and assets, and is based on a person's financial need.

What is SSDI?

Social Security Disability Insurance is an insurance program that sends out monthly checks to disabled workers who have paid Social Security taxes (called "FICA" on your paycheck stubs).

You must have worked for at least 5 of the past 10 years before you apply to be "currently insured", or covered, but the minimum time is less if you're under age 31 when you become disabled. The amount you get depends upon how much you have paid in taxes and for how long, since SSDI is an insurance - not a welfare - program. In general, the higher your earnings have been and the longer you have earned them, the higher your SSDI check will be. Benefit amounts vary from a low of about $200 monthly to a high of about $1,600; the average SSDI check is about $850, but this average does reflect low wages paid in the South, in rural areas, and in small towns.

SSDI checks start at the end of the fifth month after the "date of onset," the day you became "disabled" under the Social Security rules by meeting the medical rules as well as not engaging in substantial gainful activity ("SGA").

The number of work credits you need for disability benefits depends on your age when you became disabled. Generally you need 20 credits earned in the last 10 years ending with the year you became disabled.

However, younger workers may qualify with fewer credits. The rules are as follows:

  • Before age 24 You may qualify if you have six credits earned in the three-year period ending when your disability starts.
  • Age 24 to 31 You may qualify if you have credit for having worked half the time between age 21 and the time you become disabled. For example, if you become disabled at age 27, you would need credit for three years of work (12 credits) out of the past six years (between age 21 and age 27).
  • Age 31 or older In general, you will need to have the number of work credits shown in the chart shown below. Unless you are blind, at least 20 of the credits must have been earned in the 10 years immediately before you became disabled.

Born After 1929, Become Disabled At Age Credits You Need:

  • 31 through 42: 20
  • 44: 22
  • 46: 24
  • 48: 26
  • 50: 28
  • 52: 30
  • 54: 32
  • 56: 34
  • 58: 36
  • 60: 38
  • 62 or older: 40

The easiest way to check your financial eligibility is to request a Summary of Earnings and Benefits. You can obtain a request form as well as apply on-line at and click on: "How To Request a Social Security Statement of Earnings and Benefits." You may also obtain a form to request the Statement at any Social Security office and most post offices. Ask for: "Request for Social Security Statement (SSA-7004)."

What is SSI?

Supplemental Security Income is a welfare program for disabled people who meet the Social Security medical and SGA disability rules and whose income and assets are below the eligibility levels.

SSI allows assets of $2,000 liquid; a separate bank account of up to $1,500 for "burial"; a vehicle of any value, if used to go to medical care; household furnishings; certain self-employment business equity and equipment; and a lived-in home of any value.

The SSI income level in 2002 is $545 per month (but it's higher in most wealthy industrial states, which supplement this amount).

All gross income counts against this level: SSDI, earnings, pensions, gifts, contributions, bank interest, dividends, veterans' benefits, etc.

If your SSDI check is below the SSI level, you can get SSI as well as SSDI. Before comparing gross income to this level, SSI disregards (i.e., doesn't count) $20 per month of any income, out-of-pocket Impairment Related Working Expenses (IRWEs: medical costs you pay to enable you to work) and $65 and half the rest of any earnings. If the resulting countable income is above the SSI income level (again, $545 in most - but not all - states), you're not eligible. If it's computed to be less, you get an SSI check for the difference between your countable income and the SSI level - and, as a "fringe" benefit in most but not all states, a Medicaid card.

SSI - This is known as Title XVI (16) Supplemental Security Income. This program is for people who either:

  • Have not paid enough quarters (earnings) into Social Security for any reason.
  • Have limited resources and income.

Although you must be disabled according to SSA's definition, you must first meet SSA's strict resource eligibility test prior to your medical condition being considered. If your resources exceed SSA's limit, you cannot collect SSI irrespective of your medical disability.

Do You Qualify For SSDI?

The Social Security Administration has provided this online "test" for people to use so that they can decide for themselves if they are eligible -

Related Information:

  1. Winning an SSDI Claim - Age, Work Background, and Education Factors - Why Age Work Background and Education are Important Factors in Winning an SSDI Claim - Jonathan Ginsberg
  2. Working After SSDI Approval - Disability Employment - This article reviews the basic social security rules concerning earnings after a finding of disability - Jeffrey A. Rabin & Assoc
  3. SSDI and Social Security Disability Questions and Answers - How do I know if I am eligible for SSDI benefits and answers to other Social Security Disability Insurance questions - Allsup

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