The term “Retirement, Survivors, and Disability Insurance” (RSDI) outlines the three types of Social Security Administration (SSA) benefits available. In other words, the RSDI program refers to any benefits the SSA pays to workers, their dependents, and survivors.
But how is this different than Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits? The short answer is, it’s not — SSDI and SSI can be part of RSDI, just in different departments.
To clarify, the SSA offers SSDI benefits to an individual according to their own work record and disability status. SSI benefits emanate solely from a person’s disability/age and financial need, without an employment history requirement. Survivors/dependents receiving benefits (retirement or disability) from someone else’s work record will fall into the general RSDI category.
So, is it possible to claim SSDI/SSI while getting survivor’s RSDI benefits? Again, most of the time that’s a no. When it comes to RSDI, there is no double dipping. Meaning, you generally cannot receive more than one type of RSDI benefit at the same time.
However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply for SSDI if you are receiving RSDI and think you might qualify. Read on to understand why.
When Can a Person Get RSDI?
An individual can get RSDI once they reach Full Retirement Age (FRA) or qualify as having a disability. That’s because RSDI includes benefits for retirees or disabled individuals. So, in either case it’s based on an individual having the requisite number of work credits to qualify.
If the individual who is eligible for RSDI passes away, however, then those earned benefits may transfer to a survivor. This is sort of a SSA “life insurance” policy for the widow, widower, children, and dependent parents of a qualifying worker.
Eligibility isn’t always automatic — meaning some survivors must apply for RSDI benefits — but that income can be a huge relief. Especially if those benefits are vital to the deceased’s family for their continued wellbeing.
If a retired widow or widower has a lower retirement benefit rate, then the SSA will first pay their benefits. Then they’ll add a supplement to bring the amount up to the higher payment rate of their deceased spouse.
Widows/widowers who are caring for the deceased’s children (under age 16) will receive the full retirement benefit of the spouse. This is true no matter what the age of the surviving partner. Dependent parents (over age 62) may also receive survivor’s benefits if the deceased was providing more than half their support.
However, a widow/widower may find their SSA benefits from their own work record are higher than a survivor’s RSDI payment. In that case, there is no reason to apply for survivor’s benefits because the SSA will not give you both.
What if I’m Receiving RSDI, But Qualify for Disability?
If you’re already receiving retirement benefits on your own record, you can’t also receive SSDI. That’s because they’re essentially the same thing. It’s just that once someone reaches retirement age, disability benefits turn into retirement benefits.
However, if you are not at FRA and find yourself unable to work, you may qualify for SSDI. This is true even if you’re already receiving a survivor’s RSDI. But once again, you cannot receive both a survivor’s benefit and SSDI.
So why would you even bother to apply? Well, in some cases the payment amount from a disability claim may be more than that of a survivor’s RSDI payment.
For example, a widow/widower, age 60+ but under FRA, receives 71%-99% of the deceased worker’s Social Security benefit amount. If that widow/widower finds themselves disabled but with enough work credits themselves to qualify, an SSDI payment might be more. In that case, applying for disability would be a wise move.
But if approval is granted, once again they will NOT get both payments. The SSA will only give an individual one payment from the system. But they will give you the payment that is highest if you are eligible for both RSDI and SSDI.
When You Should Apply for Both Retirement and SSDI
There is one other time when you should actually apply for both RSDI and SSDI. It’s called the early retirement exception.
Normally if you apply for early retirement (meaning before you reach your FRA), the SSA will grant a reduced benefit. Usually that means about 25% less than what you’d make if you were to wait until reaching your FRA. And that lower benefit rate will apply to all future payments — even once you attain your FRA.
However, if you apply at age 62 for early retirement and SSDI, you’ll only receive your full retirement benefit with SSDI approval. That’s because there are no reductions made for a disabled person.
Just remember, you’re still not going to get double payments. You’re just not losing anything for retiring early. And once you reach your FRA, your benefits will simply convert to full retirement benefits.
What About RSDI and SSI?
If you are receiving RSDI and it’s a retirement or survivor’s benefit, it is possible to also get SSI. That’s because SSI is purely based on financial need. But this is only awarded in cases of extreme poverty.
If more than one family member is receiving RSDI, you will probably not qualify for SSI. That’s because the SSA looks at all sources of income for SSI applicants, earned and unearned. RSDI survivor benefits will count under the “unearned income” heading.
If your RSDI benefits are your own personal retirement benefits, however, you could feasibly get SSI as well. But this is probably only likely if you are making very little from your RSDI. Applicants for SSI in 2023 cannot have a household income above $1470 per month. This is the upper limit threshold for anyone seeking SSI benefits.
What If You’re Not Sure Which Program You Qualify For?
There are so many abbreviations the SSA uses: RSDI, SSDI, SSI, FRA.
As a result, the lingo and applications for different programs can get seriously confusing. If you’re not sure which programs you might be eligible for, consulting with a lawyer is a smart plan. A skilled Social Security attorney can help you determine if you would benefit more from survivor’s benefits or SSDI.
And if you’re not receiving any benefits at all right now, they can help you through the application process. While you won’t ever get both RSDI and SSDI, it’s still important to ensure you get the money you deserve.
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Kimberly Dawn Neumann
Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a multi-published NYC-based magazine and book writer whose work has appeared in a wide variety of publications ranging from Forbes to Cosmopolitan. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Maryland, College of Journalism. For more, visit: www.KDNeumann.com, Instagram @dancerscribe, and Twitter/X @KimberlyNeumann.