Important: We updated this page in September 2023 to make sure all info is correct based on current SSA guidelines. When it comes to disability assistance, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are two programs Americans can lean on. While both programs offer financial assistance to disabled individuals, there are some important differences. Below, we’ll explain how each program works, eligibility requirements for SSDI vs. SSI, and more.
What Is SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance)?
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is an earned benefit for those who spend their working years paying into the Social Security trust fund. It pays monthly benefits to applicants with a qualifying work history and their eligible family members. Once you reach retirement age (66), SSDI payments automatically change over to Social Security retirement benefits.
What Is SSI (Supplemental Security Income)?
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal program that helps children and adults who are disabled, blind, or over 65 years old. SSI benefits cover necessities such as food, clothing, and shelter specifically for households with limited income and resources. SSI payments can continue for life, as long as you meet the limited income and asset requirements. However, you cannot get Supplemental Security Income payments for any dependent family member after approval. This is yet another major difference in SSDI vs SSI.
SSDI vs. SSI Eligibility: Key Differences
For SSDI eligibility, you must meet these requirements:
- First, you must meet Social Security’s definition of “disabled” which an independent doctor usually confirms.
- Second, you must be unable to work in any job for at least 12 months, specifically for health reasons.
- Third, you as an individual must have no more than $1,470 in monthly earned income to qualify for SSDI benefits. In other words, your spouse’s work income does not count towards that total.
- Fourth, you must be between 18 and 66 years old when you apply for SSDI benefits.
- Lastly, you must have worked 5 in the last 10 years full time while paying FICA payroll taxes. FICA stands for “Federal Insurance Contributions Act,” and it pays into both Social Security and Medicare. (Employers also refer to them as Social Security taxes.)
The SSI program uses slightly different rules to decide who can get those disability benefits:
- Financial need. You must have very low income and few assets to qualify for SSI benefits. In 2023, that means everyone in your home must make less than $1,500 in combined monthly income. This requirement is one of the major SSDI vs SSI differences.
- Work history. Unlike SSDI, SSI benefits come from the general tax revenue. So, you don’t need recent (or any) work history to receive SSI benefits.
- Disability status. Blind individuals and people with disabilities aged 18-64 can qualify for both SSDI and SSI. But if you’re at least 65 years old, then your age alone qualifies you for SSI. The only requirement after that is staying low income with few financial resources.
- Unearned income. Unlike SSDI, all financial resources available to you count towards your SSI income limit. Things like child support, alimony, SNAP, TANF, or living with a relative rent free are all “countable income.”
How the Social Security Administration Calculates SSDI vs SSI Benefits
The amount of SSDI benefits you receive each month depends on how much you contributed through Social Security taxes during your working years. To find your payment amount, the SSA averages your highest wages earned over your work history. Then, they make adjustments to account for inflation. Your SSDI payment should equal about 40% of your average monthly paycheck while working. Today, the average monthly SSDI benefit amount is $1,483. The maximum federal benefit rate for SSDI payments in 2023 is $3,627.
If approved, you’ll usually begin receiving monthly SSDI payments no sooner than six months after your application date. This is because there’s a five month waiting period under federal law before anyone can receive SSDI benefits.
The most any individual can receive in SSI benefits is currently $914 each month. Eligible couples can receive no more than $1,371 in monthly SSI benefits. Applicants under age 65 must either prove they’re blind or disabled for SSI eligibility. Since the SSA reviews these claims the same way they do applications for SSDI benefits, the medical exams for both programs are the same.
If approved, your Supplemental Security Income SSI payments can start as soon as the following month. There is no required waiting period for SSI benefits.
Both SSDI and SSI Provide Health Insurance After Approval
Once the Social Security Administration approves your SSDI vs. SSI claim, you will also receive health insurance. See when your healthcare benefits should begin below:
- Medicaid coverage begins the same month as SSI benefits. Your state determines whether you receive automatic enrollment or need to apply separately for Medicaid.
- Medicare eligibility starts 24 months your first SSDI payment goes through. If you have Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), then you can skip this waiting period. Medicare health insurance starts the month after you file your SSDI claim with Social Security.
Pro Tip: File your claim at your local Social Security office and mention you have ALS. This will greatly speed up your claim review and get both SSDI and SSI benefits paid faster!
How to Get Free Expert Help with SSI vs. SSDI Claims
If you’re thinking of applying for benefits, having an experienced Social Security disability advocate or attorney on your side is key. Expert legal help can provide the following benefits:
- File your claim in a timely manner.
- Handle your appeal if you’re initially denied disability.
- Nearly triples your chances of disability approval right away.
- If the SSA doesn’t award you disability, then you owe your lawyer $0.
- Help you gather strong proof for your claim (or pay for medical records if you cannot).
Even knowing whether to apply for SSDI vs. SSI can confuse many people. There are dozens of forms to complete and documents you need to submit with your SSDI vs. SSI applications. Why chance going up to 2 years with no income when you don’t have to? You can speak with a disability attorney for free by phone before you file. In fact, we can connect you with a local expert who can answer your claim questions free of charge.
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