What Is the Difference Between Social Security Disability (SSDI) and SSI?

Both SSI and SSDI disability programs offer cash benefits for disabled individuals, but the financial eligibility requirements are very different.

The main difference between Social Security Disability (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is the fact that SSDI is available to workers who have accumulated a sufficient number of work credits, while SSI disability benefits are available to low-income individuals who have either never worked or who haven't earned enough work credits to qualify for SSDI.

While many people don't distinguish between SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance), they are two completely different governmental programs. While both programs are overseen and managed by the Social Security Administration, and medical eligibility for disability is determined in the same manner for both programs, there are distinct differences between the two programs.

What Is SSI?

Supplemental Security Income is a program that is strictly need-based, according to income and assets, and is funded by general fund taxes (not from the Social Security trust fund). SSI is called a "means-tested program," meaning it has nothing to do with work history, but strictly with financial need. To meet the SSI income requirements, you must have less than $2,000 in assets (or $3,000 for a couple) and a very limited income.

Disabled people who are eligible under the income requirements for SSI are also able to receive Medicaid in the state they reside in. Most people who qualify for SSI will also qualify for food stamps, and the amount an eligible person will receive is dependent on where they live and the amount of regular, monthly income they have. SSI benefits will begin on the first of the month when you first submit your application.

SSI applicants are somewhat more likely to be female as fewer women are eligible for SSDI benefits (about 71% of women compared to 79% of men), generally because women have fewer qualifying years of work (over 60% of men have worked at least part of every year of their adult life, while only 41% of women can say the same).

Learn more about the SSI program and SSI benefits.

What Is SSDI?

Social Security Disability Insurance is funded through payroll taxes. SSDI recipients are considered "insured" because they have worked for a certain number of years and have made contributions to the Social Security trust fund in the form of FICA Social Security taxes. SSDI candidates must be younger than 65 and have earned a certain number of "work credits." (To learn more, see our article on SSDI and work credits.) After receiving SSDI for two years, a disabled person will become eligible for Medicare.

Under SSDI, a disabled person's spouse and children dependents are eligible to receive partial dependent benefits, called auxiliary benefits. However, only adults over the age of 18 can receive the SSDI disability benefit.

There is a five-month waiting period for benefits, meaning that the SSA won't pay you benefits for the first five months after you become disabled. The amount of the monthly benefit after the waiting period is over depends on your earnings record, much like the Social Security retirement benefit.

Approval rates for SSDI are higher on average than they are for SSI. There are a number of possible reasons for this. First, SSDI are more likely than SSI applicants to have a higher income and insurance coverage, which means they're more likely to have seen a doctor for their medical problems. (It's very difficult to win disability without seeing a doctor regularly.) Also, judges and claims examiners give more credibility to applicants who have a long work history, which most SSI applicants don't have.

Learn more about the SSDI program and SSDI benefits.

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