Understanding the Differences Between SSI and SSDI

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) have a few similarities, but in reality, they are vastly different programs. Perhaps because of the abbreviations used (SSI and SSDI), there is some confusion between the two. If you’re disabled or you’re an older American who needs financial assistance, you may be eligible for one (or both) of the programs. You can count on the disability attorneys of Nikolaus & Hohenadel to help you determine whether SSI or SSDI is right for you.

What Is SSI?

SSI is a benefits program for individuals who are disabled, blind, or age 65 or older. Children who are disabled or blind may also be eligible for SSI. To qualify, an applicant must be an American citizen (or fall within one of the exceptions for non-citizens) who meets the income and asset criteria set forth by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

There is no work history requirement to be eligible for SSI (as opposed to SSDI). SSI is a means-tested program, meaning it is based on financial need. But you must have limited income and assets.

“Income” includes any money you earn, along with your Social Security benefits, pension, and the value of items you receive from other people such as food and shelter.

“Assets” must be worth no more than $2,000, or $3,000 for a married couple living together. However, when calculating the value of your assets, SSA does not include everything. For instance, the house you live in and the car you drive are usually not counted. Bank accounts, stocks, bonds, and cash do count.

If a disability is the basis of your SSI claim, there are some additional requirements. Your disability must be expected to last at least one year, and must be documented with medical evidence. The claimant’s medical records will be periodically checked to ensure they are still disabled.  These medical requirements are essentially the same for an SSDI claim.

How Much Does SSI Pay?

The maximum monthly SSI payment for 2020 is $783 for one person, or $1,175 for a couple. Not everyone receives the same amount, but you may qualify for additional assistance if the state in which you live adds to the federal payment. Your amount will also vary based on your income, your spouse’s income, where you live, and with whom you live.

What Is SSDI?

SSDI is a disability benefits program for individuals who are under age 65 and who are unable to work. As is the case for SSI eligibility, the applicant’s disabling condition must be expected to last at least one year or be expected to result in death. Unlike SSI, SSDI is based on the amount of FICA taxes you have paid through your career. More specifically, you must have a sufficient number of work credits earned through your employment to qualify. SSDI is not based on the money or assets you currently possess.

Only adults over age 18 may qualify for SSDI disability benefits. However, an applicant’s spouse and child dependents may be eligible to receive auxiliary SSDI payments. There is also a five-month waiting program to begin receiving SSDI benefits. After two years of receiving these payments, a disabled person will become eligible for Medicare.


These are the main differences between the SSI and SSDI programs:

Needs-based vs. work credits

SSI is needs-based and will depend on your income and assets. Your SSI benefits may decrease if your income (or your spouse’s income, if living together) increases, and they may end if you earn over the limit. However, if your income decreases later, you may be able to qualify again.

On the other hand, SSDI can be thought of as insurance into which the worker has contributed. Deductions from the employee’s paycheck are sent to the SSA. Your current income and assets don’t matter; what counts is how many work credits you have earned.

Medicaid eligibility vs. Medicare access

SSI recipients can begin receiving Medicaid (known as Medical Assistance in Pennsylvania) payments immediately. Medicaid is a federal and state program designed to help cover medical costs for people with limited income.

It should not be confused with Medicare. As mentioned above, disabled individuals who receive SSDI benefits for two years may start receiving Medicare as well. A federal program, Medicare is not dependent on income and is generally available for senior citizens or those under age 65 who have qualifying disabilities.

SSI vs. SSDI financial benefits

The monthly financial benefits paid by these two programs are very different. As noted above, the maximum base SSI monthly payment in 2020 is $783 per month in 2020.  Further, a person’s SSI payment is subject to changes based on your income, assets and living arrangements, among other things. Meanwhile, one’s SSDI monthly payment is based on their work credits. Since your credits are based on your earnings, an SSDI recipient could potentially receive much more than the SSI rates. Also, a person whose SSDI benefit is greater than the maximum SSI payment will typically not be eligible for SSI.

How Can Nikolaus & Hohenadel Help Me with SSI and SSDI Benefits?

The differences between SSI and SSDI can be complicated, and so can the eligibility requirements. If you are disabled or have limited means, it’s important to understand how both programs may benefit you. It’s even possible for someone to qualify for both SSI and SSDI at the same time.

The attorneys of Nikolaus & Hohenadel understand that a disability or financial setback can wreak havoc on you and your family’s finances. That’s why we help clients explore their options and apply for the program that best suits their needs. If your claim has been denied, we can also help you appeal.

Contact Our Lancaster Social Security Disability Attorney for SSI and SSDI Benefits

You deserve compassionate and experienced legal counsel to navigate the complexities of SSI and SSDI, and that’s what you can expect from us. Reach out to Nikolaus & Hohenadel today to find out how we can serve you.