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SSDI vs. SSI: Differences, Eligibility, and Benefits Explained

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a program for individuals who have worked and paid into Social Security. It provides benefits based on the individual's earnings record. Supplemental Security Income (SSI), on the other hand, is a needs-based program for individuals with limited income and resources, regardless of their work history. It provides financial assistance to meet basic needs.

Am I Eligible for SSI or SSDI?

Even with these explanations, it can be difficult to know which program is right for you. It’s common for SSDI and SSI applications to be denied. However, applying to the wrong program for your needs is the most guaranteed way for your claim to be denied. Before applying to either SSDI or SSI at your local Social Security office, carefully consider your eligibility. Better yet, hire a trusted SSDI or SSI attorney to help with your case.

Social Security Disability Insurance Eligibility

When it comes down to it, SSDI has fewer requirements for benefits than SSI. Below are 2 qualifiers for SSDI:

  • Be found disabled by Social Security
  • Sufficient Social Security work credits

As you might expect, these two qualifiers sound simple, but can actually be quite complex.

#1 Be Found Disabled By Social Security

Being found disabled by Social Security is determined by a physician answering a particular set of questions about your condition and your ability to work. Unless you have a specific disability like blindness or a certain situation like a child with disabilities, the Social Security Administration (SSA) must acknowledge that your disability impairs your ability to work in several ways:

  1. If you’re working and earning more than $1,350/month.
  2. Your condition keeps you from doing basic work-related tasks, like lifting objects or walking.
  3. This hindrance to your work will last at least 12 months.
  4. Your physical disability prevents you from doing the work you did previously.
  5. The severity of your disability prevents you from doing work at all, whether you have done it previously or not.

#2 Social Security Work Credits

If you’ve worked for the past 10 years or more, you generally do not need to worry about having enough work credits to qualify for Social Security disability. However, if you have not, there are some things you should consider:

  1. What qualifies as a work credit varies yearly.
  2. You can only earn up to 4 credits every year.
  3. Younger workers can qualify with fewer credits.
  4. The average worker will need 40 credits to qualify.
  5. At least 20 work credits must be from the 10 years preceding your disability.

Supplemental Security Income Eligibility

Supplemental Security Income has specific rules for eligibility. These qualifications can be rather complex. Here is a list of the most basic qualifications for the average SSI recipient:

  • One of the following: 65 years old or older, blind, and disabled
  • Limited income or resources


Three things can count towards your disability in SSI: your age, blindness, or physical or mental disability. Age is simple; as long as you’re 65, you meet this qualification. Likewise, if you’re blind, you need only show proof of your medical condition to receive disability benefits.

However, mental and physical disabilities can be harder to prove. First of all, your disability must prevent you from doing work, or as the SSA says, “substantial gainful activity.” All work, either previously done or not, must be shown to be prevented because of your disability.

Secondly, your disability must be a life-long condition or one that is expected to result in death. Finally, the disability must have lasted or is expected to last at least 12 months. It’s important to note that the way disability is judged for adults and for minors is different.

Limited Income or Resources

SSI is reserved for those who lack essential resources and cannot provide those resources for themselves. That is why income and resources are examined in the application process. Some of the income or resource streams that will be evaluated are:

  • Money earned from work
  • Money received from non-work
    • This can include other federal programs, workers’ compensation, or even money from friends and family.
  • Resources (like food and shelter) given for free

Because wealth can be difficult to quantify exactly, the SSA describes what kind of wealth they will examine when you apply for SSI:

  1. Cash
  2. Bank accounts
  3. Property, including physical assets
  4. Life insurance
  5. Investments like stocks and bonds
  6. Anything that can be turned into cash

For income, it’s important to keep in mind that any amount you have will reduce the total monthly benefits payment. Additionally, with resources (not income), the total sum cannot exceed $2,000 for individuals or $3,000 for couples.

There are always small legal rules that can affect your eligibility for either SSI or SSDI. In order to know with certainty that you’re eligible, consider hiring a Social Security lawyer at Wettermark Keith.

Can I Receive Both SSDI & SSI Benefits?

In short, yes; you can receive both SSDI and SSI benefits! Keep in mind, however, that any payments you receive from SSDI will reduce your SSI payments. Additionally, qualifying for just one of these programs is difficult, let alone both programs at once. If you’re considering applying for both SSDI and SSI, consult a trusted disability benefits lawyer.

Wettermark Keith Social Security & Supplemental Security Lawyers

Our team’s experience in changing lives through disability SSDI and SSI benefits and appeals shows that they’re ready to take on your case. From knowing whether SSDI or SSI is right for you to know which you’re eligible to receive, a Wettermark Keith expert lawyer can help. Contact us today to get started with a free case consultation.

Frequently Asked Questions

The timeframe for processing applications for SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) and SSI (Supplemental Security Income) varies. Generally, an SSDI application can take three to five months to process. However, the SSI processing time may be slightly shorter, often taking around three months. Keep in mind that these are average timeframes and can be influenced by factors like the completeness of your application, the need for additional medical evidence, and the workload of your local Social Security office.

Applications for SSDI and SSI are often denied for several common reasons. Inadequate medical evidence to prove the disability is a primary cause of denial. Other reasons include a short-term disability (not expected to last at least 12 months), the applicant's income or assets exceed the program's limits (especially in the case of SSI), or the disability is primarily due to drug or alcohol addiction. Additionally, failure to comply with prescribed therapy or to cooperate with the Social Security Administration during the application process can also lead to denial.

SSDI benefits are calculated based on your average lifetime earnings prior to your disability. The Social Security Administration uses a formula that factors in your earnings and translates them into a benefit amount. For SSI, the benefits are not based on your prior work history but rather are a fixed amount determined by the federal government, which may be supplemented by the state in which you live. However, any income you have, including wages, pensions, or other Social Security benefits, can reduce the amount of SSI you receive.

Marriage can affect your Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits in several ways. If you marry someone who also receives SSI, your benefit amount could change because the SSA will count your combined income and resources when determining eligibility and benefit amounts. If you marry someone who does not receive SSI, their income and resources will also be considered, which could potentially reduce or even eliminate your SSI benefits. It's essential to report any changes in marital status to the Social Security Administration promptly.

Living outside the United States can impact your ability to receive SSDI or SSI benefits. For SSDI, beneficiaries can generally continue to receive their benefits while living abroad, provided they are in a country where the SSA can send payments. However, there are some countries where SSA cannot send payments. For SSI, recipients generally cannot receive benefits if they are outside the United States for 30 consecutive days or more. It's crucial to inform the SSA of any plans to move or travel abroad to understand how your benefits may be affected.

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