Navigating social security benefits can be confusing and overwhelming. Supplemental security income (SSI) and social security disability insurance (SSDI) are two of the most common social security benefits, but what's the difference between them? Which program (SSI vs. SSDI) is suitable for your situation?
SSI and SSDI are both federal financial assistance programs overseen by the Social Security Administration (SSA). While SSI and SSDI serve similar populations, though, they're different programs with different requirements, benefits, and funding sources.
What Is SSI?
SSI is a federal benefit program that provides financial assistance to very low-income Americans who are blind, have a qualifying disability, or are over 65.
Anyone may apply for SSI. To be eligible, though, you must be a blind, disabled, or elderly American who also:
- has low-income
- has limited financial resources
- is a U.S. citizen or qualifying alien
- resides in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands
- is not absent from the U.S. for 30 consecutive days or more
- is not institutionalized (e.g., hospitalized or incarcerated)
- meets specific other requirements.
SSI is a means-tested benefit. You must have limited income and assets to qualify for SSI. As of June 2022, an individual must have less than $2,000 in financial assets to qualify for SSI. Some assets don't count against this limit, though, like your primary residence and car.
The Social Security Administration uses a complex formula to determine if you meet the income eligibility requirements for SSI. Generally, you qualify if your income is $1,767 monthly or less as of 2022.
U.S. Treasury general funds fund SSI. While the Social Security Administration administers the program, it's not funded through social security taxes.
Many states supplement federal benefits with additional payments financed by the state.
As a means-tested benefit, a change in your financial situation can change your eligibility for SSI or the amount of financial assistance you receive. You're required to inform social security of any changes in financial circumstances, including:
- A new job or pay change
- A relative moving in
If you marry another SSI recipient, your payments will decrease, as the maximum couple's benefit is less than two individual benefits. Disability activists refer to this reduction in benefits as the 'marriage penalty.'
Suppose, on the other hand, that your spouse is not an SSI recipient. In that case, social security will consider their income when determining eligibility for benefits.
If you receive SSI payments, you likely qualify for Medicaid. In many states, SSI recipients automatically receive Medicaid and don't have to apply.
What Is SSDI?
SSDI is an "insurance" program that pays benefits to disabled individuals and certain family members.
To qualify, you must have worked long enough and recently enough to be considered "insured". The length of time you're required to work varies by age — as you get older, you'll need more years of work to qualify.
Social security credits determine SSDI payments. You earn credits by paying social security taxes. The more you pay in social security taxes, the more credits you get, up to a maximum of four credits per year.
To qualify for SSDI, you must:
- be unable to work due to a medical condition that's expected to last at least one year or result in death
- meet the SSA's definition of a disability
- be younger than your full retirement age
SSDI is funded primarily by social security payroll taxes. Employers and employees each pay an SSDI tax of 0.9% on earnings up to social security's tax cap.
SSDI is not means-tested, but you can lose benefits if you earn enough income. If you work while receiving SSDI, you must report your income to the SSA.
Meanwhile, you may be eligible for SSDI without a work history if you meet specific requirements:
- You're a disabled widow, widower, or surviving divorced spouse between age 50 and 60 with a disability that manifested before or within seven years of the spouse's death or divorce.
- You're an adult with a disability that started before age 22. You may be entitled to receive benefits based on your parent's social security earnings record.
If you receive SSDI payments, you automatically qualify for Medicare, even if you are under age 65. Most SSDI recipients must wait 24 months after disability benefits begin, though, before they are eligible for Medicare.
If you have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or end-stage renal disease, you're exempt from this waiting period.
SSI vs SSDI Benefits
The differences in SSI vs SSDI benefits include:
SSI vs SSDI Eligibility
Eligibility for SSI is based on age, blindness, disability, and income level. Eligibility for SSDI is based on disability and work history.
SSI vs SSDI Benefit Amount
SSI and SSDI have different benefit amounts. The average monthly SSI payment (January 2022) is $624. The average monthly SSDI payment (as of January 2022) is $1,223.
The maximum monthly benefit for SSI in 2022 is $841 for a single person or $1,261 for a married couple. The maximum monthly benefit for SSDI in 2022 is $3,345.
SSI vs SSDI Healthcare
In most states, people receiving SSI benefits automatically qualify for Medicaid as soon as their benefits begin.
SSDI recipients qualify for Medicare after a 24-month waiting period from the time benefits began — unless they have ALS or end-stage renal disease, in which case there's no waiting period.