SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) and SSI (Supplemental Security Income) are two programs administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). While both programs provide financial assistance to disabled individuals, each program has different eligibility requirements.

SSDI v. SSI: What Is the Difference Between SSI and SSDI Qualifications?

SSDI Qualifications

Qualification for SSDI is based on disability and work credits. Like social security retirement benefits, it is funded by the social security trust fund.


A disability for purposes of SSDI is one that prevents you from working and supporting yourself long-term. The SSA has a listing of certain conditions that it considers to be disabilities. Additionally, it may consider other conditions to be disabilities if they prevent you from doing the job you used to do and your age, education, and skills prevent you from obtaining other work.

Work Credits

You earn work credits as you pay into social security by working. A worker can earn up to four credits per year by meeting minimum earning requirements (at least $1,360 per credit in 2019). The number of credits you need to qualify for SSDI depends on your age.


SSDI eligibility is not based on income or resources. However, the SSA will deny your SSDI application if you earn money from “substantial gainful activity.” Since SSDI benefits are based on your inability to work, working regularly and earning money show the SSA that you aren’t truly disabled. Substantial gainful activity is defined as work that earns more than the defined amount for that year. In 2019, the limit was $1,220 (or $2,040 for blind SSDI applicants).

SSI Qualifications

SSI is for those who have limited income and resources and are either: 

  1. Over the age of 65,
  2. Blind, or
  3. Unable to work due to disability. 

The SSA evaluates disability for SSI purposes the same way it does for SSDI purposes.

You do not need any work credits to qualify for SSI. SSI is funded by general taxes rather than the social security trust fund.

To qualify for SSI, you must earn less than the monthly SSI benefit rate and have less than $2,000 in financial resources (or less than $3,000 for a couple).

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SSDI v. SSI: What Is the Difference Between SSDI and SSI Benefits?

SSDI Benefits

The SSA calculates SSDI benefits the same way it calculates social security retirement benefits. The SSA uses your average monthly earnings to determine your monthly benefit amount. The average SSDI award in November 2019 was $1,390.60 per month. The maximum monthly award for 2019 was $2,861.

SSI Benefits

The SSA calculates SSI benefits starting with the basic SSI federal benefit rate ($783/mo per individual or $1,175 per couple in 2020). The SSA then subtracts your “countable income” from that amount. Calculating countable income can be complicated, but it generally includes: 

  1. Government benefits, 
  2. Gifts, and 
  3. About half of the money you earn from working. 

If you live with a spouse or parents, it will also include their income.

Most states add money to the federal SSI payment, so depending on where you live, you may be able to get more than the basic benefit. A disability advocate can help you determine what benefits are available in your state.

SSDI v. SSI: What Happens to My Benefits After I Reach Retirement Age?

SSDI and Retirement

SSDI is basically early social security for those who become disabled before they reach retirement age. When you reach your normal retirement age, you will start to receive social security retirement benefits instead of your SSDI benefits.

Often, those who become disabled close to their retirement age elect to take early retirement rather than apply for SSDI benefits. This is a mistake.

SSDI vs.SSI When you take early retirement, you have to accept a lower monthly social security benefit than you would receive if you retired later. This lower benefit will continue throughout your retirement years.

However, if you are eligible for SSDI benefits, you will receive the same benefit you would if you retired at your normal retirement age. Then when you reach retirement age, you will be able to draw your full social security benefit.

If you don’t want to wait for the SSA to approve your SSDI application to start receiving income, you can take early retirement and then ask for retroactive SSDI. If the SSA approves your application, it will then reimbursed you for any difference between what you would have received in SSDI benefits and what you actually received in social security benefits.

SSI and Retirement

The SSA requires SSI beneficiaries to apply for other government benefits available to them. This means that if you qualify for social security retirement benefits, the SSA will require you to apply for early retirement at the age of 62 and start collecting your benefits. You will still be able to collect SSI, but the SSA will reduce your benefit by the amount you receive in social security benefits.

Can I receive SSDI and SSI at the same time?

SSDI recipients with a low monthly benefit may also be eligible for SSI benefits. For example, let’s say an individual gets $500 per month in SSDI benefits. They have no other income and their resources are less than $2,000. They could qualify for an additional $283 in SSI benefits to bring their total monthly income to the SSI benefit rate of $783/mo. 

How Can I Start My Application?

Now that you understand the differences between SSDI and SSI, you can decide which one fits your circumstances. The experienced advocates at GAR Disability Advocates can help you navigate the complicated world of disability benefits. Our entire business is devoted to helping individuals get long-term disability benefits from the SAA. Call 201-308-9520 or message us online to get your free case evaluation.