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Applying for Social Security Disability: Comparing SSDI and SSI Benefits

Although the general public often refers to both Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) as disability benefits, they are two separate government programs. Understanding their similarities and differences will help you know what to expect as you apply for benefits.

Definition of Disability

The Social Security Administration (SSA) defines disability in the same way for both SSDI and SSI. To qualify, you must:

  • Have a physical or mental disability that prevents you from working and earning a wage that qualifies as substantial gainful activity
  • Be unable to adjust to other types of work due to your disability, age, education, and work history
  • Provide documentation that your disability is expected to last one year or more or result in your death

If your disability does not prevent you from working or your condition is expected to improve within one year, you will not qualify for benefits.

Work Requirements

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits are funded by the payroll taxes workers have taken out of their checks. As such, you must have earned a sufficient number of work credits to be eligible for benefits. You can earn up to four credits per year. The number of credits you need to qualify for SSDI varies based on your age but is between 20 (five years of work) and 40 (10 years of work) for most adult workers.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is funded by general revenue from the United States Treasury. SSI benefits do not require a person to have worked. People who never had paid employment and those who lack the necessary work credits for SSDI can apply for the program if they meet the SSA definition of disability. Due to the lack of work requirements, SSI applicants are more likely to be female. Because of family responsibilities, only 41% of women have worked at least part of the year every year of their adult life.

Asset and Income Requirements

SSDI is not a need-based program, so your assets and the income of other people living in your household are not considered. You can have a working spouse earning a sizeable salary, along with substantial investments, and still qualify. Disabled Veterans who are receiving VA disability payments can also receive SSDI if they meet the program’s qualifications.

SSI is a need-based program, so it considers your household income and assets. In 2020, the income limit for SSI is $783 per month for an individual and $1,175 per month for a couple. The asset limit is $2,000 for a single person and $3,000 for a couple. However, some types of income and assets are excluded from consideration. For example, your home and one car are typically not counted as SSI assets.

Level of Benefits

SSDI benefits are based on your average lifetime earnings, not how serious your disability is. In 2020, the average SSDI benefit was $1,237 per month.

SSI payments take into account your household income, not how serious your disability is. Payments can be no more than the maximum Federal Benefit Amount, which is $783 for individuals and $1,175 for a couple in 2020. Because of their limited financial resources, most people who receive SSI also receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food stamp benefits and Medicaid.

Getting Help With Your Application

Because the rules for disability benefits are so complex, it’s recommended that you seek the assistance of an experienced attorney to prepare your application and represent your interests through the appeals process. There is no upfront fee or retainer required to hire a Social Security disability attorney. Attorneys are paid a contingency fee that is regulated by the federal government.

Attorney Mary Ellen O’Connor founded O’Connor Law in 2009 to provide quality representation to individuals seeking disability benefits. As an experienced litigator, she is committed to helping clients access the benefits they need to provide for themselves and their families.

Call today to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation to discuss how to handle your disability claim. O’Connor Law’s offices are convenient to residents of Westchester, Nassau, Suffolk, Rockland, Putnam, and Orange counties, as well as those living in Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, and Manhattan. Our New York-based SSDI attorneys are standing by to assist with your disability claim.


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