Eligibility for SSDI vs. SSI Disability Benefits

Social Security offers two programs for disabled people to collect monthly benefits. SSDI typically pays more, but if you haven't worked enough in the past, SSI may be the only choice.

Many disabled claimants applying for Social Security benefits qualify for one of two programs - Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI or SSD) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Some people qualify for both programs, and of course, some for neither.

Social Security Disability

Social Security Disability benefits are generally available to people who have worked in the past and are disabled. Remember when you received your paycheck and saw a tax for FICA? That tax was for Social Security benefits, and part of that tax went to pay for disability benefits in case you became disabled. (Accordingly, SSD benefits are not "welfare." This is an insurance program that working individuals purchase when they are working.)

For Social Security Disability benefits, it doesn't matter what resources a person has. You can live in a million-dollar home, have savings, and so on. It only matters that you have the proper number of work credits in the proper time period.

To qualify, you do need to have worked long enough and recently enough.

Supplemental Security Income

On the other hand, SSI benefits (Supplemental Security Income) are for people who have low income, few resources, and are disabled. For SSI, it doesn't matter if you have worked in the past or not. Instead, you have to show that you have little income and few assets. Your spouse's income counts when you try to qualify for SSI, as opposed to Social Security Disability benefits, where it doesn't matter if your spouse has income or not.

Examples of Eligibility

Here are some examples of when applicants do and do not qualify for SSD and/or SSI.

Example 1: Qualify for Both

A 34-year-old female with severe breathing problems worked for several years up until two years ago. She has little income and few resources AND she has enough work credits for disability purposes. If she proves that she is disabled, she may qualify for both programs. (But if her monthly SSD payments are high, they may disqualify her for SSI.)

Example 2: Qualify for Neither

A 34-year-old female with severe breathing problems has never worked, and her husband makes $50,000 per year. She doesn't have the work credits for disability, and her husband makes too much for SSI purposes. She probably doesn't qualify for either program.

Example 3: Qualify for SSI

A 34-year-old female with severe breathing problems has never worked and she is unmarried and staying with family until she can receive benefits. She has no income and no resources. She can probably qualify for SSI, but not Social Security Disability.

Example 4: Qualify for SSDI

A 34-year-old female with severe breathing problems has generally worked in the past and has $30,000 in savings. This person may qualify for Disability if she has the proper amount of work credits, from the right time period, but not SSI since she has too much in resources.

Learn More

If you need more information on these programs, you'll find a wealth in our section on Getting Disability Benefits.

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