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What is the Difference Between Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

You might have heard or seen the terms Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

How are SSDI and SSI different?

What is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

SSDI, also sometimes referred to as "Disability Insurance Benefits" (DIB) or a "Title 2 claim" is a form of insurance for those disabled individuals who paid Social Security taxes while working and were able to accumulate enough credits to qualify for the program.

For each $1,470 of wages earned in 2021, an individual earns one work credit. (The amount of wages required per credit varies each year.) A worker can earn a maximum of 4 credits per year. (So, if you earn at least $5,880 in 2021, you've earned the maximum of 4 credits allowed for this year.)

In order to qualify for SSDI, one must meet a recent work test and a duration work test.

Recent Work Test

Meeting the requirement for the recent work test will vary by age. An individual age 31 or older must have earned at least 20 credits in the 10-year period immediately prior to becoming disabled. (In other words, you must have earned, at least, approximately $5,800 in at least 5 of the prior 10 years.)

If someone becomes disabled between ages 24 to 31, they must have worked half of the time between age 21 and the age at which they became disabled. For example, if a worker became disabled at age 27, the individual would need 3 years of work (12 credits total) out of the past 6 years (between the ages 21 and 27).

For someone younger than 24, the Social Security Administration requires that the individual must have earned 6 credits in the 3-year period ending when the disability starts. In other words, you must have worked at least 1.5 out of the 3 years prior to disability (6 credits).

Duration Work Test

The Social Security Administration publishes a table showing an estimate of how many years an individual must work in order to meet the duration work requirement. Please note, this table is only an estimate.

If you become disabled Then you will generally need
Before age 28 1.5 years of work
Age 30 2 years
Age 34 3 years
Age 38 4 years
Age 42 5 years
Age 44 5.5 years
Age 46 6 years
Age 48 6.5 years
Age 50 7 years
Age 52 7.5 years
Age 54 8 years
Age 56 8.5 years
Age 58 9 years
Age 60 9.5 years

Date Last Insured

As discussed above, individuals over the age of 30 must pass the recent work test and duration work test in order to qualify for SSDI. Based upon the individual's last date of work, when work credits stopped being accrued, the Social Security Administration will determine what the date last insured (DLI) is.

The onset of the individual's disability must be prior to the DLI. An individual who files a disability claim after the DLI and can't establish that the disability onset date was prior to the DLI, may still be eligible for SSI benefits - if the individual has limited assets. DLI applies only to SSDI claims, not to SSI benefits.

Please note: the DLI will be different for individuals found to be statutorily blind per the Social Security Administration disability listings.

What is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

If you do not have enough work credits to qualify for SSDI, you can still potentially receive SSI disability benefits.

Unlike SSDI, which acts as an insurance program, SSI (also sometimes referred to as a "Title 16 claim") is a needs-based program. In order to qualify, an individual can have no more than $2,000 in countable resources, while a couple can have no more than $3,000 in resources. It should be noted, however, that the Social Security Administration provides a list of a number of things which are NOT considered resources for purposes of determining SSI eligibility. Some common examples include:

  • the home you live in the land it is on;
  • one vehicle, if you or a member of your household use it for transportation;
  • household goods and personal effects;
  • life insurance policies you own with a combined face value of $1,500 or less;
  • burial plots or space for you or your immediate family; and
  • burial funds up to $1,500 each for you and your spouse's burial expenses.

You may also be eligible for SSI under certain conditions if you agree to sell excess resources.

Additionally, it is possible for an individual to qualify for both SSDI and SSI benefits.

There are differences between benefits received from SSDI or SSI.

The definition of disability, and the sequential evaluation process which the Social Security Administration uses to determine disability, is the same for both SSDI and SSI.

However, there are other significant differences in the benefits provided under SSDI and SSI.

The average disabled workers monthly benefit (SSDI) in December 2020 was approximately $1,277. This amount can vary greatly and is dependent on the amount of an individual's income from which social security taxes have been paid. The formula by which the Social Security Administration determines these amounts is complicated.

By comparison, the average monthly SSI payment in December 2020 was approximately $575. The maximum that an individual can receive in monthly SSI payments in 2021 is $794.

There are other differences between SSDI and SSI. For example an individual who qualifies for SSDI is also eligible for Medicare after a 24-month qualifying period, whereas most people who qualify for SSI will be eligible for Medicaid (without requiring a waiting period).

Another difference involves when disability benefit payments will begin. When applying for disability, an individual will provide an "alleged onset date" (AOD) of when disability began. For SSDI purposes, the earliest an individual will be found to be disabled is the AOD. However, that does not mean that one will receive disability payments beginning that month.

In an SSDI claim, an individual can receive payments for up to 12 months prior to the date of the application. However, there is a 5-month waiting period before disability benefits will begin. Disability payments begin on the sixth full month after the date your disability is determined to have begun.

For example, John filed for SSDI on January 15, 2021 with an AOD of January 15, 2020. If the Social Security Administration determines that John was disabled as of his AOD, John will only start receiving disability benefits beginning with the month of July 2020. If, however, John had an AOD of January 15, 2019, and the Social Security Administration determined he was disabled as of his AOD, then his disability benefits will begin the month of January 2020 (which is 12 months prior to John's disability application date).

By contrast, the earliest possible date that an individual can receive SSI benefits is the date of one's disability filing. For example, John filed for SSI on January 15, 2021 with an AOD of January 15, 2020. Even if John provides significant evidence that he was disabled as of the AOD, the earliest date which the Social Security Administration will find him disabled for purposes of receiving benefits is his filing date - in this case, January 15, 2021. However, unlike SSDI, there is not a 5-month waiting period.

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