What’s The Difference Between SSI and SSDI?

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) are benefits for people who can't work or are impoverished. They're both handled by the Social Security Administration and are commonly thought to be the same thing. But they're two very different animals when it comes to eligibility and benefits.

Here's the difference: SSI is strictly needs based according to your income and assets, and is funded by taxes out of the U.S. Treasury. SSI is available to to low-income people who haven't worked or haven't earned enough credits to qualify for other benefits. That means no matter how little you've worked, if you fit the criteria, you're entitled to receive SSI benefits.

SSDI is available to disabled workers who have a history of work, known as “credits.” SSI is different from Social Security benefits, because Social Security benefits are only available to people who have worked long enough and paid into Social Security taxes.

Still confused? Here it is in a nutshell:


  • SSI helps the elderly, blind, and disabled who have little to no income secure basic needs like food, clothing, and shelter
  • Your eligibility for SSI isn't based off of how much you've worked; no matter how much or how little you've worked in the past, you're entitled to the same benefits based on your current income
  • You're eligible as long ass you make less than $783 a month in qualified income (see a list of qualified income here)
  • Federal maximum 2020 monthly payments are $783 per individual, $1,175 for an eligible person with an eligible spouse, and $392 for an essential person
  • In most states, if you qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you also qualify for Medicaid and other programs. Click here for more information
  • Some states provide additional payments to SSI recipients
  • Many who qualify for SSI may also be entitled to Social Security benefits. The SSI application is actually an application for Social Security benefits as well
  • To get SSI, you have to be disabled, blind, or age 65 or older and have limited income

Click here for more detailed information on SSI.


  • Available to people who have earned enough work “credits” and paid into Social Security:
    • Must have at least 40 credits, 20 being earned in the past 10 years
    • In 2020 you earn one credit for every $1,410 you earn, and can earn up to four credits per year
  • You must have a disability as defined by the Social Security Administration that keeps you from being able to work
  • Given based on your Social Security earnings before you became disabled
  • You are entitled to SSDI regardless of your income as long as you've worked the required amount
  • Benefits continue as long as you are disabled and make less than $1,260 a year
  • Average monthly payments of $1,234 per month

Click here for more detailed information on SSDI.

Who qualifies for SSI?

To be eligible for SSI, you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or qualified alien
  • Live in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands
  • Not leave the United States for a full calendar month or 30 or more days in a row
  • Prove you are disabled or won't be able to work in at least the next 12 months
  • Not have more than $2,000 in liquid assets, or $3,000 for couples
  • Not make more than $783 per month of individual income or $1,175 in combined spouse income
  • Household income above $1,260 per month will likely disqualify you for SSI

Who Qualifies For SSDI?

To be eligible for SSDI, you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Have enough work credits
  • Have a disability keeping you from gainful employment
  • Earn less than $1,260 a month

A Note on SSI Income Limits

The SSA counts “income” as anything that can be used either directly or indirectly to secure basic needs. This can include earned income, gifts, pensions and benefits, and the partial income of people you live with. The more countable income you have, your SSI payment will usually be smaller. If your countable income exceeds $783 a month, you may not qualify for benefits. However, the SSA doesn't count the following as income:

  • The first $20 of most income received in a month
  • The first $65 of earnings and half of all earnings received each month
  • SNAP benefits
  • Income tax refunds
  • Home energy assistance
  • Benefits given by state, local, or tribal governments
  • Small income received irregularly
  • Interest
  • Grants, scholarships, fellowships, or gifts for education
  • Food and shelter provided by non-profit agencies
  • Loans you have to repay
  • Money others spend to for you for things other than food or shelter
  • Income put aside under a Plan to Achieve Self-Support
  • Income up to $1,900 per month with a maximum of $7,670 per year for students under the age of 22
  • Expenses for disabled and blind people to work
  • Disaster assistance
  • The first $2,000 received every year for some clinical trials
  • Refundable Federal and advanced tax credits you earned on or after January 1, 2010
  • Some Indian trust fund payments paid to tribal members

For example, suppose you were given $300 per month. The first $20 is not counted as income, so you have $280 of countable income. The countable income would be subtracted from your maximum benefit amount ($783-$280), meaning you'd get $503 per month in SSI benefits.

Here's another example: Suppose you earned $317 per month in wages. The first $20 wouldn't be counted, equaling $297. Because this is earned income, an additional $65 wouldn't be counted ($297-$65=$232). Finally, because this is earned income, that amount would be divided in half, meaning you have $116 in countable income. Subtracting this number from the maximum 2020 benefit ($783-$116) you'd get $667 a month in SSI benefits.

There's a limit to how much you can earn. For example, if you made $1,651 a month, the first $20 and $65 would be deducted from your countable income ($1,566). This number would be divided in half, equaling $783 in countable income. This would be subtracted from your maximum benefit of $783, which would equal zero.

How Do I Apply For SSI?

Don't wait to apply. If you think you may be eligible for SSI benefits, now is the best time to start the application process. But before applying, you'll need some documents. These include:

  • Social Security Card or number
  • Proof of age, such as a birth certificate or other document
  • Proof of citizenship or legal alien status
  • Proof of income:
    • Earned income: pay stubs or tax returns
    • Unearned income: any kind of documents you have that show how much you get, how often, and where the payment came from
    • Work expenses documentation
  • Proof of resources and assets:
    • Bank statements
    • Deeds or appraisals of property you own besides the house you live in
    • Insurance policies
    • Burial plots and contracts
    • Certificates of deposits, stocks, and bonds
    • Titles of the vehicles you own
  • Proof of living arrangements:
    • Receipts for rent
    • Information on anyone living with you
    • Deed or property tax bills
    • Information on costs for rent, mortgage, utilities, and food
  • Medical history (if you're disabled or blind):
    • Medical reports
    • Names and contact information of doctors and medical service providers and the dates you received treatment
    • Names of medicine you take
  • Work history:
    • Job positions held
    • Type of employment
    • Names and addresses of employers
    • Dates you worked at each employer
    • Hours you worked per day and per week
    • Days you worked per week and your hourly rate or salary earned in the past 15 years before you became unable to work
    • Explanation of job duties

Once you have your information ready, begin the application process online, by calling 1-800-772-1213, or scheduling an appointment at an SSA office near you.

How to Apply For SSDI

There's no sugarcoating it: Applying for disability is a nightmare. It's tedious, long, and requires a lot of supporting information. It's important to file for disability as soon as you become disabled. Before you start, we recommend getting all of your supporting documents together before applying, including:

  1. Date and place of birth and social security number
  2. Marriage and divorce information, including SSN of spouse or ex spouse and birth dates
  3. Names and birthdays of children and their situations
  4. Military service
  5. Employment details for current and past years:
  • Money you earned last year and this year
  • Name and address of your employer(s) for this year and last year
  • List of jobs you had in the 15 years before you became unable to work, and the dates you were employed at those jobs
  • Information on workers compensation or any other benefits you've filed for
  1. Self-employment details
  2. Bank deposit information
  3. Alternate contacts
  4. List of medical conditions
  5. Name, address, and contact information of a person who knows about your medical condition and can help you apply
  6. Information about other medical records:
  • Names, addresses, phone numbers, patient ID numbers, dates of treatment(s)
  • Medicines you are taking and who prescribed them
  • Names and dates of medical tests you've had and who appointed them

Names and dates of medical tests you've had and who appointed them

  1. Employment history
  2. Education and training

You'll need the following documents while applying:

  1. Birth certificate
  2. Proof of citizenship or lawful alien status
  3. Military discharge papers
  4. W-2 forms and/or self-employment tax returns from last year
  5. Any medical evidence such as medical records, reports, and test results
  6. Award letters, pay stubs, settlement agreements, and other proof of past benefits you've received

You can also provide additional information that will help increase your chances of being approved. These include:

  1. Description of mental and physical requirements of your job
  2. How your condition keeps you from working
  3. A written report detailing your case

If My Application for SSI or SSDI is Denied, What Can I Do?

You can appeal the SSA if your SSI or SSDI applications were denied. Click here to learn more about the appeal process.

While applying for SSI and SSDI benefits can be daunting, it's well worth the effort to apply if you think you're eligible. Remember to apply as soon as possible to secure your maximum benefits, and most importantly, don't give up and keep doing your best!

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