Which Do I Qualify for: SSDI or SSI?

Close up of Social Security Disability Claim Form

The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers two types of benefits to those who are disabled and unable to work for at least 12 months, or whose condition is expected to result in death. The first type, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is available to workers who have earned enough work credits and is funded through payroll taxes. The second, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), is a needs-based program funded by taxes.

When you go to file for Social Security disability benefits, you will need to determine which program(s) you qualify for to ensure you have a chance at approval.

Both programs have the same medical requirements, but are different when it comes to financial and employment requirements.

Social Security Disability Insurance

In order to qualify for SSDI, you must have worked for a certain number of years and earned enough work credits.

As of 2015, you must earn $1,220 to get one work credit. You can earn a maximum of four work credits per year.

The older you are, the more work credits you will need to qualify. Also, depending on your age, the credits must have been earned within a certain number of years before you became disabled. This is referred to as the recent work test. If you are over 31 years old, the SSA requires you to have earned 20 credits in the 10 years prior to your disability.

While there is no limit on the amount of assets you can possess when you apply for SSDI, they do put a limit on the amount of income you can earn each month. As of 2015, a disabled applicant cannot earn more than $1,090 per month, and a blind applicant cannot earn more than $1,820 per month. If you earn more than this, the SSA will not consider your disability severe enough to hamper your ability to work. If you own your own business, the rules for you are a bit different, as your monthly income may not reflect the amount of work you put into your business.

Unearned income from investments, interest or your spouse is not counted against these monthly income limits.

Supplemental Security Income

Unlike SSDI, SSI has no work credit requirements to qualify, but the income limits are more strict, as this program was designed to help those who need it most.

The SSA does limit the amount of assets you can own to qualify for SSI. You can only have up to $2,000 in assets if you are single, and $3,000 in assets if you are married. However, there are certain assets that will not be counted toward this limit, such as one car and the house you live in.

The current monthly income limit for SSI recipients is $721 per month for individuals and $1,080 per month for married couples.

In addition to money you earn from working, the SSA will count resources that could be used to obtain food, clothing and shelter toward your monthly income. These resources include money you receive from other sources such as veterans benefits; pension or alimony, any free shelter or food you are receiving from a non government source and a portion of the income earned by people living with you, as the SSA assumes that part of their income will go towards your care and living expenses.

However, the SSA does have deductions and exclusions when it comes to calculating your monthly income. These include:

  • $20 per month of unearned income (i.e. not from wages).
  • The first $65 per month of earned income, and one-half of your wages over $65.
  • Wages that go toward special impairment-related work expenses for disabled or blind persons.
  • The first $30 of irregular wages earned in a quarter.
  • The first $60 of irregular unearned income earned in a quarter.
  • Medical care.
  • Reimbursement of expenses from a social services agency.
  • Food stamps.
  • Housing or home energy assistance.

This means you are able to deduct or exclude the cost of each of the above from your monthly wages. There are also state supplements available in certain states, meaning the allowed income level and amount of SSI payments may be higher than the federal maximum.

Generally, you are able to earn around $1,500 per month and still meet the requirements to earn a small amount of SSI each month.

As you can see, there are a lot of variables involved when it comes to calculating whether or not you qualify for social security benefits. If you are having trouble determining whether you meet the SSA’s financial and employment requirements, visit their website and fill out the Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool. You might also consider consulting with an attorney or social security benefits advocate to see if you have a case.

For more information on applying for Social Security benefits, be sure to check out our “Before You Apply: Getting Your Disability Ducks in a Row” article.