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SSDI vs. SSI which one will you qualify to receive?

Recently on our legal forum a user asked, “I am disabled and unable to work. I was in a serious car accident and the doctor says I will not ever be able to walk again. I talked to the Social Security Administration (SSA), but I am confused about what type of disability benefits I might qualify to receive. Can you help me? What is the difference between Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?


SSDI and SSI overview


Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a wage replacement program which is funded by the contributions that workers pay on their earnings. These funds are gathered in the Disability Trust Fund.

Supplemental Security Income, however, is not funded by workers directly or by wages paid but rather through general tax revenues that are paid by all Americans.

Qualifying for SSDI vs. SSI

To qualify for SSDI benefits a worker must be unable to work for at least 12 continuous months due to a severe mental or physical health condition. They also must have worked and paid enough into the Disability Trust Fund to be considered insured for SSDI benefits.

To qualify for SSI benefits workers must by blind, disabled or aged and not able to work, but they do not need “credits” (which means they may never have worked or contributed any money to the government in tax revenue). SSI applicants must, however, have very limited income and resources.

How are payments calculated for SSDI vs. SSI?


If you qualify for SSDI benefits your monthly payment will be based on your lifetime average earnings covered by Social Security. Payment calculations can be complicated so if you have questions you should contact the SSA. You can also review your annual statement of benefits online at www.ssa.gov

It is also important to note that payments can be reduced if you are earning other payments provided by the government such as Workers’ Compensation payments (including Black Lung payments) and/or public disability benefits.

SSI benefits are calculated based on what the federal government refers to as the Federal Benefit Rate. It will have nothing to do with your own personal earnings. According to the SSA, in 2016, the FBR is $733 for a qualified person and $1,100 for a qualified couple.

States may also add a state supplemental benefit onto the Federal Benefit Rate and the SSA may also reduce your payment if you are receiving certain types of income or support from other individuals or family members.

Should I apply for SSDI benefits or SSI benefits?

Assuming you have enough work credits and the SSA determines you are disabled, you will qualify for SSDI benefits. If you do not have enough work credits but you meet all the other requirements for SSI, the SSA will award you SSI benefits. Some applicants may also qualify for both SSDI and SSI.

Bottom Line:

If you are disabled and cannot work and you meet the requirements you will receive either SSI or SSDI until you are able to return to work, the SSA determines you are no longer disabled, you die, or in the case of SSDI you reach your full retirement age (at which time your benefit will be converted to a SSA retirement benefit).

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