Should I Apply for SSI or SSDI?

Are you unable to work due to a disability? Do you need financial assistance to help pay for your living expenses? You may qualify for benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA).

The SSA offers two programs: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). What’s the difference between the two? Should you apply for SSI or SSDI? 

Let’s break down the eligibility requirements and benefits of each program.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Who is eligible?

Are you struggling to make ends meet? Have you been unable to build a work history? If you have little financial means, you may qualify for SSI. People who are 65 and over, blind or disabled may be approved for SSI if they also have limited income and resources. SSI benefits are typically available to someone who is disabled from working, but has not worked in at least five of the past ten years and paid Social Security taxes. 

The SSA defines income as anything that you receive to pay for necessities. Your income may include wages, other Social Security benefits, and gifts of food or shelter.

Resources refer to your assets. Think cash, bank accounts and property. The total value of your resources cannot exceed $2,000. If you and your spouse wish to receive SSI benefits, your combined resources cannot be more than $3,000. 

Not everything counts as an asset. Do you have only one vehicle? If so, that vehicle doesn’t count toward your resources. Burial spaces, wedding rings and other personal belongings don’t count either. For a full list of countable resources, visit

What are the benefits?

The SSI benefit for an individual living alone or paying housing costs is $783 (as of January 2020). Benefits for a couple, who are both disabled and eligible for SSI, are $1,175. If you live in someone else’s household, your benefits will be less because you are not paying for housing.

Many states offer additional supplements if you are approved for federal SSI. Missouri offers a state supplement for those who receive SSI and live in residential care or nursing facilities. In Missouri, SSI benefits mean you are eligible for Medicaid, which is known as MO HealthNet

Note that dependent children cannot receive any money if the parent qualifies for SSI benefits.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Who is eligible?

Do you have a history of work experience? Have you only recently been unable to work due to a disability? If you have paid into Social Security through previous work experience, you may be able to collect SSDI benefits, which typically pays more than SSI benefits. 

SSDI is for people with severe, long-term disabilities who are no longer able to work. Your eligibility and potential benefits are based on work credits. You can earn up to four credits per year.

The wages you earned while you were working determine the number of work credits you’ve obtained. How much goes toward one work credit? In January 2020, one credit was awarded for every $1,410 of income. 

If you are 31 or older, you generally need 40 credits—20 being from the last 10 years—to qualify for SSDI. Younger individuals can receive benefits based on fewer work credits. For example, someone who is 23 may be eligible for SSDI if they’ve earned six credits in the past three years. 

What are the benefits?

SSDI benefits are based on earnings. Your prior income will determine your benefit amount. With SSDI, your dependents may be able to receive benefits, too. 

Spouses who are over age 62, responsible for a minor child or caring for a disabled child may be able to collect on your benefit. Widowers and divorcees may also receive benefits from a previous spouse if they meet certain requirements. 

After a 24-month waiting period, SSDI also provides Medicare coverage.

Applying for SSI or SSDI

Which program should you apply for? That depends on your circumstances. You may consider SSDI if you have a work history and only recently became unable to work. You may want to pursue SSI if you meet the income requirements. Some people are eligible for both programs.

Do you need assistance applying for SSI or SSDI?

Contact Reynolds & Gold. We can guide you through the process. 

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