SSI vs SSDI // What’s The Difference?

You have probably heard the terms SSI and SSDI on TV commercials, but what do they really mean? If you have a disability and are unable to work, you might be trying to obtain disability benefits but have gotten confused over what you could qualify for. Both of these programs help provide financial assistance to people with disabilities, but there are some differences between the two. Whether you have worked in the past, your age, and other factors will determine which program you may qualify for. So, if you’re wondering “What is the difference between SSI and SSDI,” then you have come to the right place. Keep reading as we explain the difference between the two as well as tell you how to apply and how long the application process typically takes.

What Is SSI?

SSI, or Supplemental Security Income, is a program designed to provide financial assistance to older people (65+) or people with disabilities (including children and adult children) who have a financial need. It is a needs-based program and is only available to people with limited financial resources. The program has rules about what is considered part of your countable income when determining whether you meet the financial requirements.

The program is administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and is funded from general Federal tax dollars. Many states offer similar programs, and some states even have arrangements with the Federal government to combine a recipient’s state and Federal benefits into a single check each month.

Since SSI is a program for low-income individuals, most people who receive these benefits also need assistance with health insurance. Therefore, SSI recipients automatically qualify for Medicaid benefits in most states as soon as they begin receiving SSI payments.

A person can qualify for SSI benefits in one of a few ways. They must be age 65 or older OR have blindness OR have a disability at any age. If they meet one of those criteria, they must also have no income or very limited resources. A work history is not required to qualify for SSI benefits.

What Is SSDI?

Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI, helps provide financial assistance to people who become disabled and have a work history where they made payments into the Social Security system. The work history could be the individual’s own history or a qualifying family member like a spouse or parent. Like SSI, this program is also administered by the Social Security Administration; however, there is typically no state involvement with SSDI.

People who receive disability benefits through SSDI also typically need assistance with health insurance. Once a person has received benefits through the program for 24 months, they are automatically enrolled in Medicare.

Qualification for SSDI benefits is managed through strict rules set by the Social Security Administration. It depends on a number of factors such as your work history, skill level, level of education, age, and other things. If your application for SSDI is denied initially, you can appeal the decision to an administrative law judge (ALJ) for a hearing on the matter. Most people will hire an attorney to help guide them through the appeal process.

What Is The Difference Between SSI and SSDI?

While there are some similarities between the two programs in that they both seek to provide financial assistance, there are also some major differences in SSDI vs SSI. We will explore those differences here. The first major difference is in the eligibility requirements. You can qualify for SSI benefits by your age or a disability as long as you have limited income and resources. There is no requirement that you have any type of work history. However, SSDI requires work credits and also requires a determination of disability. You cannot qualify for SSDI payments without having a disability.

The next difference between the two programs is the monthly benefit you can expect to receive from each. Payments from the SSI program are usually quite lower than SSDI payments. Average SSI benefits are less than half the average benefit from the SSDI program. Remember that some states also have programs to help to supplement SSI payments. Also, SSI benefit amounts are set by the Federal government each year while SSDI payments are based on your earnings record at your previous employment because you have paid into the program while you worked through Social Security taxes. The Federal benefit rate for SSI payments is $794 per month for an individual in 2021.

SSDI is essentially a disability insurance program that is managed by the Federal government. Each time you receive a paycheck, part of the taxes that are withheld are placed into what is called the Social Security Trust Fund. These funds are then used to pay Social Security Disability benefits and Social Security Retirement benefits when you reach retirement age.

Another difference between these programs is the type of health insurance for which you can qualify. SSI recipients qualify automatically in most states for Medicaid, while SSDI recipients automatically qualify for Medicare after 24 months. Medicaid eligibility can start immediately, while there is quite a long waiting period before becoming eligible for Medicare. Going two years without health insurance coverage can be especially difficult for disabled individuals living on SSDI benefits.

How Do I Apply for SSI or SSDI?

You can apply online for these disability programs through the SSA’s website. This is true for both applying for SSDI and applying for SSI benefits. You can complete the application, and you will also need to provide thorough medical records that show proof of your disability (if applying for SSDI or disability-based SSI). If you do not have access to a computer or the Internet, you can also apply for these benefits at your local Social Security office. You can also apply for benefits over the phone by contacting the SSA through their toll-free number. Do not get this confused with the process of applying for Social Security retirement benefits.

​Some people even contact a law firm for assistance with the application process, though many people wait until their initial application has been denied. An attorney can then help you through the appeals process and make sure all your records are in order to help you get qualified.

How Long Does The Application Process Take?

This is a common question because most people applying for these benefits have an immediate need or assistance. Unfortunately, the application process can be quite long. It typically takes anywhere from 1 to 4 months for an initial decision to be reached on your application. If you are approved, then you should start receiving benefits right away! However, if you need to go through the appeals process, things will take even longer.

It can take anywhere from 6-12 months to get a hearing in front of a judge for the appeals process. With the current COVID situation, it could take as long as 24 months before getting a final decision on your appeal. Hiring an attorney can help your case, although there is only so much the attorney can do as they do not set the schedules for the hearings.


If you are disabled and in need of financial assistance, then you need to know the difference between SSI and SSDI so that you know which program you may qualify for. Knowing the differences between the to as well as how to qualify and apply will help you tremendously as you work to obtain the benefits to which you are entitled. The application process can be lengthy and time consuming, but be persistent. Most people give up before getting approved for benefits even if they should qualify.

Elliot Marks

Elliot Marks

Author & Social Security Advisor

Elliot Marks has spent over 10 years providing clear and concise information to help Americans navigate the complex nuances of social security and many other government services in the United States. Elliot has a passion for helping those in need of these services to be able to find timely access to news and information that is relevant and helpful to their daily lives.