A Guide to Understanding SSDI vs SSI Benefits

Hawks Quindel disability attorneys know the Social Security Disability process is confusing and frustrating. We know this because time after time, our clients express exasperation regarding the difficulty of navigating the SSDI system. It’s unclear how the Social Security Administration expects the average person to navigate this complex and drawn-out system. This is particularly challenging for someone who is already managing a difficult period in their life.

Our Social Security Disability attorneys aim to explain these disability programs in a way that the average person can understand. This post explains the key differences between SSDI and SSI benefits. Many people have heard these terms, but do not understand what they mean, or the difference between the them. We are here to help.

Types of Disability Benefits

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Social Security Disability Insurance, SSDI, is for people who have a work history. The program is similar to any type of insurance where you pay premiums when you don’t need help in order to be insured in case there comes a time when you DO need help.

For SSDI, Social Security taxes are taken out of your wages in lieu of a monthly premium. Paying enough social security taxes over time earns you “insured status.” Generally speaking, once you stop full-time work, you continue to have insured status for five additional years. If you return to work, your insured status period may be extended.

In order to potentially qualify for SSDI, you must lose your ability to work while you still have insured status. The Social Security Administration determines your insured status before even reviewing your medical record or conditions.

The easiest way to find out if you are insured, or when your insured status ends, is to call your local social security office and ask for your “Date Last Insured.” Having this date available if you call an attorney’s office for assistance will be extremely helpful for evaluating your Social Security disability case.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

If you have a sporadic work history, stopped working more than five years ago, or have never worked, you may not have insured status. If you never gained insured status or did not become disabled while you were insured, you will not qualify for SSDI, but you may still be eligible for SSI (Supplemental Security Income).

In order to qualify for SSI, you do not need to have a work history, but you must have less than a certain amount of financial assets. For an unmarried individual, the limit is currently $2,000. When counting assets, you do not count a home and you do not count one vehicle. Beyond that, generally speaking, any other property that could be liquidated for cash may be counted. If you have more than $2,000 between bank accounts and other property, you will not qualify for SSI. For a married person, the limit is currently $3,000 for the couple. This is often tricky because, if your spouse works and earns monthly income, that will likely make you ineligible for SSI.

If you lack insured status or it expired before disability onset, and your assets exceed the limit, you unfortunately won’t qualify for disability benefits. That said, there are ways that assets can be “spent down” to bring you below the limit. Social Security will scrutinize this closely, so you should consult an attorney before considering this option.

Some People are Eligible for Both SSDI & SSI

While these two forms of assistance sound quite different, a person may be eligible for both if they have insured status AND assets below the maximum amount.

Generally speaking, SSDI benefits are preferred because the monthly amount is typically higher and, more importantly, SSDI aid is not asset-limit dependent. In other words, SSDI assistance will not stop if you suddenly acquire assets over $2,000. That said, if you return to work and earn more than a certain amount of income per month, you could lose your SSDI support.

It is important to understand that eligibility for both does not mean Social Security pays benefits to their full extent. The following section will explain this in more detail.

Monthly Benefits Amounts

How Much Can You Receive from SSDI?

Most people know Social Security keeps track of your monthly benefit amount once you retire. At age 62, a person may qualify to take early retirement, but the benefit amount will be less than if they waited until “full retirement age.”

Your full retirement age is based on your date of birth and can easily be determined by looking at charts online. Social security provides individual statements listing what a person’s monthly benefit amount will be if they retire for every 12 months, starting with age 62. This information is accessible on your social security online portal.

If you are approved for SSDI, your monthly benefit amount will be roughly equal to the benefit amount you would receive if you retired at full retirement age. There is also usually a field on your social security online portal showing the benefit amount “if you became disabled today.”

How Much Can You Receive from SSI?

SSI monthly benefit amounts are set by Social Security regulations. As of the date of this post, the monthly amount for a non-blind individual is $841 per month.

Importantly, Social Security may reduce this monthly amount if they determine that you are receiving “in-kind” support from another person. This is most often the case when an SSI applicant is living with another person and not contributing to household expenses.

Sometimes, when this is the case, Social Security will reduce your monthly benefit by one-third. If that happens, Social Security is assuming the value of support you receive from the person with whom you live is at least one-third of your full monthly benefit amount. There can be ways to avoid such reduction, but it is a complex issue on which you should seek a disability attorney’s advice.

Receiving Benefits for Both SSDI & SSI: Is it Possible?

As mentioned in the previous section, there can be situations in which a person qualifies for both SSDI and SSI. That said, the benefits do not get added together; rather, you just receive the maximum amount provided by either benefit. Usually, if a person has insured status, their monthly SSDI benefit amount is greater than $841. In that case, the person will just receive the SSDI benefit amount.

When a person has insured status but a more sporadic work history, their SSDI benefit amount may be less than the set SSI benefit amount. That person will receive their SSDI benefit, as well as an SSI benefit for the difference between their SSDI and the set SSI amount. For example, if a person’s SSDI benefit amount is $500, that person will receive $500 in SSDI and up to $341 in SSI, for a total of $841 (the set SSI amount).

The calculation of backpay also varies depending on whether a person is approved for SSDI, SSI, or both.

We Help Workers Maximize Their Disability Benefits

If you or someone you know is considering applying for Social Security Disability, the experienced attorneys here at Hawks Quindel are ready and willing to help.

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Natalie Gerloff