How to Understand the Difference Between SSI and SSDI Without Making Your Head Explode

Artist: Olivia Colleen Smith

Now I am going to tell you something that is going to sound confusing and unimportant.

But if you can read this and remember it, the next two years of your life are going to make so much more sense.

Here goes….

Social Security has two different disability programs. They are called SSI and SSDI. They sound the same. And they look the same. And you apply for them the same way. But they are different. Social Security has done this deliberately to confuse you.

It gets better….

Social Security has two different health insurance programs. They are called Medicare and Medicaid. They sound the same. And they are both given out to people on disability. But they are different. See, they thought you were not already confused enough, so they are piling it on.

Put this all together and you get…

People on SSI get Medicaid

People on SSDI get Medicare

People on both SSI & SSDI get both Medicaid & Medicare

What do these words mean?

SSDI stands for Social Security Disability Insurance.

SSI stands for Supplemental Security Income.

Who qualifies?

SSDI – For People Who Worked. SSDI is for people who have worked and paid Social Security tax. Not everyone who has worked qualifies. It depends how old you are, how much you worked, and how recently you worked.

SSI – For People Who Are Poor. SSI is for people who don’t qualify for SSDI or for people’s who get a very low SSDI check. To get on SSI you must be low income and low assets. If you are married, they will also consider your spouse’s income and assets. How poor is poor? The rules are complicated, but as a general rule, most people who qualify for food stamps also qualify for SSI.

How are SSI and SSDI different?

The medical decision is exactly the same. You apply the same way. You go to the same doctors. They make the decision about your disability exactly the same way.

The financial policies are completely different. For SSI, your financial information and financial decisions will be very important. For SSDI, your finances do not matter.

Why do I need to know this? Does it matter?

Yes! It is very important because….

If you get SSDI, you need to know that you are not required to follow all the SSI financial regulations, so you don’t make yourself crazy for no reason. If you have kids, you also need to know that you can probably get extra benefits for your kids, and possibly for your spouse. This does not happen automatically. You must sign up your kids to get the extra money.

If you get SSI, you need to know the SSI financial regs… otherwise your check could be lower and you won’t know why! Some people get lower checks for ten or twenty years and never even realize it. Also, you might break some regs without realizing it. You certainly don’t want that. If you are still applying, then the way you are living now may affect your backpay check.

What should I apply for?

If you have not yet applied, you can just apply for both. Social Security will tell you what you are eligible for.  Or you can read this article to find out more: How Do I Know if I am Eligible for SSI or SSDI?

If you have already applied, and do not know what you are applying for, you can call your lawyer or call Social Security and ask.

Many people make a mistake and do not apply for SSI. They only apply for SSDI because they think they can’t get both. Tip: If you are poor right now, or you might become poor soon, always apply for both SSDI and SSI. It may mean more backpay.

Applying for SSI is very easy. When you first apply for disability, you will fill out your initial application. Just make sure to check the box that you intend to apply for SSI (Supplemental Security Income). That is it! Social Security will get in touch with you at some point to ask you some financial questions. If you apply in person they will probably ask you the financial questions right then.

 What am I on?

If you are already on disability and you do not know what kind of check you are getting, you are not alone. You may be able to figure it out here. If your monthly check is less than $735 per month (or $890 in California), take a look here: How Come My Check is So Low?

6 thoughts on “How to Understand the Difference Between SSI and SSDI Without Making Your Head Explode”

  1. I am on SSDI and have been about 9 years. Can I apply for SSI now or will it mess up my SSDI? I get about 1000 a month in SSDI and I am on Medicaid and Medicare and I get a very small amount if food stamps. I’m also on an assistance program thru Medicaid that helps me stay in my own home as long as possible. I sure don’t want to interfere with that program either. But I’m having a very difficult time living on my SSDI check alone. Thank you.


  2. I recently opened a bank account after i was given a bench decision at my hearing but the bank called and said social security responed back and said that account was not a established account and couldnt be used what does that mean


    1. Sorry I don’t know the answer to this one.

      Maybe the account was still in the process of being set up when Social Security tried to put in a test deposit.

      If you are certain the account is working properly now, perhaps you could contact your local Social Security office and ask them to try again.


    2. If all else fails, you can always ask Social Security to put the money on a card for you. You can use it like a regular credit card.

      Then once your bank account is sorted out, you can switch it to a bank account deposit any time.


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