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

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Artist: Olivia Colleen Smith. Page Updated: July 2019

Now we are going to tell you something that is going to sound confusing and unimportant. But if you can read this and remember it, life is going to start making 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 (sometimes they get Medicaid too)

People on both SSI & SSDI get both Medicaid & Medicare

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. What am I on?

What am I applying for?

To find out what you are applying for, you can ask your lawyer, contact Social Security, read any paperwork you were sent, or check your online Social Security account.  Sometimes people think they are applying for both when really they won’t be eligible for the SSI part. Am I Applying For Both SSI and SSDI?

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. Did I Work Enough to Get SSDI?

SSI – For People Who Are Poor. SSI is for people who don’t qualify for SSDI or for people’s whose disability check is low (usually under $800). 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. SSI is also for disabled children whose parents are low income. Am I Poor Enough to Get SSI?

But wait! There’s More

There are a few other kinds of Social Security disability that are not SSI or SSDI:

🌷If you first became disabled before the age of 22, you might be eligible for “Disabled Adult Child Benefits.” This is similar to SSDI, but it’s really it’s own thing, so it gets it’s own page: How to Get Disabled Adult Child Benefits

🌷 If you are a widow or an ex-widow (your ex spouse died) you might be eligible for Social Security widow’s benefits. For disabled people, these can start at age 50. (For other people they start at age 60).

🌷 There are also other forms of Social Security that have nothing to do with being disabled: retirement benefits, dependent benefits, survivor’s benefits, etc.

Can I get both SSI and SSDI? 

If your SSDI check is low, you may be able to get some SSI as well. Usually this means your check is $800 or less: How Much Will My SSDI Be?

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! Or you could wind up owing money back 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.

If you are on Disabled Adult Child Benefits, you will follow the same rules as SSDI. So you don’t have to learn all the crazy SSI financial rules. However, if you are on Medicaid and want to keep your Medicaid, then in most cases, you do want to keep following the same SSI financial rules.

What Do You Think? 

Please comment below with stories, ideas, questions or suggestions. Please let us know if any links on this page stop working. If you found this page helpful, please share it with others by pressing one of these magic little buttons: 

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

  1. I just got denied for SSI, I read info, and more info online, I searched and learned and knew that combined my pension and ssdi benefits would be over the minimum which would make me eligible for SSI. And another thing, WHEN YOU APPLY YOU ARE AUTOMATICALLY CONSIDERED FOR BOTH, YOU DON’T NEED TO SPECIFICALLY APPLY FOR BOTH, IT’S PART OF THE SAME PROCESS AND WHAT YOU WILL RECEIVE AND FROM WHICH PROGRAM DEPENDS ON QUALIFYING MEDICALLY FOR BOTH, INCOME FOR SSI, WORK CREDITS FOR SSDI, OR IN SOME CASES PEOPLE WHO ARE DISABLED AS CHILDREN WILL BE ELIGIBLE IN ANOTHER CONSIDERATION.

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  2. Question please; today both my SSDI and SSI online status verbiage changed.

    I felt okay when I saw the SSDI say “A medical decision has been made and we are working to process your benefit application.” BUT then my SSI changed to “ Your claim for SSI (Disability) benefits has been denied. A notice has been sent to you with a detailed explanation of the medical decision.”

    Does this mean I’ve been completely denied all benefits? I’m so upset since this is my second attempt over the last five years, non-stop.

    Thank you.

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    1. We got a letter from SSI telling us that our daughter (who is non-verbal and has LGS) was denied when she turned 18 . I was confused about the difference between SSI and SSDI at the time and was very upset about the denial from SSI, I thought how can this be because there was no doubt about her being disabled. I started making phone calls to find out what was going on and found out that she was only denied because she was approved to draw disability from my social security. Maybe you get a glimmer of hope from our experience and like sleepygirl said “Don’t give up hope”. I was denied twice and got a hearing and was approved with my disability case which took about 2 and a half years from the day I filed I wish I had this website to refer to at the time, might still have a little hair left on my bald head. lol

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  3. Still don’t know if I have to file taxes for stimuli check. I am SSDI (I think) or SSI Disability…I don’t usually have to file. Do I have to file, and am I even elligable?

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    1. Very sorry for your loss. Please call your local SSA office and let them know you’d like to apply for survivor’s benefits as a person with disabilities. They can let you know if survivor’s benefits are a higher amount than what you are already getting now. If it’s not higher, then there wouldn’t be a point in applying.

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  4. Hello
    So, I was on SSI and taking care of my Mother until she passed away. When that happened, I had to return to the workforce and drop all benefits including SSI, food stamp, etc. And that was fine… I was making great money and able-bodied enough to do so AT THE TIME. So, I called the toll free number for Social Security and reported I was working.
    About the same time, they sent me a letter saying they were going to stop all of my SSI payments to collect in full an “alleged” 18K overpayment that they said I owed them. Mm-kay?! (Strange timing, I know) When I reported I was working, I did so by phone to the toll free number and fully expected my checks to STOP! Several months after I called, I received a form to fill out asking for my income (that I’d just reported) which I happily provided them, down to the penny from my tax return. STILL expecting my SSI check to stop, and even MORE so NOW that I filled out and returned the form! But it never did. It kept being direct deposited into my checking account month after month, even though I’d reported it TWICE (phone, and form). Silly me, I’m thinking that I’m still entitled to my SSI check even though I was working. I didn’t know. I did everything they asked of me!!

    (Oh, and by the way… I sent a letter of dispute about the overpayment asking them to waive it because “it wasn’t my fault,” which they refused to do).

    Fast forward to the following year when I once again, here comes that form to fill out about my income. By this time, I’m thinking that this must just be a yearly thing I have to do and lucky for me, it looks like as long as I dont go over the amount I’m making from my job, I’ll still get my SSI check! AWESOME! Wrong.
    Several months later, almost a year, I get another letter demanding payment for the 18K they “allege” I owe them.
    1) This was not my fault in any way, and
    2) This would create a SEVERE hardship if I would have to cough up that much money.
    What I want to know is, now that I’ve been diagnosed with advanced Multiple Sclerosis and am now out on long term disability thru my job at this moment, do I, or SHOULD I, file bankruptcy to discharge that 18K (which IS dischargeable thru bankruptcy… I researched) in order to reapply for FULL benefits that I’m about to need in a major HUGE hurry, or how would that be handled AND are they STILL going to demand that amount of money back from me, even though and yet again… this was NOT my fault!!?
    I’m soooooo confused. Thank you for any help and advice.

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  5. Hi. My ssdi is less than $800. My husband makes way over the ssi income requirement. Am I still qualify ssi? Thanks!

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  6. Hello, thank you for all this information. I’m still confused however because I really don’t understand some things. So let me try to ask this, so I was married over 25 years, now divorced, I worked foster care for 6 years, Tax free income , I was once told that I can collect on my ex husband’s credits because were married so long. Since the divorce I had to work part time fo 4 years because I lost my home, closed my house, and was going to be living in my car. ( lucky for me, I was taken in by a former foster children adoptive family ) I don’t know if I can use his credits? The attorney said at my hearing yesterday about SSI . Does that mean I’m not using my ex husband’s credits? Because I didn’t may enough money on my own. What is the approx amount someone like me would receive? I see some people are getting 1400 a month, and something else I read said less than 800. I. So confused.

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  7. I was recent approved for ssi benefits in sept 2019. I havent even been on them 5 months yet. My paperwork said be review every 3 years. Then today in mail I got a letter stating they have a appt to call me and make sure i still am eligible for my ssi benefits why would i get that letter when only been on it for 4 months

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  8. I am recently a single father. My wife was on SSDI for 12 years or so due to Marfans and complications from aortic replacement surgery. We never realized our children could receive benefits from my wife’s disability until she passed away last month. I applied for my daughter to receive SSDI survivor benefits which she has started to receive then after we received the check they sent a booklet guide for representative payee. I am trying to determine what kind of things we can use the funds for. When I called the SSA they just quoted the booklet which seems more geared to SSI vs SSDI. Do I need to write an agreement for the amount I take out for “rent/utilities” and is child care considered an appropriate expense? If you could point me in the right direction I would greatly appreciate it. Adam

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    1. Hi Adam,

      Sadly I don’t know how rep payee funds work.

      I can tell you that you definitely do not need to worry about creating rental agreements in this situation.

      I have heard from other parents that auxilliary benefits don’t have restrictions in the way SSI can, as long as child’s basic needs are met and funds are used for the child.

      Sorry I don’t really know much in this area though.

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  9. Hi, I have been on SSDI for 25 plus years. I am disabled and will be until the day I die. I’m 64yrs old. I also recieve survivors benifits from SSA for my late wife. I live in Montgomery county. Dayton. Ohio. Somehwere in the mix over the years since my wife passed I was told to apply for medicaid as well. I am at Qi1 staus. In short the state (Medicaid) pays my medicare part B monthly premium which I am told is going up from 135.50 (2019) to (144.60) in 2020 each month. SSDI has no asset limits . I am currently getting 1407.00 and ( this is my question) if I own more than 1 car, they will stop paying my Medicare part B premiums. And stop 16.00 dollars a month in Food stamps. I can live without the FS. I had a failed neck fusion c-3 through c-7 .It is very hard to get in and out of my car now.. I need a medium size used Suv to get to PT , Doctors, ect. Also they are saying the same thing will happen if I sell my current car because that is considered a resource. They can not answer my questions..I really don’t want to buy or rent a new Suv , a used one would be fine. I also don’t want to take a hit (money wise) on my current car and selll it for next to nothing because they are saying it will be counted as a resourse/asset as well.. There is limited info on recieving SSDI and Medicaid on the internet and Medicaid personel can not answer a phone and as said I keep getting diffrent answer’s when they do answer the phone. I keep explaining I AM NOT ON SSI. It goes in one ear and out the other. Is there anyway I can own 2 cars? SSDI says I can. The 144.60 I would loose add’s up .Ex: 144.60 x 12 months = 1735.20 a year. Take that amount times 10 years and that equals 17.352.00 allmost 18 Grand and that does add up. , Any help or info will be greatly appreciated. Thank You

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    1. Hi Jim,

      The medicaid rules are different in every state, and every state has multiple medicaid programs…. so I can’t tell you for sure…

      As a general rule… some medicaid programs have resource limits and some don’t. So first thing to check is if your program has a limit and how much it is.

      Many medicaid programs will exclude one car. If you own two cars, they may count the value of the second car (whichever one is cheapest). If the car has debt on it, they only count equity value (which is sometimes $0).

      This page is for SSI, but some of the rules would apply to medicaid as well… hope this helps…. https://howtogeton.wordpress.com/how-to-own-two-cars-on-ssi/

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  10. How do I know I am not being overcharged for rent? I live in senior housing under government subsidiary. I’m on disability at 1400/mth. I live in a one bedroom for 447 mth plus electric and cable. 2020 they are raising our rent 25 dollars.

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  11. can you make some purchases to reduce your resources if you have found out that you have more than $2000 in the bank and not get penalized for it?

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  12. If my spouse is on ssi or ssdi and wants to rent a place for me, my adult child and my grandchild spouse would live somewhere else. Is that legal?

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    1. I’m not certain I understand. But if your spouse is on disability and wants to pay your rent, yes, he is free to do so. Most people on disability can’t afford this, but if he can, great.

      For SSI, he also has to pay his own rent and utilities, or his check will be reduced.

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  13. I was denied for benefits so I appealed. I was awaiting a hearing date when my status changed to A medical decision has been made and they are working on my decision. Does this mean I’m not going to have a hearing?

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  14. Hello,
    Just check my ssdi claim online and it say:
    A medical decision has been made and we are working to process your decision. A Social Security Representative may contact you or your appointed representative directly if we need any additional documents or information.
    What this mean ? Anybody please let me know
    Thank you
    Steve

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  15. This has been amazing and I’ll be sure to share this with a group on FB. My question is I have fed.student loans pending and they recently took our income tax way because of the debit. I read the part about taking the right steps to protect out checks (if approved) and back pay. I’m waiting to get approved in order to apply for these programs. So what would happen 1st.. will they take my backpay to cover my debt or will I be given a opportunity to apply for a program 1st before they jump to taking my backpay. I’m so worried..any advice would be appreciated.

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  16. how long does it take after your ajl hearing to get your letter of approval and can you gat yor monthly benifits before your back pay

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  17. I agree this website has been more helpful than all other resourses available including my lawyer. THX for the info. I received & plenty more to seek if I need it.

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  18. Hello and good day. Quick question about Concurrent Benefits. I know you have such limit to keep $2000 or under with other assets to be eligible for SSI. But i have searched all over the internet and can’t find the answer on how will that works with concurrent benefits or it’s simply excluded because you are getting both benefit at the same time. I just need to know if i can balanced my bank account with more than $2000 since i am on concurrent benefits and single ( no kids, no wife,lives alone and currently pays rent).

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  19. I soooooo need this today!! My Dr feels i should go on disability and it was a HUGE relief and comfort to me knowing that as soon as soon as i get home, THIS link will be here to help me understand what to do and expect!!! Thank you for creating this!

    Like

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