The Social Security Administration (SSA) handles two different benefits programs for people who are disabled: Social Security Disability (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
While there are some similarities between the two programs, they are actually paid from two different trust funds, so they have very different rules for eligibility. Here are the basics you should know:
How SSD and SSI are different
The biggest difference between the two programs is that SSD eligibility is determined by your work history, while SSI eligibility is determined by financial need.
When you pay into Social Security, your work activity buys you up to four “credits” each year toward the eligibility you need for SSD, although the amount of earnings it takes to earn a credit does vary by the year. Broadly, you’ll meet the technical eligibility requirements for SSD benefits if you have a total of 40 work credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years, ending with the year you became disabled. (The required credits are fewer if you’re under 31 years of age.)
For SSI benefits, you only meet the technical eligibility requirements if you have limited income and resources (cash, cars and property, for example). While the restrictions are very tight, not all income and resources are “counted” when eligibility is determined. For example, the house that you live in and one vehicle are usually not countable.
It’s important to note that some people can qualify for both benefits, so they may end up filing an application under each program.
How SSD and SSI are alike
Both SSD and SSI share one defining criteria for eligibility: You have to have a disability that prevents you from performing substantial work activity, and that disability must either be expected to last for at least one year or end in death.
If you’re suffering from a disability that keeps you from working, don’t try to guess whether you’re eligible for SSD or SSI on your own. You can get experienced legal guidance that can help you understand your eligibility and what it takes to make a successful claim for benefits under one or both programs.