What’s The Difference Between Social Security Disability And Supplemental Security Income?

January 25, 20180

As Arkansas Social Security Disability attorneys, one of the issues we often confront is confusion over two federal programs with similar purposes and abbreviations: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). To make matters more confusing, both of these programs are administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

To help clear up some of the confusion, this post explores the similarities and differences between these two critical programs.


SSD and SSI have two different sources of funding. SSD is funded by the FICA or self-employment (SE) tax. If you work for someone else, you pay into Social Security and Medicare through FICA taxes, which are reflected on your paystub. If you’re self-employed, you pay into those programs through the SE tax. In contrast, SSI is funded out of general federal revenues.

This may seem like a minor technicality, but it can help keep the two programs straight. SSD is insurance—a person can only benefit from it if he or she has paid premiums (in the forms of FICA or SE taxes). SSI is more like a traditional welfare program: It’s available for anyone who needs it, whether they’ve paid towards the benefits or not.

That brings us to the second distinction between the two programs:


To qualify for SSI, a person must:

  • Be at least 65 years old, blind, or disabled;
  • Have limited income;
  • Have limited resources; and
  • Apply for any other cash benefits or payments for which he or she may be eligible.

To qualify for SSD, a person must:

  • Be disabled; and
  • Have worked a sufficient amount of time before becoming disabled.


For adults, the definition of “disabled” is the same across the two programs. Under either program, a disability is a severe medical condition that prevents a person from performing any substantial gainful activity, and that has lasted, or can be expected to last, for at least one year or that can be expected to result in death.

What is a severe medical condition? The SSA maintains a list of conditions that automatically qualify. A condition not included on the list may still qualify if its severity is equivalent to a listed condition.

Note that built into the definition of “disability” is a limit on income, because “substantial gainful activity” is defined in terms of monthly earnings. For a non-blind disabled individual, this limit is generally $1,180 per month for 2018, whether the individual applies for SSD or SSI.


Income and property limits. To qualify for SSI, a person’s income must be below a further income limit. The SSI-specific income limit is in addition to the “substantial gainful activity” limit discussed above. The type of income a person receives can affect how much he or she can earn each month, and not all income counts towards the limit.

Additionally, SSI imposes another limit on how much property a person can own and still qualify for the program. The property limit is $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a married couple, but not all property is counted. For example, a person’s home does not count towards the property limit.

In contrast, the only income limit for SSD comes from the definition of “substantial gainful activity,” and it does not have a property limit.

Work credits. A person can only qualify for SSD if he or she has earned sufficient work credits. Work credits are earned by working and paying Social Security taxes, through either the FICA or SE tax. A person can earn up to four credits per year, and the number of credits a person needs to qualify for SSD depends on the age at which he or she became disabled.

On the other hand, a person can qualify for SSI regardless of his or her work experience.


Both SSD and SSI provide monthly payments for individuals who are approved for the programs. Under SSI, an eligible individual can receive up to $750 per month for 2018, and eligible couples can receive up to $1,125 per month. However, these are the maximum monthly amounts available under SSI, and may be reduced depending on an individual’s or couple’s other income.

How much a disabled worker can receive under SSD depends on his or her past earnings. The average SSD recipient receives about $1,200 per month, but the maximum monthly SSD benefit is more than double that amount.

In addition, SSD may provide family benefits for a disabled worker’s family members. Any family benefits are in addition to what the worker receives, and do not reduce his or her benefits. In contrast, SSI does not provide family benefits.


SSI and SSD are both programs with complex rules governing who qualifies for them. Whether it’s the income and resource limits of SSI or the work-credit requirements of SSD, understanding, planning for, and complying with these rules is critical to receiving the benefits you need.

At Caddell Reynolds, our attorneys help Arkansas and Oklahoma residents apply for SSI or SSD benefits. We can help you understand what programs you may be eligible for and how to apply for them, and we work diligently to gather evidence supporting your application and speed up the entire process. If you are unable to work and are interested in exploring these two programs, contact the expert attorneys of Caddell Reynolds today.

Call 800-671-4100 24 hours a day, 7 days a week