The Social Security Administration (SSA) runs two programs to help people with disabilities: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Each program has different requirements, although there are some similarities. It is possible to qualify for only SSDI, only SSI, or both SSDI and SSI. If you qualify for both, you will not get a double benefit but will get a combination benefit which amounts to the highest of the two benefits.
What Is the SSDI Program?
The SSDI program provides benefits for applicants suffering from physical or mental impairments that keep them from working. To qualify, you must have a medical condition that meets the SSA’s stringent criteria and it must prevent you from being able to do any kind of work. Your illness must have also lasted at least 12 months—or your doctor must expect it to. If you have a terminal illness, you may also qualify.
In addition to these requirements, you must have an adequate work history.
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What Is SSI?
SSI is a safety net that keeps disabled people from being destitute. To qualify for SSI, you must be disabled, blind, or age 65 and older. The medical standards are the same as for SSDI. You must also meet the SSA’s income limits and have very few assets. There is no work history requirement, as SSI is a need-based program.
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What Are Work Credits?
You must earn work credits to be eligible for SSDI. SSI does not have this requirement. For every three-month period that you work at a qualifying job that earns enough money and pays into the Social Security system, you earn work credits. You pay into the Social Security system through the money your employer deducts from your paycheck. You earn the right to SSDI benefits by paying into the pool of money that funds the benefits program.
The number of work credits you need to qualify for SSDI depends on your age when you became disabled. An older person has had more working years and thus, more opportunity to earn work credits than a younger person. Accordingly, an older person must earn more work credits than a younger person. It would be unfair to disqualify someone due to lack of enough work credits when he or she has not had the time to accumulate them.
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How Are SSDI and SSI Similar?
SSDI and SSI both:
- Provide monthly cash benefits;
- Require that you are so disabled that you are unable to work;
- Evaluate the severity of your medical condition using the same criteria; and
- Provide access to health care benefits.
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What are the Income Limits for SSDI and SSI?
Both SSDI and SSI have income limits. If you make more money than the income limit, you are not eligible for either program. The reason you qualify for SSDI or SSI is that, due to your disability, you are unable to work to support yourself. If you are earning over a certain amount, it is proof that you are able to work to support yourself.
For the SSDI program, the SSA measures your amount of income against the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) amount set for that year. The 2017 SGA monthly gross earnings limit is $1,170—or $1,950 if you are legally blind. If you have income that exceeds this amount, the SSA determines that you do not need their help, and you are not eligible for benefits based on your income.
The SSA sets income limits for the SSI program much lower. In 2017, this limit is $735 per month for individuals and $1,103 for couples. It is important to note that the SSA does not count all of your income toward this limit. Our lawyers can help you understand if you qualify for any exemptions or deductions.
What Are the Asset Limits for SSDI and SSI?
There are no asset limits for SSDI. You could own significant personal assets and still qualify for SSDI—as long as you meet the work income, disability, and work credits requirements.
SSI, on the other hand, is only available for people with very limited assets. An individual cannot own countable assets worth more than $2,000, while a couple cannot own more than $3,000 in assets. A countable asset is anything with cash value. Certain items do not count toward this limit, including your home, one vehicle, and certain life insurance policies. Our lawyers can review your finances to determine if you meet the asset limits for the SSI program.
How Can I Get Help Understanding Disability Benefits?
Berger and Green can help you understand if you qualify for SSDI or SSI benefits during your free consultation.
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