SSDI and SSI are two of the disability programs administered by the Social Security Administration.   You qualify for SSDI, or Disability if you are now meet SSA’s definition of disability, and have enough credits from past work to meet the earnings requirements set out in Social Security law.  When you were working you paid FICA (Social Security) taxes and contributed to the Social Security system.

SSDI Earnings Requirements

Your earnings record and work history must be fairly recent and you must have several years of recent work.  If you are in your forties or fifties, for example, you need to have worked for at least 5 out of the past ten years.  You can earn up to 4 credits for each year and the amount of earnings you need for one credit adjusts yearly.  For 2010 and 2011, for example, you need $1,120 to earn one credit.  Therefore once you have earned $4,480 in 2010 or 2011, you qualify for all 4 of your potential credits.  In 2012, you needed $1,130 to earn a credit hour and in 2013, you need $1,160.

Earnings credit requirements for previous years can be found on this table on my Social Security disability blog.

If you look at your earnings over the past 10 years and you see around $4,500 a year for five of those years, you are probably insured.

For younger claimants, you may qualify for SSDI with a smaller number of earnings credits.  One of the things I do when I take a case is to request your  earnings and benefit statement – this will tell me if you have paid enough  Social Security taxes to be “insured” for Disability. Again, the general rule (there  are many exceptions) is that you must have worked and paid Social Security taxes  for five out of the last ten years.

SSI Eligibility Requirements

Unlike SSDI, SSI claimants do not need recent earnings or any earnings record at all.  Children, stay-at-home parents and others who have not worked at all can qualify for disability if they meet the Social Security definition of disability – that they are unable to work because of a long term medically determinable medical condition or conditions that prevents work or work-like activity.

SSI does have additional eligibility requirements.  Because SSI is essentially a welfare program you must show Social Security that you have very low household income and very minimal resources.  If your spouse  works, for example, you probably have too much income for SSI. In other words,  SSI is a problem designed for the disabled poor.

The amount you receive from SSI is set out in the law, and the amount is less that what a similarly disabled SSDI claimant would receive.  For example, in 2013, an SSI disabled individual would receive $710 per month.  A disabled person with a disabled, SSI eligible spouse would receive $1,066 per month at most.  This monthly payment amount is adjusted each year to account for inflation.  A table for the current and past years is posted on my blog.

One of the services I offer  my clients is counseling regarding how to characterize loans or other support  from family members. If you are not careful, Social Security will reduce your SSI check by the “value” of rent, food and other living expenses provided to you  by parents or other family members.

You can be eligible for both Disability and SSI although your total payment will be the higher of the two – you do not get double benefits.