Social Security and SSI Questions Answered: Are They The Same Thing?

The older couple looks at the bill in confusion from an unexpected expense.
Andrii Zastrozhnov / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Social Security benefits replace a portion of your lifetime earnings when you retire or develop a qualifying disability. Sometimes, they go to your spouse, children or survivors after you die. Unlike Social Security benefits, the Social Security Administration distinguishes that Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is not based on your work earnings or a family member’s work.

Many people who are eligible for SSI may also be eligible for Social Security benefits, as both share the same application. However, SSI is a needs-based program for those with limited income and resources and is financed by the general funds of the U.S. Treasury — personal income taxes, corporate and other taxes. Social Security taxes do not fund the SSI program.

Here are some of the biggest differences between Social Security benefits and SSI, according to the SSA:

Social Security

  • Your benefit amount is based on your lifetime earnings.
  • Financed by employer and wage contributions.
  • No income or resource limit.
  • Must be “insured” or worked long enough and paid SS taxes.
  • May be automatically enrolled in Medicare.
  • There are different benefits types: retirement, survivor and disability.
  • Provides benefits to eligible family members.
  • Other income does not affect benefits, except wages may affect benefits under full retirement age or disability benefits.
  • Where you live and your household does not affect your benefits.


  • Benefits are needs-based.
  • Financed by general funds.
  • You must have limited income and resources to qualify for SSI.
  • You do not need work credits.
  • May qualify for Medicaid or Medi-Cal in California.
  • There are different benefit types: aged, disability and blindness.
  • No family benefits.
  • Your benefit amount is based on federal and state laws.
  • Other income may affect benefits.
  • Where you live and other members of your household could affect your benefits.
Are You Retirement Ready?

It is worth noting that despite their difference, Social Security and SSI do have a few similarities, including that they are paid monthly and that the medical standards for disability are practically identical for both programs (at least for individuals age 18 or older).

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