How Are SSDI and SSI Payments Calculated?

The U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) offers benefits to those who need financial assistance due to disabilities that prevent them from working. The SSA offers two programs: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

How does disability determine how much you get a month? The answer is complicated. Although a basic Social Security Disability Calculator may provide you with a rough estimate, answering “How much does disability pay?” accurately requires understanding how the SSA calculates benefits. Keep reading for more information:

Understanding SSDI vs. SSI

Although SSI and SSDI serve similar purposes, they are not the same. Their primary differences involve eligibility requirements.

To be eligible for SSDI, an applicant must have worked in the past and paid into the Social Security system through their taxes. They must have previously earned a certain number of “work credits” to qualify for SSDI payments. Factors such as how many work credits an applicant has earned will contribute to the calculation of their monthly benefits.

SSI is purely need-based. A person who can’t earn an income and struggles financially may qualify for SSI regardless of whether they’ve earned work credits.

Calculating SSDI Payment Amounts

The SSA begins calculating an individual’s SSDI disability benefits by indexing their wages for a 35-year span of time. This involves determining how much an individual earned on average while accounting for inflation. Through this process, the SSA can generate an applicant’s average indexed monthly earnings (AIME).

The next step in the disability percentage calculation formula involves using the AIME to calculate an applicant’s primary insurance amount (PIA). An applicant’s PIA is their AIME separated into three segments. Per the SSDI formula in 2023, these three segments of your AIME affect an applicant’s SSDI disability check amount in the following ways:

  • Their check will account for 90% of the first $1,115 of their AIME
  • Their check will account for 32% of any amount of AIME they earned between $1,116 and $6,721
  • Their check will account for 15% of any AIME earnings over $6,721

If someone’s AIME isn’t greater than $6,721, the third segment doesn’t apply. While the formula may be somewhat complex depending on your earnings, hopefully, it demonstrates how there isn’t one universal answer to the question “How much does SSDI pay?”

Further Reading: What Is the Average Social Security Disability Monthly Payment?

Calculating SSI Payment Amounts

The formula for Social Security calculations is relatively simpler when calculating SSI payments. To determine an applicant’s SSI benefits, the SSA subtracts their “countable income” from the maximum federal benefit rate, which is $943 in 2024.

However, what does and doesn’t qualify as countable income can vary. For example, the SSA doesn’t account for the first $65 of an applicant’s earnings from an employer and only accounts for a maximum of half their earnings over $65 when calculating their SSI benefits. In addition, the SSA may not account for any other similar assistance an individual may receive (such as food stamps).

Maximum and Minimum Benefit Amounts

As of 2024, the maximum monthly payment one can receive in SSDI is $3,822. That said, the average SSDI payment in 2024 is $1,358 per month. There is no minimum SSDI payment.

The maximum SSI payment in 2024 is $943 for an individual applicant and $1,415 for a couple. Again, there isn’t technically a minimum.

Additional Factors Affecting SSDI and SSI Payments

Once more, work history contributes to SSDI payment amounts. The more work credits someone has earned, the more SSDI they may be eligible to receive.

Other factors that may influence how much you can make on SSDI in 2023 include:

  • Family benefits, as certain family members may be eligible to receive up to 50% of what an applicant receives in benefits
  • Other government benefits one already receives, such as SSI and benefits like workers’ compensation
  • Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) are periodic increases to SSDI benefits that account for inflation

Other factors that may specifically influence SSI benefits include:

  • Whether any other parties provide an applicant with financial assistance or similar help
  • The quality of an applicant’s living situation
  • Whether an applicant has access to other resources

Special Considerations for Certain Situations

Various circumstances can also impact Social Security benefits. For example, if a person retires early, the amount of their monthly benefit will be reduced by a percentage for each month of early retirement. On the other hand, if someone delays retirement, they can earn credits to increase the amount they receive in benefits.

Other forms of income may influence someone’s benefits as well. For instance, a person who receives a pension from a job that Social Security doesn’t cover may receive less than they would have received if they didn’t have a pension.

Whether one has dependents eligible to receive benefits can affect disability payments too. So can whether an applicant receives any retroactive payments and back pay.

Appeals and Recalculations

The SSA historically denies most initial applications for benefits. If the SSA doesn’t issue an approval, an applicant can file an appeal. Often, doing so involves gathering more medical evidence to prove they have a disability.

There are also instances when it may be necessary to recalculate payments. Examples of such potential instances include:

  • It is discovered that there were errors in records related to such important factors as how many work credits an applicant earned when the SSA approved their initial application
  • A family member who was eligible for benefits is no longer receiving them
  • A COLA is necessary

Filing an initial application, appealing the SSA’s decision, and petitioning the SSA for a recalculation are all tasks that are easier to navigate with the help of a professional. If you’re wondering “How much can you get for disability?,” be aware that hiring a lawyer can simplify the process of seeking the benefits for which you may be eligible.

SSI Payment Calculation (Brief Overview)

As mentioned earlier, the answer to “How is disability calculated?” depends on the type of disability one receives. The SSA calculates SSI payments by subtracting countable income from the maximum benefit amount one might otherwise be eligible for.

A person’s total income is their income minus any forms of income or resources the SSA doesn’t account for. Applicants can find a full list of such forms of income and resources through the SSA’s website.

Key Takeaways for Recipients

The information here has hopefully answered your basic questions regarding “How are disability payments calculated?” and “How much do you get from disability?” An essential point to keep in mind is that maintaining thorough records and documentation is critical. The more documentation you can provide the SSA with, the easier it will be for the SSA to accurately determine how much you may receive every month.

Navigating Social Security Payments: Help is Available

You don’t need to dive into the process of filing an application for Social Security benefits alone. Strongly consider taking the Free Case Evaluation to speak with an attorney accepting cases in your area—at zero cost to you. Their influence could play a significant role in how much your monthly benefits amount to.