Social Security Isn’t Just for the Aged
Children of disabled, retired, or deceased workers can qualify for benefits
Have a child and everything changes. Your priorities shift: Your world starts to revolve around their needs. You want to do everything you can to see that they’re taken care of.
When you think about financial security for your children, your mind probably doesn’t go to Social Security benefits. But Social Security isn’t just for retirees. The SSA says that around 4 million children of retired, disabled, or deceased parents receive benefits.
How children qualify for Social Security benefits based on parents’ earnings records
The child of a retired, disabled, or deceased worker may be eligible to receive benefits on their parent’s record. To qualify, they must be:
- Under 18 years of age or up to age 19 if a full-time student
- The natural, stepchild, or adopted child of the worker
Children with disabilities may qualify for benefits beyond the age of 18 or 19. They do, however, need to be deemed disabled before turning 22.
Of course, not all children live with their parents. Children being raised by grandparents may qualify for benefits based on their grandparent’s record.
Dependent benefit amounts
Each month a child of a retired or disabled worker meets the qualifications, they are eligible to receive 50% of their insured parent’s Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) of disability or retirement benefits. If their parent is deceased, children are eligible to receive 75% of their parent’s PIA.
- A parent is retired and receives $2,500 in monthly Social Security benefits. Their 12-year-old child is eligible for about $1,250 per month until age 18 (or 19 if a full-time student).
- A parent collecting $2,000 monthly in Social Security benefits dies, leaving a 17-year-old child. The teenager is eligible for $1,750 in survivor’s benefits for as long as they qualify.
These are simple examples, of course. Spouses may also qualify for benefits based on the retired or deceased worker’s record. There may be more than one child eligible for benefits. In those cases, more rules may apply!
Limits on children’s benefits
The Social Security Administration has rules and conditions that factor into calculating dependent benefits and limit the total that family members of a worker can collect.
A working child — A child who works while receiving Social Security benefits on their parent’s record is subject to an “earnings test.” It limits benefits for people who earn above thresholds set annually by the Social Security Administration (SSA).
In 2023, children are eligible to earn up to $21,240 if they are collecting Social Security. For every $2 in annual income earned above that, the SSA will withhold $1 in benefits.
Family maximums — Complicated “family maximum” rules can also trigger a reduction in dependent and spousal benefits. These rules are different in cases of retirement, survivor, and disability benefits. And they’re complicated.
In the case, for example, of a parent who’s retired and receiving Social Security, the family is limited to between 150% and 180% of the worker’s benefit. The maximum depends on the worker’s benefit and the number of family members (spouses and children) eligible to collect on the worker’s record.
How to find out if children qualify for Social Security benefits
The SSA has a brochure on its website explaining children’s benefits and instructions on how to apply. You can the agency at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY: 1-800-325-0778) or visit a local Social Security office. Use the SSA office locator to find addresses, hours of operation, and telephone numbers.
While you can walk into an office, it’s probably wiser to call and make an appointment.
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