For more information on this subject, see our ten page guide on “Life Benefits – Spouse, Divorced Spouse and Children” – click here
Your child can get benefits if they are your biological child, adopted child or dependent stepchild. (In some cases, your child also could be eligible for benefits on his or her grandparents’ earnings.)
To receive benefits a child must have:
A parent who is disabled or retired and entitled to Social Security benefits; or
A parent who died
The child must be:
Younger than 18 or 18-19 years old and a full-time student (no higher than grade 12) or over18 and very disabled. (The disability must have started before age 22.)
Applying for Benefits
When you apply for benefits for your child, you may need the child’s birth certificate and the Social Security number of both the parent and the child.
Depending on the type of benefit involved, other documents may be required. For example, if you are applying for survivors benefits for the child, you will need to furnish proof of the parent’s death. If you are applying for benefits for a disabled child, you will need to furnish medical evidence to prove the child is disabled. The Social Security representative who sees you will tell you what other documents you will need.
Benefits can continue at age 18
Benefits stop when your child reaches age 18 unless your child is a full-time student or disabled.
If your child is a student
Three months before your child’s 18th birthday, Social Security will send you a notice that benefits will end at age 18 unless your child is a full-time student at the high school level or below. If your child is younger than 19 and still attending high school or below, they must notify Social Security by completing a statement of attendance that the school official must certify. The benefits then will usually continue until they graduate, or until two months after reaching age 19, whichever comes first.
If your child is disabled
Childhood disability benefits are payable after age 18, if the disability began before age 22.
If you take care of a child
If you are under age 62, but receiving benefits because you have a child in your care, the date your benefits will stop may be different then the child’s.
If the child is not disabled, your benefits will end when the child reaches age 16.
If the child is disabled, your benefits may continue if you exercise parental control and responsibility for a mentally disabled child or perform personal services for a child who is physically disabled. Before the child reaches 16, Social Security will send you a notice describing the conditions under which your benefits may continue.
Even if you are age 62 or older, you may receive benefits based on having a child in care. This would pay you a higher benefit. Social Security often misses this. If you have children receiving benefits, make sure Social Security has not reduced your benefit based on your age.
How much can a family get?
A child receives 50% of the parent’s full retirement or disability benefit, or 75% of the deceased parent’s basic Social Security benefit.
However, Social Security is limited to the amount they can pay each family. The family maximum payment is determined as part of every Social Security benefit computation and can be from 150% to 180% of the parent’s full benefit amount. If the total amount payable to all family members exceeds this limit, Social Security reduces each person’s benefit (except the parent who receives the retirement or disability benefits) until the total equals the maximum amount allowable. This is why sometimes each person receives less than the 50% or 75% benefit.
If two parents are receiving Social Security benefits and/or are deceased, Social Security can combine the family maximum of each parent to pay the children a higher benefit, but can never pay more than the original 50% or 75%. Social Security often overlooks combining the family maximums causing Social Security to underpay many families.