Social Security incorporates children into its benefit structure to help retirees with younger children provide for their families and as a form of insurance when a parent dies or can't work because of disability. As of May 2021, more than 4 million children were receiving payments totaling $2.9 billion a month, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA).
A worker's biological child and, under certain circumstances, adopted child or stepchild can qualify for benefits. Grandchildren also may be eligible if the grandparent has adopted them or Social Security officials have recognized them as financially dependent on the grandparent.
Payments stop when the child turns 18, with two exceptions:
- The child still is a full-time student at grade 12 or lower. Benefits can continue until graduation or age 19 and 2 months, whichever comes first.
- The child is disabled, and the disability began before age 22. In this case, benefits can continue into adulthood.
The child also must be unmarried, except in very limited circumstances involving disabled adults receiving child benefits on a parent's record.
Children of a living Social Security beneficiary can collect up to half of the parent's primary insurance amount. That's the benefit a worker is entitled to collect at full retirement age.
Survivor benefits for children can be up to 75 percent of a late parent's monthly benefit.
Disabled children in low-income households also may qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a benefit program that Social Security administers but does not fund. About 1.1 million minors were getting SSI in May 2021.
These benefits can continue until the child turns 18, subject to periodic reviews of his or her condition. When beneficiaries turn 18, Social Security will review whether they qualify for SSI under different criteria for adults.
Keep in mind
Children's benefit payments may be reduced subject to Social Security's family maximum. This rule caps the total amount a worker's immediate family can receive on his or her record. The maximum is more likely to come into play if multiple people are collecting benefits on that worker's record.
Published June 14, 2021
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