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As with Social Security benefits for retired workers, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) can be accompanied by what's called auxiliary or family benefits — monthly cash payments to the primary beneficiary's spouse and children. Each of them may be eligible for up to 50 percent of your primary insurance amount (PIA), the full monthly benefit you're entitled to based on your lifetime earnings.
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Also, as with retirement benefits, Social Security caps what it will collectively pay to one family on an individual SSDI beneficiary's earnings record. If the sum of benefits to you, your spouse and your kids exceeds this family maximum, theirs are reduced in equal measure to meet the cap. Yours are not touched.
For disabled workers, Social Security calculates the family maximum as a proportion of your average monthly income over your working life, adjusted for long-term wage trends. The formula for retirees and their families is different.
However, the agency also sets a floor and ceiling for the SSDI family maximum: It must be between 100 percent and 150 percent of your primary insurance amount. If the income-based calculation is outside this range, it is raised or lowered accordingly. In practice, the maximum is usually at or close to 150 percent of the PIA.
Here's how it works: Let's say you are on SSDI with a full monthly benefit of $1,400. Your family maximum would be $2,100, or 150 percent of your benefit.
And let's say your spouse, son and daughter qualify for auxiliary benefits amounting to half of your benefit — $700 each. However, after your monthly benefit of $1,400 is deducted from the family maximum of $2,100, there is only $700 total available to pay to your spouse and children. Social Security will split that equally and pay them $233 each.
Keep in mind
- Only a disabled worker's SSDI and family benefits linked to it count toward the family maximum. Social Security payments to family members on their own records, such as a spouse's own retirement benefit, do not count.
- When an SSDI recipient reaches full retirement age, the disability benefit converts to a retirement benefit. Social Security's calculation for retirees produces a family maximum benefit of 150 percent to 188 percent of the PIA, so the reduction for your spouse's and kids’ payments would likely be less.