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What is the family maximum benefit?

The family maximum benefit is the most a family can collect from Social Security, in the form of retirement, disability, spousal, children’s and survivor benefits, on the earnings record of one family member. We’ll call this person the breadwinner.

If the breadwinner is drawing retirement benefits or is deceased, the family maximum is calculated from a formula that yields a figure between 150 percent and 188 percent of the breadwinner’s primary insurance amount — his or her monthly benefit if claimed at full retirement age. That age is 66 and 6 months for people born in 1957 and two months later for those born in 1958. The age will gradually increase to 67 over the next several years.

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Individually, your spouse and children may be eligible for “auxiliary benefits” of up to 50 percent of your full retirement benefit. Collectively, if your benefits and theirs exceed the family maximum, their payments are reduced in equal measure to meet the cap, but yours is not touched. 

For example, if your spouse and two kids are all getting benefits on your record and the family total (including your payment) exceeds the maximum by $1,200, their monthly payments are cut by $400 each. If the breadwinner is deceased, his or her benefit is no longer part of the equation, but if the sum of the survivor benefits exceeds the family limit, they are proportionally trimmed in the same fashion. 

The calculation is different for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients. The family maximum for SSDI will be between 100 percent and 150 percent of the disabled beneficiary’s primary insurance amount. Again, any reduction to meet the maximum is divided equally among the auxiliary (spouse and child) beneficiaries.

Keep in mind

  • The family maximum involves only benefits paid on the breadwinner’s work record. It does not incorporate payments to other family members on their own records. However, if any of those family members is claiming multiple benefits — if, say, your husband can get retirement benefits on his record and spousal benefits on yours — Social Security will not pay both combined. It will pay an amount equal to the higher of the two. 
  • Benefits paid to a former spouse of the breadwinner are not included in the family-maximum calculation and are not subject to reduction to meet the cap.

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