Social Security Benefits for Children: The 4 Most Important Things You Should Know

social security for children

 

Social Security benefits for children are a big deal. In January 2017, there were more than 4.2 million children receiving Social Security benefits because one or both of their parents are disabled, retired or deceased. These benefits payments to children total more than $2.6 billion every month.

Sadly, many children don’t get the benefits for which they are eligible.  Most people don’t know about the qualifications and rules for this special benefit, so they don’t know to apply for the children in their lives.

children on social security

Who Is Eligible for Social Security Benefits for Children?

A child who is your biological child, adopted child, or dependent stepchild  is eligible for children’s benefits if:

  • you become disabled
  • you retire
  • you die

AND the child is:

  • unmarried, and
  • under age 18, or
  • 18-19 and a full-time student in secondary school through grade 12, or
  • 18 or older and disabled with a disability that started before age 22.

What about Grandkids?

As long as the rules are followed, dependent grandchildren could be eligible for a benefit. I’ve covered this in depth in my article Social Security for Grandchildren.

How Much Is The Benefit?

If you become disabled or retire, your qualified child is eligible for up to 50% of your full retirement age benefit. If you die, your qualified child is eligible for up to 75% of your full retirement age benefit.

Family Benefit Maximum

Although each qualified child may receive a monthly benefit payment based on your full retirement benefit amount, there is a limit to the amount the Social Security Administration will pay. They refer to this limit as the Family Benefit Maximum. This maximum benefit is not a set number but is about 150 to 180 percent of your full retirement benefit. Where your percentage falls depends on your full retirement age benefit. I’ve included a chart below to help you figure this out for yourself.

There is one notable exception to maximum calculation. If you have a divorced spouse who is receiving benefits from your work record, it will not count in the family benefit maximum and it will not affect the amount of benefits you or your family may receive.

Children’s Benefits and the Earnings Limit

If a child is receiving benefits from Social Security, they are subject to a limit on the amount of earnings they can receive from wages or net earnings from self employment. These income limits change on an annual basis and listed below is the limit amount for 2018.

It should be noted that your child’s earnings affect only their own benefits and not yours or those of any other beneficiaries on your record. For an in-depth view of the Social Security earnings limit, see my article on this subject.

2018 social security income limit

Strategy: Why Filing Early for Retirement Benefits Could Be Best

Unfortunately, you don’t get much of a say so as to when you file for survivors benefits or disability.  You do get to decide when to apply for your retirement benefits.  For a household with children, the decision when to begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits is more complicated.  The penalty for not understanding the rules and the resulting difference in lifetime benefits can be enormous.

In many cases, there are many reasons to delay filing for social security benefits. But not all cases are the same!  If you have kids at home, and are thinking about filing for Social Security, filing early could make more sense. Why? Your children cannot collect a Social Security benefit until you file.

Consider the difference in lifetime benefit amounts for a couple with the following circumstances.

Roger is 62 and his wife is 46. They have two kids at home, ages 8 & 10.  Roger is financially well off enough to stop working and can be flexible on what age he begins to collect Social Security.

If Roger waits until his full retirement age, he’ll get $2,000 per month. If he files now, he’ll only get $1,500 per month.   He ran the numbers and figured out that if he lived to 90, he’d receive an additional $70,000 in benefits for delaying filing until 66 instead of filing at 62.

For most people, this math shows that it makes sense to delay receiving benefits. However, this does not account for the benefits paid to the children. While the children are eligible for benefits based upon Roger’s retirement, the kids cannot get benefits until he files.   Roger’s family would able to collect thousands of dollars more in lifetime benefits if Roger files early and turns on the benefits for his children.

Here’s how…

If you run Roger’s full retirement age benefit through the family benefit calculator, you’ll arrive at a maximum benefit of approximately $3,500 . If Roger files at 62 he’ll receive $1,500 and each of his children would be eligible for $1,000 in children’s benefits. That additional $2,ooo per month ($1,000 for each of the children) is only available if Roger files for Social Security.

Reporting Requirements

Whenever a minor child receives a benefit, the Social Security Administration pays the benefit to a representative payee. This individual is often a parent and is responsible for managing the benefits on behalf of the child. One of the responsibilities of the representative payee is to make an annual accounting of how the Social Security benefits have been used through a Representative Payee Report on Form SSA-6230. This form requires you to report the amount of the child’s benefit that was spent and the amount that was saved.

If you have saved part or all of the benefit amount you’ll also be required to list the institution where it was saved along with the account numbers. IF you haven’t spent all the money, the SSA will require you to send it back to them when your child turns 18. This is because your child is considered an adult in their eyes and they will begin to deal directly with them.

This surprises many who were trying to do the prudent thing and save the checks for the child’s car, college tuition or some other important expense. You can see the Social Security Administration’s page titled “Transfer of Conserved Funds“on this topic for more information.

Are Children’s Benefits Taxable?

One of the most frequently asked questions about Social Security Children’s benefits is, “Are these benefits for children considered taxable income?”
The short answer is that they are taxable, but that doesn’t mean your child will have to pay tax on them.
The taxation of these benefits is determined using the income of the child. Generally speaking, if the child’s total income plus one half of their Social Security benefit does not exceed $25,000, then no taxes will be owed. You can read more details on the IRS page dealing with children’s benefits.

How To Apply For Child Benefits

You can apply for benefits at your local Social Security office or via phone.

Ready to start your application for benefits for your child?  Review the Information You Need To Apply For Child’s Benefits page on the Social Security website to ensure you have all the necessary documentation.

Questions about child’s benefits? Post them in the comments below.

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Casaandra
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Casaandra

My daughters father died two months ago and I am currently receiving survivor benefits of roughly $1000/month. Her older sister who is out of high school told me her younger brother who is 16 and a junior is applying for benefits as well. I am wondering if my payment gets decreased or if we both receive the same amount. He will only receive benefits for 18 months, but I already added that money into my monthly budget and can’t find it online anywhere. They say you get 150% of the first $1,131, but I just don’t understand

Heather Sposato
Guest

I applied for survivor benefits today..we were married and have an 8 year old son…we are a pretty easy app..no disabilities..no benefits ever collected by any of us..I work but fall well below the 17,000.00 mark..my husband was incarcerated for 4 years..died 3 months after his release from prison..so technically we lived apart..tho married..I honestly hope the full amount we qualified for monthly just goes to our son..because it’s cut n dty.. I think she said that her computer said only he qualified..but I didn’t want to seem pushy but I hope that’s the case…why complicate it by simply splitting… Read more »

Michael Stewart
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Michael Stewart

I have a set of twins they are 18 months there mother passed away in her sleep and I applied for benefits I was wondering how long does it usually take for them to start receiving there benefits

Judy
Guest
Judy

My grandson lives with me and his dad passed away and his mother gets his check but she is in jail and has gave me power of attorney over him can I transfer his check into a account that is in mine and his name so that I can start receiving his check to get the things he needs

Valerie
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Valerie

I’m so confused, I have 2 children with disabilities, their father passed in 2017, they both receive IHSS hours. I just found out that the ssi survivors benefit counts as their income which directly reduces their IHSS, now each loses $1500 a month in services they were eligible when their father was alive and making well over 6 figures?

Kelly
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Kelly

I (my mother didn’t know either) just found out who my father is. He passed when I was 6 years old. Never married or had children. Having not known I never received social security payments. He is now added to my birth certificate after a paternity test was done with his sister since he has passed. Can i try to receive these benefits now? I’m 20 years old now

Gerardo Lopez
Guest
Gerardo Lopez

I am retired but have an 11 year old who is currently receiving benefits. However, can I move to another country with the child and continue to receive these benefits? Thanks for your help.

Trisha Enk
Guest
Trisha Enk

My children and I currently receive survivors benefits. If I go back to work will my income affect the amount my children receive?

Cyndi
Guest
Cyndi

Can someone tell me what happens to the child’s social security check after they turn 18 I have three children one is fixing to turn 18. Is his check divide among the other two children ?

Edi
Guest
Edi

We have court appointed custody of two children. They are not related to me or my husband. Do the children qualify for children’s benefits when my husband retires?

Daniel
Guest
Daniel

I just applied for my grandchildren’s survivor benefits Oct 2018 (I have legal custody). Their mother died in 2015. Does SSA pay back to the time of death or do they start at time of application?

Stefani
Guest
Stefani

Thank you for this informative article. I have a question that even my local Social Security office could not answer. Can a minor disabled child who recieves SSI also recieve their father’s retirement family/child benefit? What about an 18 year old adult child who is also disabled and recieves SSI? Do they in addition to their own SSI qualify to recieve a child’s benefit from their father’s retirement? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Elisa
Guest
Elisa

I have a gal living with me that is 17 and receives benefits from her fathers passing a few years ago. She was kicked out of her house by her mother. Is this little gal entitled to the monies until she is 18 or will the monies continue to go to her mother.
Her mother has not helped her financially since she was kicked out a few months ago

MMills
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MMills

My son just started receiving survivors benefits from his deceased father who had been estranged. My husband would like to legally adopt him. Will that affect my son’s survivors benefit?

Michelle
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Michelle

We work with teens that have left an alcoholic and/or drug addict parent(s) on our horse ranch. My question is that we have a 17 year old young man that will be 18 in January 2019. He is attending his senior year in high school and doing very well. His mother passed away several years ago and he is receiving social security. The step father is the financial representative that receives the survivor benefits and is REFUSING to hand those monies to the young man. The step father did not adopt him, nor has legal custody of him. The young… Read more »

Sherry
Guest

I like what you said about children being eligible for social security benefits if they are disabled at eighteen or older. My youngest brother was born with many disabilities including microencephaly, so as he gets older, we’re looking into ways we can get help supporting him. Thank you for the information about how our mom and dad would need to retire before it would go into effect.

guest
Guest
guest

If my child is receiving dependant benefits,( I am retired age 62) and my income exceeds limitation amount, are my child’s’ benefit cut?

Mary Chris Lowe
Guest
Mary Chris Lowe

Is a filipina mother who intrusted with the child’s allotment can also spend the money for herself? Coz me and my husband is debating that I said I am not covered only the child’s need ..probably my food that is all coz my child is still breastfeeding … coz I had to file every year for the accounting showing where the money goes.

LaBarge
Guest
LaBarge

My son is currently receiving social security due to his fathers death. He has a brother who is also collecting social security due to their fathers death however, he will be turning 19 next month and will no longer be eligible. Will the amount my son gets be more since it is divided equally between them or will the amount remain the same.

LaBarge
Guest
LaBarge

I have a question about my sons benefits. He is 16 and is receiving benefits from his fathers death, he has a brother that is about to be 19 and no longer eligible for his share of the benefits that are being paid to him. Does my son get a larger amount each month or does he still get the same amount he is currently getting.

Returning SS?
Guest
Returning SS?

That’s an important fact to have omitted. Thank you for the update.

Returning SS?
Guest
Returning SS?

So, if I put any of this money in a Custodial account for the child to go to college Social Security will request it back? Is there somewhere Social Security tells you this because I don’t see it in their rules and they didn’t tell me this at my appointment.

Juan Sanchez
Guest
Juan Sanchez

Can I still get the same amount of money for my social security children benifits if my kid starts working even though he is still a minor?