When Are Children Eligible for Social Security Benefits?

teenager embraced with mom consoling her son.
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The Social Security Administration is probably best known for overseeing the federal government’s retirement benefits program, but the agency also pays billions of dollars a year in benefits to children. According to the SSA website, in 2021 it paid an average of $2.8 billion a month in benefits to children whose parents were retired, deceased or disabled.

See: How To Get Your New Baby’s or Older Child’s Social Security Number
Find: 7 Things You Should Never Do When Planning For Retirement

Children’s benefits are designed to provide necessities for eligible family members and help young people finish school. When a parent develops a disability or dies, Social Security benefits help stabilize the family’s financial future.

To get benefits, a child must meet one of the following criteria:

• A parent who is retired or has a disability and is entitled to Social Security benefits
• A parent who died after having worked long enough in a job where they paid Social Security taxes

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Beyond that, an unmarried child can get benefits if they are either younger than age 18; between ages 18 and 19 and a full-time student at an elementary or secondary school (grade 12 or below); or age 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22.

There is no minimum age for a child to get Social Security benefits. They become eligible as soon as they meet the above criteria. Under certain circumstances, Social Security can also pay benefits to a stepchild, grandchild, step-grandchild or adopted child.

To apply for child benefits, you will need the child’s birth certificate or other proof of birth or adoption. You will also need the parent’s and child’s Social Security numbers.

You might also need to provide other documents, depending on the type of benefit involved. For example, if you’re applying for survivors’ benefits for the child, you’ll need to provide proof of the parent’s death. If you’re applying for benefits for a child with a disability, you’ll need to provide medical evidence detailing the disability. The Social Security representative helping with your application will tell you if any other documents are needed.

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In terms of the amount of benefits, a child can receive up to half of the parent’s full retirement or disability benefits. A child who receives survivors’ benefits can get up to 75% of the deceased parent’s basic Social Security benefit.

The maximum family payment is typically anywhere from 150% to 180% of the parent’s full benefit amount. If the total amount payable to all family members exceeds this limit, the SSA reduces each person’s benefit proportionately until the total equals the maximum allowable amount. The parent’s benefit amount Is not reduced because it’s not part of the maximum allowable amount.

Discover: 10 Reasons You Should Claim Social Security Early
Explore: 27 Ugly Truths About Retirement

For more information, visit SSA.gov or call toll-free at 800-772-1213 or 800-325-0778 for the hearing impaired.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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