VERIFY often receives questions from our readers about Social Security benefits, which provide people with an income when they retire or can’t work due to disability.
One of the most recent questions was whether divorced spouses can collect Social Security benefits based on their living ex’s earnings. We found that’s true in some cases. You can find all our other Social Security stories here.
That fact-check prompted more questions from readers about family members’ Social Security eligibility, including Jeanette who wanted to know whether children can receive benefits based on their parents’ earnings.
Can children receive Social Security benefits based on their parents’ earnings?
Yes, some children can receive Social Security benefits based on their parents’ earnings.
WHAT WE FOUND
If a parent receives Social Security retirement or disability benefits, or the parent dies, their child can also receive benefits. But the child must meet certain requirements. In some cases, adopted children, stepchildren and dependent grandchildren are also eligible for benefits.
A child can receive benefits if they are not married and:
- Younger than age 18.
- Age 18 or 19 and a full-time student at an elementary or secondary school (grade 12 or below).
- Age 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22.
A child who is married can collect benefits “in very limited circumstances involving disabled adults receiving child benefits on a parent’s record,” AARP says.
Survivors benefits for children when their parent dies
Sons and daughters of deceased workers make up the majority of child Social Security beneficiaries, according to AARP.
If a parent dies, some children qualify for what’s called survivors benefits, with the same eligibility requirements as those listed above. Survivors benefits for children can be up to 75% of a deceased parent’s monthly benefit amount.
Other family members are also eligible for survivors benefits, including surviving spouses, divorced spouses, and dependent parents in some cases. Read the full fact sheet on survivors benefits here.
Benefits for children whose parent is still living
Children of a living parent who is receiving Social Security benefits can collect up to half of their parent’s primary insurance amount, or the monthly payment a person is entitled to at full retirement age, according to AARP. A person’s full retirement age varies based on their birth year.
If a child has another parent who doesn’t receive Social Security benefits or is still working, they can still qualify for monthly benefits on the other parent’s record, SSA told VERIFY.
In situations where both parents receive Social Security retirement or disability benefits, children would receive the higher of the two benefit amounts – not both.
Benefits paid to a child will not decrease a parent’s own benefit payments. However, children’s benefit payments may be reduced due to Social Security’s family maximum, a rule that caps the total amount a worker’s immediate family can receive on their record.
The maximum family payment can be anywhere from 150% to 180% of a parent’s full benefit amount. If the total amount payable to all family members exceeds the limit, Social Security will reduce each person’s benefit proportionately until the total equals the maximum allowable amount.
More from VERIFY: No, people born in 1960 won't earn less in Social Security due to a payment formula quirk
Some children with disabilities qualify for SSI
Children with disabilities in low-income households may also qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a program that is funded by U.S. Treasury general funds and administered by SSA.
These benefits can continue until the child turns 18, subject to periodic reviews of their condition, according to AARP. After a person’s eighteenth birthday, Social Security will review whether they qualify for SSI benefits under a different criteria for adults.
How to apply for Social Security benefits for children
Parents or guardians can apply for their children’s Social Security benefits online, by calling 1-800-772-1213 or by making an appointment at their local Social Security office. The same process applies for children who need to apply for survivors benefits after a parent dies.
Information on how parents can apply for children’s SSI benefits is also available online.