Social Security Benefits for Children: Who is Eligible, How to Apply and More

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Social Security is usually believed to be a primary source of income for retirees, but it could prove a lifeline for children as well if one or both of their parents retire, become disabled or die. Such children can receive benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) as long as one parent is entitled to receive them. Such a Social Security arrangement helps to stabilize the family’s financial future. In this article, we will discuss the rules related to Social Security benefits for children.

Social Security Benefits for Children: Who qualifies for it?

A child qualifies for Social Security benefits, if parents meet one of two conditions:

  • Parents must have been retired or disabled, as well as entitled to receive Social Security benefits.
  • Parents must have died after working in a job, where they paid Social Security taxes.

If the parent meets one of the above conditions, a child may qualify for the benefit if they are unmarried and meet one of the below criteria:      

  • Child must be below 18 years old.
  • He or she is a full-time high school student and is up to 19 years old.
  • Child is an adult with a disability that he or she got before turning 22 years old.

In certain circumstances, grandchildren may also qualify for benefits. For instance, if grandparents legally adopted the grandchild or they are the child’s legal guardians after the death of the parent, then grandchildren could qualify for the benefits. Similarly, stepchildren, step-grandchildren and adopted children may also qualify for the benefits.

If a child meets the above requirements, then he or she will continue to receive the benefits until they get married or turn 18, whichever is first. If the eligible child is in high school, the benefits will continue until they graduate, or two months after they reach age 19, whichever is first.

Those with disabilities, which began before age 22, may continue to receive the benefits as long as they remain disabled.

How Much Could A Child Get?

If a child is eligible for benefits, they could qualify for up to half of the full retirement or disability benefits that a parent is currently receiving. On the other hand, if a child qualifies for survivor benefits, they may receive up to 75% of the deceased parent’s basic benefits.

There is, however, a limit to how much a family can receive in monthly benefits. In total, a family can receive 150% to 180% of a deceased parent’s full benefit amount. So, if the total family benefit exceeds the threshold, each family member’s benefit is reduced proportionately until the total benefits equal the maximum allowable amount.

For example, in a family of four, each person receives a monthly benefit of $400. So, the total family benefit is $1,600, but the maximum allowed amount is $1,400. Now, the SSA will reduce the benefit of each family member by $50 to bring the total benefit amount to the maximum allowed level.

How To Apply For Social Security Benefits For Children

Unfortunately, the SSA doesn’t automatically know it needs to send Social Security benefits to a child. The responsibility rests on the child’s guardian to apply for the benefits.

There is no way to apply online. You can either apply by calling the SSA’s toll-free service at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), or by visiting the local Social Security office. You don’t need to make an appointment, but if you do schedule your visit, it may help to reduce your wait time.  

You will need the following documents to apply for the Social Security benefits for children:

  • Birth certificate or any other proof of birth or adoption of the child.
  • If the child is your stepchild, you need to provide marriage proof to the child’s natural or adoptive parent.
  • Document verifying the child’s U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if the child was born outside the U.S.
  • In case the child had earnings last year, you will have to furnish W-2 forms and/or self-employment tax returns.
  • Parent’s death certificate in case the child’s parent is deceased.

If you are applying on behalf of an adult child with disabilities, you will have to fill out forms SSA-338 (PDF), which describes the child’s medical condition, and SSA-827, which authorizes disclosure of information to the SSA.

In addition to the above documents, the SSA may also ask numerous questions in order to determine the eligibility of the applicant. With these questions, the SSA will seek your personal details, your earnings, your relationship with the deceased parent, and more.     

Additionally, the SSA may also inquire about the parent’s death, employment details, military service, Social Security benefits and more. The SSA may have more questions depending on the answers to the previous questions.

Visit this link to get more information on how to apply for the child’s benefits.

Payment Timeline

If the SSA finds your child to be eligible for the benefit, the payment schedule will be the same as yours. The benefit payment will arrive on the same day but separately so as to differentiate between the benefits.

The benefit payment for the child would arrive on the third day of each month if you started receiving your Social Security benefits before May 1997.

If your birthday is between the 1st and 10th of the month, the benefit payment will arrive on the second Wednesday of the month. For birthdays falling between the 11th and 20th, the payment will arrive on the third Wednesday, and for birthdays falling between the 21st and 31st, the benefit payment will be sent out on the fourth Wednesday of the month.

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