Benefits to Kids Controversial

Minors and disabled adult children are eligible for social security benefits.
Benefits to Kids Controversial
Children receiving social security make up just one percent of total social security payments. (Prostock-studio/Shutterstock)
Tom Margenau
11/22/2023
Updated:
12/7/2023
0:00

I occasionally get emails from readers commenting on the fact that children of retirees qualify for Social Security benefits. Sometimes, their comments reflect surprise that a retiree’s kids can get benefits. And other times, they reflect dismay that these kids can get those benefits in the first place.

All I can tell those who are dismayed is that benefits for a retiree’s dependents have been around since the very beginning of the program almost 90 years ago. Most of the time, that dependent is a spouse. But there are more than a few older folks who, once they reach Social Security age, still have one or more minor children still at home. And of course, most of the time I’m talking about male retirees. I say that because of simple biological facts. It would be very rare for a woman in her 60s to have a child who is 18 years old or younger (18 is the usual cutoff age for children to qualify for Social Security dependents’ benefits). But it is not all that unusual for an older man to have young kids at home.

Although when I am talking about “children,” many times I could be referring to what Social Security law calls a “disabled adult child.” So a male or female Social Security retiree could have an older child with some impairment—like Down syndrome, for example—who has been disabled since childhood. (Being disabled since childhood is a requirement to qualify for “DAC” benefits.)

For those readers who maybe fear that benefits paid to a retiree’s children are breaking the Social Security bank, let me give you some numbers. There currently are about 680,000 children of retirees collecting benefits. And that number is evenly split between minor children and disabled adult children. But there are about 67 million people getting Social Security checks every month, so minor and disabled children of retirees make up about 1 percent of all beneficiaries.

And now I’m going to spend the rest of this column answering a couple of emails that I recently got from retirees with children.

Q: I am about to turn 62. I was planning to wait until 67 to retire and sign up for Social Security. But a guy I work with told me I might be financially ahead to sign up for Social Security now because I have two kids, ages 12 and 10, and he said they could get benefits on my account. My wife is 47. That same person told me she can also get Social Security. Is all of that true?
A: It’s partially true. Assuming you stop working, you could apply for reduced retirement at age 62, and your kids would be due partial benefits on your account. For the time being, you can forget about your wife getting any Social Security on your account. Although the mother of a retiree’s minor children technically qualifies for benefits, there are two reasons why she likely isn’t due anything. One reason is if she is working. Her earnings would probably disqualify her for benefits. And the other reason has to do with rules that limit the amount of money that can be paid to a family with children getting Social Security benefits.

The easiest way to explain what you and your family would be due is to use an example. Let’s say your full retirement age benefit is $2,000 per month. At age 62, you'd be due 70 percent of that, or $1,400. Each of your kids is technically due a rate equal to 50 percent of your FRA benefit. In other words, each child is due $1,000. But the law that limits what a family with kids on Social Security can get generally caps your total benefits at 150 percent of your FRA amount. That means the maximum you and your family can get would be $3,000 per month. You must be paid your benefit first. Again, that is $1,400. But the law says that your FRA benefit rate, or $2,000 must be used in the family maximum computation.

That leaves another $1,000 to be paid to your kids, so they would get $500 each. If your wife was not working, she could file for what are called “young mother’s benefits.” But adding her to your record would merely split that remaining $1,000 three ways instead of two. In other words, she and the two kids would get about $333 each. So there is no point in adding your wife to your Social Security account.

Q: I am about to turn 67 and plan to start my Social Security then. My wife also is 67 and always stayed home to care for our disabled son who is now 32 years old. Our son is getting SSI. We’ve been told that when I start my Social Security, our son must go off of SSI and take Social Security on my record. Is that true? And what about my wife? What will she get?
A: Before I answer your question, I want to explain to my other readers what is going on in your case. You said your son is getting SSI, or Supplemental Security Income. SSI is a federal welfare program that the Social Security Administration runs for the government. Many “disabled adult children” qualify for SSI until one of the parents goes on Social Security. Then, by law, they must be switched to the Social Security account. Why? Because SSI is a welfare program, its rules require that a recipient must file for any other non-welfare benefits they are due.

And the same “family maximum” rules discussed in the prior answer will apply to you. Let’s say your retirement benefit is $3,000. Technically, your wife and son will each be due half of that, or $1,500. But the maximum that can be paid to your family is $4,500. After paying your benefit, that leaves $1,500 to be split between your wife and son. So they will each get $750.

Depending on the actual dollar amount involved, your son may not “lose” his SSI payments. They may be just reduced. For example, let’s say his SSI check is currently $900 per month. When he starts getting $750 in Social Security benefits on your record, his SSI check will be reduced to $170. (For reasons too messy to explain here, only $730 of his $750 Social Security check counts against his SSI payment.)

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If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has a book with all the answers. It's called "Social Security -- Simple and Smart." You can find the book at www.creators.com/books or look for it on Amazon or other book outlets. To find out more about Tom Margenau and to read past columns and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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