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.
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.
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.)