Most Americans are aware that Social Security is designed to provide income for workers and their spouses during retirement, but did you know that in some circumstances children can collect benefits too? It's true, and it might surprise you to learn that there are currently more than 4 million children that are currently receiving benefits each month.

Knowing that, you might be wondering under what circumstances a child becomes eligible to receive benefits and how much they can get if they quality.


Generally speaking, Social Security payments are made to kids when the children's parents qualify for Social Security benefits. This situation can occur for a number of reasons, such as if one (or both) parents become disabled, choose to retire, or pass away.

It's worth pointing out the child does not have to be biologically related to the parents in order to qualify for benefits. Adopted children and even dependent stepchildren can qualify for benefits, so long as they are not married and meet the following age requirements:

  • Younger than age 18

  • 18-19 years old and a full-time student in a secondary or elementary school (not above grade 12)

  • 18 or older and disabled, but the disability must have started prior to age 22

If these conditions are met, then the children can become eligible to start receiving payments.

How much can my kids get?

If one or both of the child's parents are disabled or retired, then the SSA allows them to receive up to 50% of the parent's full retirement or disability benefit, so long as that does not push them over the family limit (more on that in a bit). Under the unfortunate scenario where one or both of the child's parents passes away, then the benefit payout ratio is increased to 75%.

However, it's important to know that the SSA does put an upper limit on the total benefit that a family can receive. Currently that limit is set at 150% to 180% of the parent's full benefit amount. If the total amount paid to all family members exceeds this upper target then each recipients benefit is reduced proportionately -- with the exception of the parent's benefits -- until the total equals the maximum allowable amount.

What if my child is disabled?

Another circumstance in which children can qualify for benefits is if they are disabled and have little (or no) income. Under this scenario, they could be eligible to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments.

SSI payments are designed to assist the blind, elderly, and/or disabled people -- which includes children -- in meeting their basic needs.

There's an expansive list of criteria that needs to be met in order to receive SSI benefits, including:

  • The child must have a physical or mental condition (or a combination of conditions) that result in "marked and severe functional limitations." 
  • The condition must be disabling (or expected to be disabling) for at least 12 months or be expected to result in death.
  • The child can't earn more than $1,130 a month through working.

Any child who meets these hurdles might be eligible start receiving benefits, though the payments tend to be delayed for a few months while the applicant's data is reviewed. However, if certain conditions are met -- such as Down syndrome, total deafness, cerebral palsy, or other specified ailments -- then it's possible for benefits to start immediately.

What happens when they turn 18?

Generally speaking, the SSA stops paying benefits to kids once they reach age 18, but there are two exceptions to this rule.

First, if your child is still a student in secondary or elementary school then he or she can still receive benefits so long as they notify the SSA ahead of time and complete a statement of attendance certified by a school official. Under this scenario benefits can continue until the child graduates or until two months after they turn 19, whichever comes first.

The second scenario is when the child is disabled. In this case the SSA will allow benefits to continue, assuming the disability began before age 22.

Next Steps?

Do you have questions about your specific scenario and need help? I'd suggest that you call or visit your local Social Security branch and speak with a Social Security representative.