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Image source: Steven Depolo, Flickr.

Almost everyone is aware of Social Security benefits for retired workers, and most people are aware of benefits being available for the spouses or surviving spouses of retired workers, too. But many are unaware that even children can collect Social Security benefits -- in certain circumstances. Indeed, more than 4 million children are currently collecting benefits.

Here are three situations in which children can collect Social Security checks:

Survivors

Image source: Social Security Administration.

Selena Maranjian: One such situation is a terribly sad one: if they have a parent who dies. In order to qualify for such assistance, the deceased parent will need to have worked long enough to qualify for retirement benefits, an achievement typically accomplished through 10 years of working. The children who may be able to collect must be unmarried and younger than 18, up to age 19 if they're full-time students in elementary or secondary school, or disabled, with their disability beginning before they turned 22. The deceased's natural children can qualify for survivor benefits, and adopted children, stepchildren, grandchildren, or step-grandchildren may also qualify.

The amount a child can receive is not insignificant, and it can help stricken families support kids by covering costs related to their food, shelter, clothing, and education, among other things. Surviving kids can collect up to 75% of their deceased parent's retirement benefit, with a total limit per family. The total family maximum is generally between 150% and 180% of the deceased parent's full benefit. You can gather more information about this potentially very helpful benefit at the Social Security website.

Still, don't expect this benefit to cover all possible child-rearing needs. Most parents of non-adult children should carry life insurance to protect them financially. Depending on how much insurance you buy, a payout if you perish prematurely can help your kids get through college, among other things.

Disabled

Image source: Pixabay.

Brian Feroldi: One way children can access Social Security benefits is if they are disabled and have little (or no) income. Anyone is this situation might be entitled to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments, which are designed to give elderly, blind, and/or disabled people -- including children -- financial assistance in order to help them meet their basic needs.

As with any government program, there is a list of criteria that must be satisfied in order to qualify for the program. Children who are not yet 18 (or who are disabled with their disability having begun before they were 22) may qualify if they meet all of the following:

  • The child can't earn more than $1,130 a month through working.
  • 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. 

If your child meets these criteria, then you can apply for SSI benefits, and your child may start receiving benefits after a few months of review time. However, if the child has certain conditions -- total deafness, cerebral palsy, down syndrome -- then they could qualify to receive benefits immediately, even if the state takes a few months to review the full application.

As you can imagine, there are a lot of rules to follow, and things can get complicated in a hurry. You can learn more by clicking over to the Social Security website, or by calling or visiting your local Social Security office.

Feet

Image source: Pixabay.

Sean Williams: It's far from the most common scenario, but children may also be able to qualify for a Social Security benefit by piggybacking on the benefit payment of one of their parents. In order for this to work, a few criteria need to be met.

First, the parent needs to be of a qualifying age to receive a Social Security benefit, or at least 62 years of age. (Most parents of minor children aren't 62 or older, which is what makes this scenario somewhat uncommon.) They'll also need to have the required minimum of 40 work credits earned throughout their lifetime to receive Social Security benefits. Up to four work credits can be earned annually, with each credit in 2016 equal to $1,260 in income. Thus $5,040 in earned income in 2016 would net a worker their full allotment of work credits for the year. Typically, 10 years of work qualifies someone for Social Security benefits.

In order for a child to qualify to receive benefits, he or she would need to be unmarried and under the age of 18. Additional exceptions exist and include being up to age 19 and a full-time high school student, or being 18 or older and becoming disabled before the age of 22. If a child, or multiple children, meets these criteria, they could be eligible to receive a benefit of up to 50% of what their parent receives on a monthly basis. Most importantly, the full benefit of the parent won't be reduced one iota despite the additional benefit being paid to their child or children. Thus, families able to employ this strategy could net 150% to 180% of the primary retiree's full benefit.

This strategy can work with adopted children, not just biological children, and in some cases, grandchildren may qualify in instances where their legal guardian is their grandparent.

If you've long appreciated Social Security for how it helps the elderly, take a moment to appreciate how it helps children, too.

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