When we think about Social Security, we tend to visualize grey- or white-haired people receiving monthly payments in retirement. That's certainly a big part of what Social Security does, but it also offers benefits to survivors of workers and to disabled people. You may not realize it, but more than 4 million Social Security benefit recipients are children.
If you're a parent, there are a handful of things you should know about Social Security. Let's review them.
First off, just about every American needs a Social Security number with which to move through life. Your young child won't need to use it when applying for a mortgage for quite some time, but it will still occasionally be needed -- perhaps, for example, when you're claiming him or her as a dependent on your tax return, when opening a bank account or buying savings bonds, applying for certain government services, or applying for health insurance for your child.
The easiest way to get a Social Security number and card for your child is when he or she is born. When the birth certificate is being prepared, you will likely be able to indicate that you'd like to apply for a number for the child. You'll have to provide the Social Security numbers of both parents.
To get a card for a child after that point, visit the Social Security website, where you may be able to apply online. Failing that, you can print and fill out the application form and mail it or take it in to your local Social Security office.
Getting benefits -- as a child
Children can collect benefits from Social Security if they qualify in any of a variety of ways. (Note that this discussion of children generally includes adopted children, dependent stepchildren, and even, sometimes, grandchildren.) To qualify, a child must:
- Have one or more parents who are retired and entitled to Social Security benefits.
- Have one or more parents who are disabled and entitled to Social Security benefits.
- Have one or more parents who have died, after having worked enough (paying Social Security taxes) to be entitled to Social Security benefits.
The child must also be unmarried and meet one of the following conditions:
- Be younger than age 18.
- Be 18 or 19 years old and a full-time student in elementary or secondary school.
- Be 18 or older and disabled, with the disability having commenced before age 22.
When a parent begins receiving retirement or disability benefits -- or dies -- family members such as spouses and children may also qualify to receive some benefits. There are a lot of rules and criteria to meet in each scenario and you can learn more at the Social Security website, but the basics are below.
For a child to receive parental retirement benefits, the parent must be at least 62 years old and have worked enough to be eligible for benefits. Children who qualify per the criteria above can collect up to 50% of their parent's monthly benefit. The total family benefit is between about 150% and 180% of the retiree's full retirement benefit.
As with retirement benefits, if a parent is receiving disability benefits, children who qualify can collect up to 50% of their parent's monthly benefit. The total family benefit is between roughly 150% and 180% of the retiree's full disability benefit.
If the child, and not necessarily the parent, is disabled and with low income, he or she may be able to collect Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, which are designed to give elderly, blind, and/or disabled people financial support to help them meet their basic needs. To qualify as disabled, the child must have a physical or mental condition (or a combination of conditions) that result in "marked and severe functional limitations" and that is disabling (or expected to be disabling) for at least 12 months -- or be expected to result in death. So minor disabilities won't work.
For a child to receive survivor benefits, the deceased parent will need to have worked long enough to qualify for retirement benefits, an achievement typically accomplished through 10 years of working -- but it can be less if the parent died relatively young. Qualifying children can receive up to 75% of their deceased parent's retirement benefit, with a total limit per family of roughly 150% to 180% of the deceased parent's full benefit.
Go ahead and appreciate how helpful Social Security is to tens of millions of retirees, but know, too, that it also greatly benefits many children -- including, possibly, yours.The more you learn about Social Security, the more you may benefit from it.