Children’s Social Security benefits

There are several ways children under the age of 16 to 19 can receive benefits based on Social Security earnings of their parents and even grandparents.

Child-in-Care Spousal Benefit
Having a child in care may allow you to claim spousal benefits if you have not yet reached age 62 and may also make you eligible for benefits based on a parent’s earnings record. You have a child in care if you have parental control, as defined by Social Security, over a child who is under 16 or who is 16 or older and is disabled.

Child Benefit
A child can claim child insurance benefits on a parent’s record if the child is dependent on that parent as defined by Social Security and if the child is not married. The child also must either be under 18, or be no older than
19, and a full-time elementary or secondary school student. The parent on whose record the claim is based must be entitled to disability or retirement insurance. The child insurance benefit is equal to 50 percent of the insured parent’s full retirement age (FRA) benefit if the insured parent is currently entitled to a retirement benefit.

Child Survivor Benefit
A child is eligible for a surviving child insurance benefit on a deceased parent’s record if all the conditions to receive child insurance benefits are met and the child was also dependent on the deceased parent and the deceased parent was either fully or currently insured at the time of death. The surviving child insurance benefit is equal to 75 percent of the deceased parent’s FRA entitlement at the time of death.

There often are tradeoffs. Claiming benefits early, for example, will reduce them. But doing so may also maximize the number of years a child can receive benefits before they become too old to claim them. Calculating the optimal claiming scenario requires a detailed understanding of a person’s earnings record.

These rules are complicated, and should be clarified with Social Security prior to claiming a benefit.