Calculating Disability Benefits for Children of Disabled Parents

A minor child of a disabled person who receives Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) can receive a monthly cash benefit check until the child turns 18.

When a child collects Social Security benefits based “on the record” of a disabled parent, the child doesn’t need to be disabled. The child does need to be unmarried, 18 or younger (or 19 and a full-time student), and financially dependent on the disabled parent.

Amount of Child’s Benefit

A minor child receiving a child’s benefit based on the Social Security earnings record of a parent is eligible for up to 50% of the parent’s monthly benefit, which depends on the parent’s lifetime earnings record. The higher the disabled parent’s lifetime average earnings, then the higher the child’s monthly SSDI benefit check will be.

For example, a disabled parent whose average indexed monthly earnings (AIME) are $3,000 per month might receive an SSDI check for approximately $1,400 per month, and the child might receive approximately $700 per month. A disabled parent who earned twice as much money while working might have an AIME of $6,000 per month and receive a disability check for $2,100 per month, while the child receives a child’s benefit of approximately $1,050 per month. However, if more than one relative is receiving Social Security benefits based on the disabled parent’s record, the children’s benefits will be subject to a family maximum (see below), and reduced according to a formula.

Survivors Benefit

A dependent minor child whose parent died while receiving SSDI disability benefits (or whose parent had earned enough Social Security credits to qualify for benefits at death) is eligible for a survivor benefit. The child can receive up to 75% of the parent’s monthly benefit, up to the family maximum.

Disabled Adult Child’s Benefit

If a child is disabled, or a young adult becomes disabled before the age of 22, he or she can collect benefits through this same program rather than on the child’s own earnings record, which may be nonexistent or insufficient, or through SSI (Supplemental Security Income), which can provide significantly lower benefits than SSDI.

Maximum Family Benefit

When a minor child (or a spouse taking care of minor children) receives a monthly cash benefit at the same time that a disabled parent is receiving a monthly SSDI check, the sum of the payments is subject to a maximum family benefit (MFB) amount. When the disabled parent’s disability benefit is combined with benefits for two or more children, or one child and a spouse who cares for the minor children, the sum often goes over the maximum family benefit amount.

The maximum family benefit is different in each case, but is typically 150% of the disabled parent’s disability benefit amount.   Note that the SSDI benefits of the disabled parent (the “claimant”) are never reduced when a family member applies for auxiliary benefits. (So a divorced parent who is responsible for paying child support has no reason to object to a child applying for the child’s benefit.)

There are four rules that govern the maximum family benefit:

  • The MFB can be no higher than 85% of the disabled parent’s average indexed monthly earnings (AIME, which is the average of your earnings over many years), which you can find out from the SSA.
  • The MFB cannot fall below the disabled parent’s primary insurance amount (PIA, your SSDI monthly benefit amount).
  • The MFB cannot exceed 150% of the disabled parent’s PIA.
  • Benefits paid to a divorced spouse  based on disability or age won't be counted toward the maximum family benefit.

If the sum of benefits payable to all of the family members goes over the maximum family benefit, each person’s benefit is reduced proportionately (except the disabled parent’s) until the sum of all family members’ benefits equals the family maximum. Thus the minor child may receive less than 50% of the disabled parent’s benefit payment if the family maximum applies.

Getting Help from the SSA

The Social Security Administration (SSA) will calculate the child’s benefit by looking at the disabled parent’s average indexed monthly earnings (AIME) and primary insurance amount (PIA) to come up with the amount of the child’s monthly benefit check, and then reduce it if the sum of the benefits for the disabled parent, the children, and spouse combined goes over the family maximum. Call the SSA office for help applying for the child’s benefit at (800)772-1213; be prepared to give the SSA the disabled parent’s Social Security number and the minor child’s Social Security number.  

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