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Howard Kossover: How Social Security benefits are computed

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Q: How are Social Security child benefits computed?

A: When you receive Social Security or if deceased, your children may qualify for benefits, including biological, adopted or stepchildren. 

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Child benefits are the same for SSA retirement, survivors or disability but amounts differ.

If you receive SSA retirement or disability benefits, an eligible child can receive up to 50 percent of your full retirement age amount (FRA) per month. 

If you are deceased, a child can receive up to 75 percent of your FRA amount per month. 

Use the SSA Retirement Estimator at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator to estimate your FRA amount. See www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/applying7.htm for retirement family benefits.Your personal amount is the same whether benefits are paid only to you or to you and family members.

Based on career earnings and full retirement age amount, there is a maximum family benefit amount payable through a person’s work record.

When reached, amounts to family members are proportionally reduced with all eligible children receiving the same monthly amount.

Obtain an estimate of this maximum on your Social Security Statement after creating a my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

For a retirement example, say your full retirement age (FRA) is 66 (birth years 1943-1954), your FRA amount is $1,000 per month, and you have an eligible child.

If you start Social Security retirement exactly when reaching FRA, your monthly amount would be $1,000 but less or more if starting when younger or older.

Child benefits are based on your FRA amount, not the amount you actually receive.

In this example, a child could receive up to $500 per month on your record for a combined amount of $1,500 per month.

Using the same example, if you start reduced retirement at age 62, your amount is reduced to $750 per month but the child’s amount remains at $500 for a combined total of $1,250 per month. 

Your SSA retirement amount is permanently reduced if started before FRA but depending on your plans and other income, perhaps child or other family benefits make early retirement worthwhile for you.

Based in Grand Forks, Howard I. Kossover is the Social Security Public Affairs Specialist for North Dakota and western Minnesota. Send general interest questions to him at howard.kossover@ssa.gov. Read his online articles at socialsecurityinfo.areavoices.com.

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