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How Do You Apply for Social Security Benefits for Children? Who Is Eligible and More

We answer your questions on the benefits your child is eligible for, who can receive them and more.

stack of $100 bills
Is your child eligible for Social Security benefits?
Sarah Tew/CNET

If you thought your Social Security benefits only applied to you, think again. Social Security Child Insurance Benefits apply to anyone who receives Social Security Disability Insurance or retirement benefits and has kids. The Social Security Administration disburses these benefits to children as long as one parent is entitled to receive them. 

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This is to "help to stabilize the family's financial future," the SSA says. The Social Security money for children is also designed to help provide necessities to kids while they're still enrolled in school.

We'll explain how to find out if your child is eligible to receive Social Security benefits and how much they could get. We'll also tell you the payment schedule. For more, here's why Supplemental Security Income recipients are getting their cost-of-living adjustment in December.

How much could my child receive from Social Security benefits?

If your child is eligible for benefits, they could receive up to half of the full retirement or disability benefits you're currently getting. If a child is eligible for survivors benefits, they can get up to 75% of the deceased parent's basic Social Security benefit. 

However, there's a limit to how much your family can receive from Social Security. If the total amount payable to all family members exceeds a certain limit (between 150% and 180% of the parent's full benefit amount), each person's benefit is reduced proportionately until the total equals the maximum allowable amount. 

As the parent, your benefit amount will not be reduced because it's not part of the maximum allowable amount. 

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The amount your child could get depends on how much you get.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Is my child eligible for benefits?

To qualify for Social Security Child's Insurance Benefits, you and your child must meet certain requirements. As a parent, you must have worked and earned enough Social Security credits (at least 40 credits), and you must also be eligible to receive Social Security retirement or disability benefits. Children can also receive benefits if they have a deceased parent.

For a child to qualify for benefits, they must be unmarried, dependent on the parent and must meet at least one of the following criteria.

  • They're under age 18.
  • They're 18 or 19 years old and a full-time student in high school.
  • They're age 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22.

You can check your child's eligibility by using the Social Security Administration's screening tool.

How do I apply for Social Security benefits for my child?

Unfortunately, you can't apply for child benefits online. Instead, you can call the Social Security office at 1-800-772-1213 or visit your local Social Security office. Make sure you have the following documents on hand.

  • Your child's birth certificate or other proof of birth or adoption.
  • Proof of marriage to the child's natural or adoptive parent, if they are your stepchild.
  • Proof of the child's US citizenship or lawful alien status if the child was not born in the US.
  • W-2 forms and/or self-employment tax returns if the child had earnings last year. 
  • If the parent is deceased, you may need proof of the parent's death.

For an adult child with disabilities, you'll need to complete forms SSA-338 (PDF) -- describes your child's medical condition -- and SSA-827 -- authorizes disclosure of information to the SSA.

100 and 10 dollar bills on purple background

You'll have to apply for benefits for your child at the Social Security office or over the phone.

James Martin/CNET

Social Security Child's Insurance payment schedule

If your child is eligible and can start receiving benefits, the payment schedule will follow yours. Note that you'll receive the payments separately but on the same day to help differentiate the benefits. 

  • If you started receiving Social Security benefits before May 1997, or if you receive both Social Security and SSI, their Social Security payment will arrive on the third day of each month.
  • If your birthday falls between the 1st and 10th of the month, their payment will be sent out on the second Wednesday of the month.
  • If your birthday falls between the 11th and 20th of the month, their payment will be sent out on the third Wednesday of the month.
  • If your birthday falls between the 21st and 31st of the month, their payment will be sent out on the fourth Wednesday of the month.

Here's the full Social Security payment schedule. For more, use our ultimate Social Security cheat sheet as a guide to your benefits.