Most children who are in college cannot get Social Security benefits. This is because they’re over the age limit set by the Social Security Administration. However, certain college students can receive Social Security benefits as a child under the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program or as an adult from the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.
How Do They Qualify?
Under SSDI, children in college are disqualified for SSDI benefits once they turn 18. However, if they are disabled before the age of 22, they can receive SSDI on their parents’ record. According to the SSA, "an adult disabled before age 22 may be eligible for child's benefits if a parent is deceased or starts receiving retirement or disability benefits."
Children also must meet the definitions of adult disability set by the Social Security Administration. The SSA determines whether the injuries, illnesses or other medical conditions are severe enough to warrant financial assistance based on five criteria: if you can work, how severe your condition is, and whether or not it is covered in a list of disabling conditions, if you can do the work you used to do and if you do any other type of work to support yourself.
How Much Do They Receive?
If the children are approved for SSDI, their benefit payments are based on their parents’ work records. Children can get up to one-half of their parent’s benefit amounts. These payments are called "child" benefits. However, their benefit amounts are decreased if other people in the family receive Social Security benefits on the same record. If the total payments to family members exceed 150 to 180 percent of the workers’ entitled benefit amounts, their benefit checks are reduced proportionately.
What if They Work?
Children who receive SSDI are allowed to work and earn money. However, their benefits are reduced or eliminated if they earn over a certain amount. As of 2019, children in college can earn up to $1,220 per month and still receive full benefit payments. Work expenses can be excluded from this limit if they're needed for children to get or perform their jobs.
What if They’re Receiving Benefits?
Children can receive SSI benefits from their date of birth if they have qualifying disabilities. Once they reach 18, they are considered adults and have to qualify as adults. If children couldn’t qualify for SSI benefits because their families’ resources exceeded the program’s guidelines, they still might be able to qualify on their own. They have to meet the adult definition of disability as well as meet income guidelines.
Other Considerations for SSDI
Children are ineligible to receive SSDI benefits on their parents' records if their parents never worked. If children in college get married, they will lose their SSDI benefits unless their spouses are disabled as well. Also, their Social Security benefits are tax-free unless they have other taxable income such as dividends and work earnings and they exceed income guidelines.
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