Q&A: Social Security ‘child benefit’ math

Dear Liz: I just turned 62 and I have 3 children, ages 11, 13 and 15. I understand that starting Social Security now means my benefit is permanently reduced. Should I delay or take it now, since my children could get benefits?

Answer: The so-called “child benefit” complicates the math that usually favors delaying the start of Social Security.

Each of your children could get a monthly check equal to half your benefit because they’re under 18 and presumably unmarried. (Unmarried children who are under 19 but still in high school, or 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22, also can qualify.) There’s a family maximum that limits the total that can be paid to any household, which ranges from 150% to 180% of the parent’s full benefit amount.

Your kids can’t receive these benefits unless you’re receiving yours, however. Applying before your own full retirement age, which is 66 years and 8 months, permanently shrinks your check and subjects the family benefits to the earnings test if you’re still working. The earnings test reduces your benefit by $1 for every $2 you make over a certain limit, which this year is $18,240. The earnings test goes away after you reach full retirement age.

If you’re married, your claiming strategy also needs to consider your spouse. A reduced benefit could affect the survivor benefit one of you will have to live on when the other dies.

With so many variables to consider, you’d be smart to consult a Social Security claiming strategy site such as MaximizeMySocialSecurity or Social Security Solutions. These services aren’t free, but an investment of $20 to $50 could result in thousands more over your lifetime.

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