I received a question from a reader this week, an “unwed” father (his own description) asking if his three-year-old would qualify for Social Security benefits when he claimed retirement benefits next spring at age 62.
“His mother and I are raising him in two separate households and he spends equal time with us both, but we have no legal document saying this,” David wrote in an e-mail. “I do have his birth certificate, Social Security card, and State of Maryland Affidavit of Parentage,” he explained. “If he is eligible, would I need any other documentation in order to make this happen?”
Even though the father would collect reduced retirement benefits at 62, his son is entitled to benefits equal to 50% of the father's full retirement age benefits, I responded. (I have jokingly referred to benefits for the progeny of late-in-life dads as “the Viagra college fund.” Put the child's Social Security checks in a 529 plan and you could pay for Harvard.)
I noted that while the father could collect reduced benefits equal to 75% of his full retirement age benefit at age 62, he would also be subject to the earnings cap if he continued to work while collecting Social Security benefits before full retirement age.
The earnings cap reduces benefits by $1 for every $2 earned over $15,120 in 2013 and can affect both the parent's and child's benefits. The cap increases each year with inflation and probably will be slightly higher by next year.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the cost-of-living-adjustment for all government benefits in 2014 will be 1.5%, slightly lower than this year's 1.7% COLA. The Social Security Administration will issue an official COLA announcement in mid-October.
SSA spokesman Dorothy Clark confirmed that although the reader is not married to the child's mother, the child can qualify for benefits. Biological children, as well as adopted children, stepchildren and in some cases, dependent grandchildren, are eligible if they are younger than 18 (or 19 if still in high school) and unmarried. Disabled children who are older than 18 are also eligible for benefits on a parent's earnings record if they were disabled before age 22.