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Social Security’s Family Maximum Benefits: Does It Affect You?

It is common that more than one person in a household receives some sort of Social Security Benefits – disability, retirement, or survivor’s benefits.  What you may not be aware of is that there is a family maximum that can be received in Social Security benefits. While it’s not a very common concern for most families, it does kick in occasionally.  Usually this is when there are multiple household members receiving benefits. In the case of disability, one scenario this could occur in is when one person receives retirement, another receives disability and a child receives dependent benefits.

The family maximum is computed each year by the SSA.  It is based on a worker’s primary insurance (PIA) which is the amount of Social Security benefits a worker would receive if benefits start at the full retirement age which is around 65 years old.  There is a formula to compute for the retirement and survivor family maximum, and a special formula for a family with a member that is considered a disabled worker.  These formulas can get complicated, but the basic idea is that the maximum is a percentage of the primary insurance amount.  However, it’s important to note that the PRIMARY benefit does not change.  It’s the benefits to the rest of the family that is lowered.  In addition, the rules are more restrictive.  One major restriction is that the family maximum can only fall in between 100% and 150% of their PIA.  It’s important to know what your family maximum is so you don’t find yourself owing the SSA money in an overpayment case.  Below is an example provided from the Social Security Administration.

CharacteristicMonthly benefit amount ($)Rule applied
Before family maximum
Worker’s benefit1,200100% of the worker’s PIA
Auxiliary benefits
Spouse60050% of the worker’s PIA
Child 160050% of the worker’s PIA
Child 260050% of the worker’s PIA
Total family benefit3,000Sum of the worker’s and auxiliaries’ benefits
After family maximum
Worker’s benefit1,200100% of the worker’s PIA
Auxiliary benefits
Spouse200⅓ of the family maximum amount minus the worker’s PIA ($600)
Child 1200⅓ of the family maximum amount minus the worker’s PIA ($600)
Child 2200⅓ of the family maximum amount minus the worker’s PIA ($600)
Total family benefit1,800Sum of the worker’s and auxiliaries’ benefits, capped by the family maximum amount
SOURCE: Authors’ calculations.
NOTES: Dollar values are rounded to the nearest dollar for presentation purposes, but would actually be rounded down to the nearest dime. In this case, 85 percent of the worker’s AIME is $1,915, which is 160 percent of his or her PIA, greater than the cap of 150 percent of the PIA that applies to disability beneficiaries. As a result, the family maximum for this family is $1,800, or 150 percent of the worker’s PIA.
AIME = average indexed monthly earnings; DI = Disability Insurance; PIA = primary insurance amount.
Table 2.Illustration of the family maximum rules for a family of a disabled worker, 2015

Assumptions:

Worker’s AIME = $2,253
Worker’s PIA = $1,200

Family maximum:

DI family maximum (applied to the worker’s AIME):
85% × $2,253 = $1,915, which is more than 150%
of the worker’s PIA, so the family maximum =
150% × $1,200 = $1,800

Note:  This information only reflects Social Security, Retirement and Survivors benefits and does not involve Supplemental Security Income (SSI) which has its own household maximum.

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