Social Security isn't just for retirees. Here's who else qualifies for benefits.

Kailey Hagen
The Motley Fool

Nearly 13.5 million Americans under 65 receive a Social Security paycheck every month. Some of these are seniors who choose to start their benefits soon after they become eligible, but many of them aren't close to retirement age at all. They qualify for Social Security benefits for one of the lesser-known reasons discussed below.

Social Security disability benefits

Social Security pays benefits to those who are unable to work due to a disability that's expected to last at least one year or until death. In order to qualify for these benefits, you must have earned a certain number of credits. A single credit is defined as $1,410 in earnings in 2020 and you can earn up to four credits per year. How many credits you need to qualify for disability benefits depends on your age at the time of disability, but it will never be more than 40 credits.

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If you believe you qualify for disability benefits, you may apply online or at your local Social Security office, but don't expect to start receiving checks right away. It takes three to five months to process a Social Security disability application because the Social Security Administration has to verify your work history and medical records and then decide whether your condition is severe enough to warrant disability benefits.

Once it's made its decision, the Social Security Administration will notify you. If it denies your application, you may appeal. Your denial notice should contain information on how to do this. If you're approved for disability benefits, your notice will tell you how much you'll receive per month.

Family members of disabled workers, including spouses and unmarried children under 18 (19 if still in high school) or any age if disabled before 22, may also qualify for Social Security benefits if they counted upon the disabled worker's income.

Social Security survivors benefits

Survivors benefits go to the spouses, minor children, and in some cases, ex-spouses and dependent parents of deceased workers. The worker must've earned enough credits in order to qualify for benefits, but how many credits they need depends upon their age at death.

Surviving spouses may claim benefits at 60, or at 50 if they're disabled. The same holds true for ex-spouses if they were married to the deceased worker for at least 10 years and haven't remarried. Spouses and ex-spouses caring for the deceased worker's disabled children or children under 16 can claim benefits at any age, regardless of the length of their marriage.

Social Security has criteria to determine whether applicants qualify for disability benefits.

Unmarried children under 18 or up to 19 if still in high school are also eligible for survivors benefits as are adult children who were disabled before 22. Adopted children, stepchildren, grandchildren, and stepgrandchildren may also be eligible for benefits in certain circumstances.

Dependent parents aged 62 or older can qualify for survivors benefits if the deceased worker provided more than half of their financial support.

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The exact amount you'll receive in survivors benefits depends on your relationship to the deceased, your age, and the deceased's work history. Spouses and ex-spouses may qualify for up to 100% of the deceased worker's Social Security benefit while children receive 75% of the worker's benefit amount. A single dependent parent could receive up to 82.5% of the worker's benefit, but if both parents were dependent upon the deceased worker, each would receive 75%.

You can apply for survivors benefits online or at your local Social Security office. You'll need to provide information proving your relationship to the deceased as well as their Social Security Number and death certificate. If you're claiming benefits for minor children, you'll need their birth certificates as well.

Social Security children's benefits

Children may qualify for Social Security benefits if their parent is disabled or deceased, as discussed above. They may also qualify if their parent is 62 or older and claiming Social Security benefits based on their work history. 

Children must be unmarried and under 18, or up to 19 if still in high school. They can be any age if they were disabled before 22. Adopted children, stepchildren, grandchildren, and stepgrandchildren may be eligible for benefits in certain circumstances.

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You may file an application for your child's Social Security benefit online or through your local Social Security Administration office. You'll need their birth certificate to prove their relationship to the retired worker. Once the information is verified and the application approved, the child will begin receiving checks for up to 75% of the retired worker's benefit until they no longer meet the eligibility criteria discussed above.

Applying for Social Security benefits doesn't take that long, and it could give your household another reliable stream of income, which a lot of people could probably use right now. If you're not sure whether you or a family member qualify for any of the Social Security benefits discussed above, reach out to the Social Security Administration to ask.

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