How Big Is the Average Social Security Check of an Upper-Class Retiree?

Stack of 100 dollar bills with US Treasury illustrative check to illustrate American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 payment with social security card for retirees.
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Social Security has been one of the most beloved social programs in the history of the United States. As originally designed, the system was bulletproof, with existing workers funding benefits for retirees through payroll taxes.

Unfortunately, a combination of factors has upset the balance that has kept Social Security solvent all these years. Demographics have played a big role, as the number of retirees relative to active workers has greatly increased, in part due to increasing longevity. As a result, the Social Security Trustees have said that, without legislative action, benefits could be cut by 23% as early as 2034.

For those in the upper income brackets, this shouldn’t be as damaging as it would be to those in the lowest bracket, many of whom rely on Social Security as their only source of retirement income. But it still could sting, as those who earned more in their working careers also stand to lose more in terms of absolute dollars, as their Social Security payments are correspondingly higher as well.

Here’s a look at income levels of the upper class, how they relate to Social Security and how big the average check is for an upper-class retiree.

Check out the new cutoff for earnings in 2024.

Upper-Class Income Range for 2023

According to the Pew Research Center, “upper income” begins at double the national median income. As of September 2023, estimates for the median national income were at $76,382, putting “upper income” at $152,764 and above.

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Average Social Security Checks as of September

The average retiree received a monthly Social Security check of $1,841 as of September 2023. Spousal benefits for those who weren’t drawing checks based on their own income averaged a monthly payment of $888.

If you combine these two benefits, it translates to the average worker and spouse household earning checks totaling $2,279 per month or $32,752 per year. 

Average Social Security Checks of Upper-Class Retirees

The Social Security wage base is the maximum amount that you could earn and get credit for your future benefit checks. Generally speaking, upper-class workers earn above this limit. For example, the Social Security wage base in 2022 was $147,000, below the Pew Research “upper income” level of $152,764 and above.

If upper-class workers earned above this limit for at least 35 years of their working careers, they would earn the maximum possible Social Security benefit. 

The exact amount of the maximum Social Security benefit depends on the age at which age you file. This amount also changes from year to year. For example, those who filed for benefits at age 62 in 2023 could receive a maximum possible benefit of $2,572, while those who waited for “full retirement age” of 67 could draw as much as $3,627. Those who delayed filing until age 70 could snag the top possible retirement benefit of $4,555.

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As noted above, the two factors that determine the size of your Social Security check are the age at which you file and how much you earn during the 35 top-earning years of your career. 

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To earn the maximum possible Social Security benefit, you’ll have to meet or exceed the Social Security wage base in each of those 35 years, and then delay filing until age 70.

Even for upper-class earners, a $4,555 monthly benefit, equating to $54,660 per year, is a substantial chunk of change. If those benefits were to be cut 23% in 2034, as is currently a possibility, that would amount to a yearly reduction of $12,572, or over $1,000 per month.

Additional Sources of Retirement Income for Upper-Class Retirees

Although most Americans likely would be quite happy with an annual Social Security benefit in excess of $50,000, that would just be a minority percentage of the retirement income for most upper-income Americans. Data from Vanguard shows that the average 401(k) balance for those with incomes of $150,000 and higher in 2021 was $354,569, vs. just $8,260 for those with incomes of $15,000 or less.

But high Social Security payments and large 401(k) balances are not the only sources of income that upper-class retirees can generally access. Rental properties, second homes, outside savings and retirement accounts and other assets help contribute to the minimum $2.2 million net worth that the 2023 Schwab Modern Wealth Survey says defines wealthy individuals.

In an imaginary scenario, if that $2.2 million net worth were completely liquid, it could generate $110,000 of income at just a 5% annual interest rate.

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