Here’s the Maximum That You Can Get From Social Security

Social security and medicare concept with social security card and pile of money.
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Social Security retirement benefits are not the same for all retirees. The amount of your monthly benefit can vary greatly based on a number of different factors, from when you decide to claim Social Security to how much you earned during your career. However, there is a maximum allowable Social Security retirement benefit. Ironically, the highest payout is reserved for those who arguably need it the least. If you’re aiming to snag this top payout, here’s what you’ll need to do.

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What Is the Highest Social Security Payout?

For 2021, the top Social Security payout is $3,895 per month. As you’ll see below, attaining this maximum benefit is not easy, and is based on a combination of your lifelong earnings record and your age when you claim your retirement benefit. The good news is that you have at least some control over these factors, meaning you have the ability to boost your future Social Security benefit.

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What Is the Average Social Security Payout?

Although the top Social Security payout is actually rather sizable, the average benefit is much less. As of 2021, the average retirement payout amounted to just $1,517.67. That’s just $18,212.04 per year. Seeing as a full-time minimum wage worker pulls in about $30,000 per year, the average Social Security benefit won’t get most retirees very far. As that $1,517.67 figure is just an average, it also means that many retirees earn payouts below that level. 

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Does Your Age Affect Your Social Security Payout?

Age is absolutely a key factor in the size of your Social Security payout. The top payout of $3,895 is only available to those who delay claiming their benefit as late as possible, which is age 70. If you want to claim Social Security at 62 instead, which is the earliest allowable age, the maximum Social Security benefit drops to $2,324. If you retire any time between age 62 and age 70, your benefit amount will be adjusted accordingly between these two extremes. 

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How Much Do You Have To Earn To Claim the Maximum Social Security Benefit?

Social Security taxes phase out once you reach the maximum wage base for a given year. If you earn above that maximum, you won’t have to pay any more Social Security tax for that year. However, you also won’t earn any additional credits for your Social Security retirement benefit. To qualify for the maximum Social Security payout, you’ve got to be a top earner. In fact, you’ll have to earn at least the maximum wage base for at least 35 years. For 2021, the Social Security wage base is $142,800. This number is indexed for inflation, so back in 1985, the wage base was just $39,600.

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Don’t Forget About Spousal Social Security Payouts

The maximum Social Security payout only applies to individuals. If your spouse qualifies for their own Social Security benefit, you can add your two payouts together and jointly earn more than the maximum for a single person. But even non-working spouses qualify for a spousal benefit of up to half of the higher-earning spouse’s payout if their own benefit is less. For example, if you qualify for the maximum Social Security payout of $3,895 and your spouse’s benefit based on their own work record is just $1,200, they’ll earn more claiming the 50% spousal benefit. If you pass away, that spousal benefit will convert into a survivor’s benefit equal to 100% of your own payout, or $3,895 (indexed for inflation).

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What Moves Can You Make To Boost Your Social Security Payout?

Although the computation of your Social Security benefit can be complicated, the basic principles underlying it are simple. To maximize your Social Security benefit, you’ll have to earn as much as you can — at least the Social Security wage base every year for 35 years — and you’ll have to defer claiming Social Security as long as possible, which is age 70. 

Most workers can’t earn at those levels for 35 years, so you may have to temper your expectations a bit when it comes to your Social Security payout. What you can do, however, is earn as much as possible, even if it falls below the Social Security wage base, and make sure that you work at least 35 years. If you want to retire after just 31 years of earning, for example, you’ll be taking zeroes in terms of your Social Security computation for four years. Working that additional four years could go a long way toward boosting your ultimate Social Security payout.

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About the Author

After earning a B.A. in English with a Specialization in Business from UCLA, John Csiszar worked in the financial services industry as a registered representative for 18 years. Along the way, Csiszar earned both Certified Financial Planner and Registered Investment Adviser designations, in addition to being licensed as a life agent, while working for both a major Wall Street wirehouse and for his own investment advisory firm. During his time as an advisor, Csiszar managed over $100 million in client assets while providing individualized investment plans for hundreds of clients.

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