The retirement world, much like the working world, features vast differences in monthly income from one American to the next. This applies to 401(k) distributions as well as Social Security benefits, which can range from less than $800 a month to more than $4,000.
Unlike the working world, however, there’s a maximum to how much you can earn from Social Security. In 2023, the maximum Social Security retirement check is $4,555 a month, according to the Social Security Administration. You only get that if you have waited until age 70 to claim your retirement benefits.
If you claim benefits at full retirement age in 2023 — either 66 or 67 years old, depending on your birth year — your maximum benefit would be $3,627 a month. If you claim benefits at age 62 (the earliest you can claim them), your maximum benefit would be $2,572.
To put those figures in context, the average Social Security retirement benefit as of July 2023 was $1,790.56 a month.
There’s no real secret to qualifying for the maximum Social Security benefit. You need to earn a lot of money during your professional career, and then you need to wait as long as possible to file for Social Security. Wading through the details is a little more complicated, however.
Following are four things you must do to qualify for the maximum Social Security benefit.
Work the Requisite Number of Years
If you want to max out your Social Security payment in retirement, the first thing you need to do is commit to working full-time for at least 35 full years. Working more than 35 years won’t necessarily help, but working less than 35 years means you probably won’t earn the maximum. The reason is that your benefit is calculated based on your 35 highest-earning years. If you have worked for fewer than 35 years, the years without earnings are counted as zeros, which can lower the average earnings used to calculate your benefit.
Earn a High Salary
Your next step is earn a much higher-than-average salary to qualify for the maximum benefit. In 2023, Social Security’s maximum taxable income is $160,200 a year. Beyond that, you are not subject to Social Security payroll taxes, which means that to earn the maximum benefit you would need to earn at least $160,200 a year. That’s nearly triple the median annual wage in the United States, which was $57,200 a year during the 2023 second quarter, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Wait Until Age 70 To Claim Social Security
Although you can claim benefits as early as 62, your monthly payment goes up the longer you wait and peaks out at age 70. Beyond that, there’s no more financial advantage to waiting. If you want to earn the maximum monthly Social Security benefit, you must wait until age 70 to claim.
Check That Your Earnings Record Is Accurate
Following the first three steps won’t do you much good if the SSA has an inaccurate record of your earnings, causing your benefits to be less than they should be. Although this is unlikely, there’s always the potential it could happen. You can check your Social Security statement online online by opening a “my Social Security” account.
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