Social Security: How Close Can You Realistically Come To Getting the Maximum Benefit?

Partial view of Social Security card, US Treasury checks and hundred dollar bills.
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Social Security is a form of supplemental retirement income that is meant to help pay for your expenses once you are retired. But it’s hard to know how to earn more of it and what you need to do to maximize your benefits.

While the maximum benefit for Social Security has been rising each year, it is still only meant to replace a portion of your retirement income. And you need to have a long career to truly get the most out of it.

Read on for the details of how much the Social Security maximum benefit is, how the benefits are calculated and how you can earn the maximum amount. Plus find out some other ways to earn more Social Security income.

What Is the Maximum Social Security Benefit?

The maximum Social Security monthly benefits are paid out based on what age you choose to elect benefits. Here’s the maximum Social Security benefit for the minimum retirement age, full retirement age and the overall maximum age that you can elect to start collecting:

  • Age 62 Maximum Benefit: $2,572
  • Age 67 Maximum Benefit: $3,627
  • Age 70 Maximum Benefit: $4,555

Keep in mind that these numbers are adjusted each year as part of a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA). These maximum benefit numbers only pertain to 2023.

How Is the Maximum Social Security Benefit Calculated?

The size of your Social Security benefit is largely dependent on your lifetime earnings and the age you retire. The Social Security Administration (SSA) employs a somewhat complicated calculation to figure out exactly how much to pay you, but here are the basic principles of how it works:

  • Your annual earnings are averaged over your lifetime, up until age 60. The SSA looks at your top 35 earning years to determine your benefit.
  • Earnings are inflation-adjusted, meaning they calculate your total earnings in the past in today’s dollar value.
  • A formula is applied on your Average Indexed Monthly Earnings (AIME) to come up with the Primary Insurance Amount (PIA).
  • The monthly payouts are then determined based on the PIA and at what age you choose to retire.
  • If you retire before your full retirement age — currently age 67 — then your Primary Insurance Amount is reduced. If you retire after your full retirement age, you get an increase each year until age 70, when benefits are maxed out.
Are You Retirement Ready?

How Do You Earn the Maximum Social Security Benefit?

To earn the maximum benefit from Social Security, you’ll need to meet these requirements:

Work for a Minimum 35 Years

Social Security benefits are based on your average taxable income over the highest-earning years. To earn the maximum benefit, you need to work at least 35 years.

Earn the Maximum Taxable Amount

During those highest-earning 35 years of work, you need to have maxed out the taxable Social Security amount for each year. In 2023, that amount is $160,200. Each year the number increases due to inflation.

For most workers, the best way to maximize the benefit is to earn as much taxable income as possible in the latter half of their career. This means to have your highest-earning years up until age 60, which can increase your total benefit amount.

Apply for Benefits at Age 70

To earn the absolute maximum Social Security amount, you need to delay taking your benefits until age 70.

How To Get More From Social Security Benefits

To maximize your Social Security income, you’ll need to work for 35 years earning the maximum taxable amount each year. But there are other ways to gain additional benefits from Social Security. Here are a few other types of Social Security benefits you might qualify for:

  • Disabled worker benefits: If you worked in covered employment long enough to be insured and were working prior to becoming disabled, you may be eligible for a disabled worker benefit.
  • Spousal benefits: If you are the spouse of a retired worker, you may be eligible for up to 50% of the retirees full benefit amount.
  • Survivor benefits: If you are a surviving spouse, parent or child, you may be eligible for up to 100% of the deceased’s Social Security benefit amount.
Are You Retirement Ready?

Other Ways To Save for Retirement

While maximizing your Social Security income can help boost your retirement income, it will most likely not be enough to completely cover your retirement expenses. Here are a few other ways to save for retirement to make sure you have enough:

Workplace Retirement Plan

Many jobs come with a retirement plan, such as a 401(k) account, which allows you to save on taxes while putting away money for retirement. If your workplace has a “match,” it will contribute an additional amount for every dollar you contribute. This is a great way to grow your retirement nest egg.

Individual Retirement Account (IRA)

An IRA allows you to save up to $6,500 per year — as of 2023 — in a tax-advantaged account. You can choose to save on taxes now with a Traditional IRA or pay the taxes right away but be able to withdraw tax-free in retirement with a Roth IRA.

Health Savings Account (HSA)

If you have a High-Deductible Health Plan (HDHP), you can contribute to an HSA and save on taxes. If the funds are used for medical expenses, there are also no taxes paid on earnings in the account. At age 65, you can withdraw from your HSA just like an IRA account, too, making it a very versatile investment account.

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