Social Security: Most Americans Will Never Reach Maximum Benefits — Here’s Why

older couple managing retirement contributions

If you are of an age to receive Social Security benefits, it is likely that you are not getting the overall maximum monthly payment of $4,194. To do so would require you to have worked 35 years, earning the maximum wage subject to Social Security withholding tax every year, and delayed retirement until age 70.

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As The McDowell News reported, the average monthly Social Security payment check is $1,657. That’s $2,538 less than the $4,194 benefit ceiling.

Your maximum possible 2022 Social Security benefit is dependent upon when you begin to collect payments and how much you earned during your 35 highest-earning working years.

The wage base limit is the maximum wage that’s subject to the withholding tax for that year. For earnings in 2022, this base is $147,000, according to the Social Security Administration. The maximum wage taxable by Social Security changes each year and has risen over time due to inflation. Whereas it was $38,600 in 1985, for example, it had risen to $76,200 in 2000 and $106,800 in 2010.

Retire Comfortably

As a general rule, to receive Social Security payments in retirement, a recipient must have worked and paid into the Social Security system for at least ten years. If you choose to start receiving payments at the earliest allowable age of 62, your maximum possible payment is $2,364 per month. The maximum increases to $3,345 at age 66 and four months, according to U.S. News. And at age 70, you could pull in the maximum amount: $4,194.

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The $4,194 monthly payout would give a retiree an impressive $50,328 yearly income. But that takes a lot of early career planning, a long work lifespan earning the maximum wage subject to Social Security withholding and the and good-luck ability to hold off applying for benefits until maxing out at age 70.

Designed as a supplement to pension and retirement savings, Social Security currently replaces about 40% of the average American’s retirement income. Four in ten Americans have the monthly payment as their only source of income in retirement, according to a January 2020 study from the National Institute on Retirement Security.

Retire Comfortably

Individuals who have yet to retire should open and periodically check their account at to figure out what benefit amount they will receive at their estimated retirement age. If you are worried about how low your potential Social Security payments will be, plan on stepping up your savings to bolster what you plan to receive from the Social Security program and your pension plan.

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About the Author

David Nadelle is a freelance editor and writer based in Ottawa, Canada. After working in the energy industry for 18 years, he decided to change careers in 2016 and concentrate full-time on all aspects of writing. He recently completed a technical communication diploma and holds previous university degrees in journalism, sociology and criminology. David has covered a wide variety of financial and lifestyle topics for numerous publications and has experience copywriting for the retail industry.
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