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

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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 $4,555. 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.

According to the Social Security Administration, the average monthly Social Security payment check was $1,745.35 for January 2023. That’s over 60% less than the $4,555 benefit ceiling.

Your maximum possible 2023 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 2023, this base is $160,200. 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.

Are You Retirement Ready?

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 10 years. If you choose to start receiving payments at the earliest allowable age of 62, your maximum possible payment is $2,572 per month in 2023. The maximum increases to $3,627 at the full retirement age, which is 67 for people turning 62 in 2023. And at age 70, you could pull in the maximum amount: $4,555.

The $4,555 monthly payout would give a retiree an impressive $54,660 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 provides about 30% of the average elderly American’s retirement income. However, among elderly beneficiaries, 12% of men and 15% of women rely on Social Security for at least 90% of their income, according to the SSA.


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.

Are You Retirement Ready?

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