How’s this for a good deal: The U.S. government will pay you an annual income in retirement of nearly $55,000, and all you have to do is watch payments get deposited into your bank account every month. If you’re interested, be prepared to work hard, earn a lot of money and retire late.
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The above scenario will happen only if you qualify for the maximum Social Security benefit for 2023, which is $4,555 a month, according to the Social Security Administration. Over the course of the year, that adds up to $54,660.
Getting there requires the right combination of career earnings and the age you start collecting Social Security. First off, the $4,555 maximum is only available to those who wait until age 70 to apply for benefits. If you apply at full retirement age — which is 66 years old in 2023 — your maximum benefit would be $3,627 a month. If you apply at age 62 in 2023, your max would be $2,572 a month.
Beyond retiring at the right age, other things have to fall into place for you to get the highest monthly payment of $4,555 in 2023. You also must have earned the maximum income taxed by the SSA for 35 years, Motley Fool reported.
For example, in 2022 only the first $147,000 you earned were subject to Social Security taxes (6.2% of earnings for most workers). That figure has been increased to $160,200 for 2023. Any earnings above that amount would not be subject to Social Security taxes or add to your eventual monthly Social Security payment.
To put those incomes in perspective, consider that the median weekly earnings for full-time workers in the United States were $1,085 during the 2022 fourth quarter, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That comes to $56,420 a year — less than 40% of what you would have had to earn ($147,000) to qualify for the maximum Social Security retirement benefit.
In order to get that maximum benefit, you would have had to reach the highest income subject to Social Security taxes every year for 35 years. As Motley Fool noted, in 2012 the maximum income taxed by the SSA was $110,000. In 1992, it was $55,500 — a very good salary at the time.
One thing to keep in mind is that you wouldn’t have to earn the maximum income for 35 years in a row. Instead, the SSA looks at your 35 highest-earning years, whenever they happened, to determine your retirement benefits.
Other things that can impact your Social Security retirement payment are spousal and survivor benefits. These can change both the amount due and when full benefits can be claimed.
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If you fall short of the maximum Social Security benefit, don’t be discouraged — you are hardly alone. The average Social Security retirement benefit as of December 2022 was about $1,776 a month, according to the SSA.
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