In 2022, the maximum benefit for seniors who claim Social Security at full retirement age will be $3,345.
You have to do a few key things to earn that much in Social Security income, though. Here's what you'd need to do.
Three steps to earning the maximum Social Security benefit
In order to earn the maximum Social Security benefit at full retirement age, here's what you'd need to do:
- Claim benefits at your full retirement age. That's the age you get your standard benefit and it depends when you were born. Starting in 2022, FRA is between 66 and four months and 67. For anyone born in 1956, FRA is 66 and four months. FRA goes up by two months for each subsequent birth year, until all those born in 1960 or later will have an FRA of 67. If you claim benefits before this, you'll be subject to early filing penalties and won't be able to max out your income.
- Work for at least 35 years. Your benefit at full retirement age is based on a percentage of average wages in the 35 years you earned the most. Anyone who hasn't worked for at least 35 years ends up with a reduced benefit because of $0 wage years included when their career-average wage is calculated. You won't be able to get the maximum Social Security income if you reduce your average wage due to a short work history.
- Earn income equal to, or exceeding, the wage base limit for a full 35 years. Each year, there's a maximum taxable wage called the wage base limit. You pay Social Security tax on every dollar of earned income up to that maximum and income up to the wage base limit is included in your career-average wage that benefits are based on. Income above it isn't taxed and you don't get credit for it, so it can't boost your average wage or benefits. The wage base limit in 2021 is $142,800 and the wage base limit in 2022 is $147,000. Unless you've earned the inflation-adjusted equivalent for at least 35 years in your work history, the maximum benefit isn't within reach for you.
Fulfilling all of these three steps is difficult but if you do it, then you'll be on track for the maximum Social Security benefit at full retirement age. This max benefit of $3,345 is more than double the average $1,657 Social Security benefit for all retirees in 2022.
It's still not the absolute most you could receive, though. The absolute maximum Social Security benefit in 2022 is $4,194. This amount is higher because retirees who wait until after FRA to start their checks get a benefit boost for each month they delay until the age of 70. By putting off their claim, retirees earn delayed retirement credits worth 2/3 of 1% per month and result in an 8% annual benefits increase for each year of delay.
Knowing the maximum benefit at full retirement age, and at age 70, is helpful to get an idea of what Social Security can provide. But since chances are good your benefits will be below this amount, you should be prepared for how much income you'll actually get. Social Security is designed to replace about 40% of pre-retirement wages, and seniors will need savings to supplement it in order to be comfortable during their retirement years.