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You'll Have to Earn More in 2022 to Max Out Your Social Security Benefits

By Christy Bieber – Oct 28, 2021 at 6:20AM

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Maxing out Social Security checks is getting a little harder next year.

In 2022, the maximum Social Security benefit will be $4,194 per month. Most people won't get anywhere near maxing out their benefits, though. 

If you're still working and you're hoping to get the highest possible Social Security check, you'll need to earn more in 2022 than you did in 2021 to be on track to do that. Here's why. 

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Image source: Getty Images.

A 2022 salary increase is critical if you want the largest Social Security check available

The maximum Social Security benefit changes each year. But, in order to earn it, you'll always need to do two things -- one of which is getting a little harder in 2022. 

The first thing you'll have to do is to earn the maximum taxable wage for at least 35 years. And this will be more difficult in 2022 than in 2021 because it's increasing. See, the maximum taxable wage, or the "wage base limit," goes up most years due to wage growth. It's the maximum amount of income that you pay Social Security taxes on and that is included in your Social Security benefits formula. 

When the amount of your Social Security benefit is calculated, it's based on average wages -- after adjusting for inflation -- in the 35 years you earned the most. To get the highest possible average wage, and thus the largest benefit possible, you must earn and pay taxes on income at least as high as the wage base limit for 35 years.  That will give you the highest average wage possible. 

In 2021, you had to earn $142,800 to earn the maximum taxable wage that would put you on the path toward maxing out Social Security. But if you earned that amount this year and don't get a big raise next year, you'll fall short of the wage base limit and will no longer be on track to get the largest amount of benefits available -- if 2022 counts as one of the 35 years included in your average. 

To stay on pace for the maximum benefit, you'll need to earn at least $147,000 in 2022. That's because the wage base limit is increasing to that amount. 

You'll also need to fulfill one other requirement of maxing out your benefit as well -- waiting until 70 to file for Social Security checks so you can increase your benefit amount as much as possible by earning delayed retirement credits

What if you don't earn $147,000 in 2022?

If you earn less than $147,000 in 2022, you could still potentially max out your Social Security checks if you work for more than 35 years. But this will work only if your income equals or exceeds the wage base limit in all of the years included in your average wage. If you worked for 36 years, for example, you could push out 2022 so it doesn't count -- but you'd have to earn the maximum taxable income for all of your other working years. 

Most people, realistically, don't have 35 years of maximum taxable earnings so probably won't get the highest benefit available. And that's OK. You just need to know what income Social Security will provide you and make sure you have enough money from other sources (such as savings) to supplement your retirement benefits and cover your costs as a retiree. 

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