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How Will Your Social Security Stack Up to the $4,194 Max?

By Christy Bieber – Jan 7, 2022 at 6:01AM

Key Points

  • Social Security's maximum benefit is $4,194 in 2022.
  • This is a much higher benefit than most people will receive.
  • Future retirees should be prepared to get less than the maximum benefit.

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Are you on track to get a generous benefit?

In 2022, some seniors will get monthly Social Security checks totaling $4,194. This is the maximum benefit the Social Security Administration will provide retirees. It is also far more than most people will get. 

If you're planning on claiming Social Security in 2022 or any time in the future, it's helpful to know how your income from this entitlement program will stack up. Chances are good you won't see anywhere near $4,194 per month from the Social Security Administration. It's helpful to be prepared for this reality. 

Older adults reviewing financial papers with calculator.

Image source: Getty Images.

Who will receive the maximum $4,194 benefit?

A very small percentage of Americans will get the maximum $4,194 Social Security checks available in 2022. Those who will must have two things in common:

  • They'll have earned at least the maximum amount taxed by Social Security for at least 35 years of their working life.
  • They will have waited until the age of 70 to claim retirement benefits.

Now you may be wondering how much the "maximum amount taxed by Social Security" is. This is actually the key factor responsible for the fact there's a maximum Social Security benefit and the key factor explaining why so few people get it.

See, Social Security benefits are based on average wages earned during the 35 years when your income was the highest over the course of your career. But there's a "wage base limit." Wages above it aren't taxed by the Social Security Administration and won't count when calculating your average wage. So the wage base limit effectively becomes the maximum amount taxed by Social Security.

The wage base limit is really high. In 2022, it will be $147,000. But it's adjusted upwards each year to account for wage growth, so in previous years, it was somewhat lower. Nevertheless, only around 6% of workers have earnings that exceed the limit each year. Even fewer people do it every one of the 35 years that counts in their benefits formula. Only those who earn at least this much for at least 35 years would be on track for the maximum benefit. That's why the vast majority of people won't get anywhere near the $4,194 max. 

Even if you do manage to earn enough for 35 years, you'll also need to wait until 70 to get your first Social Security check if you're trying to get the highest available amount. That's because Social Security benefits increase for each year you delay claiming past age 62 when you first become eligible. Unless you get all the increases available by waiting until 70, you'll fall short of the maximum monthly benefit. 

How will your benefits stack up?

As mentioned above, your personal benefit is going to be based on both what you earn during your career and the age you start your checks. 

The bigger the gap between your earnings and the wage base limit each year, the smaller your benefit will be relative to the potential maximum. And the earlier you claim benefits, the more you'll reduce what you get compared with the $4,194 maximum. To get an idea of what your benefits will be, assume Social Security will replace about 40% of pre-retirement earnings. And be aware you'll shrink your checks substantially if you file for benefits any time before age 70.

Once you take these factors into account, it should be easy to see Social Security alone won't provide enough income to live on -- so you should start saving to supplement it if you haven't already. 

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