Seniors are often warned to save for retirement on their own and not rely too heavily on Social Security. That's not bad advice, considering that the average senior today collects $1,663 a month in benefits.
But while the average Social Security benefit today may be $1,663, the maximum monthly benefit is far more generous. In fact, if you play your cards right, you may be eligible to get paid $4,194 a month from Social Security. Here's how to know if you're on track for that sort of payday.
1. Are you a higher earner?
If you're a higher earner, you may be in line for the maximum Social Security benefit. Your benefit is calculated based on your earnings during your 35 most lucrative years in the workforce. But not all earnings count for Social Security purposes.
Each year, a wage cap is set that limits the extent to which wages are taxed and counted for Social Security. This year, that limit is $147,000. That means that if you earn $147,000 or more, you may be on your way to that maximum benefit. But to be clear, your earnings will have to hit the wage cap for a full 35 years for you to score the maximum Social Security payday.
2. Have you put in 35 years in the workforce?
We just learned that your monthly Social Security benefit will be based on your 35 highest-paid years of earnings. But if you don't work a full 35 years, you'll have a $0 factored into your benefit calculation for each year you're missing an income. And that means you won't be in line for the maximum monthly benefit.
3. Are you delaying your filing as much as possible?
Once you reach full retirement age (FRA), you can collect your Social Security benefit in full. But filing at FRA won't give you the maximum benefit. To get that, you'll need to delay your claim beyond FRA, all the way up to age 70.
What if you're not on track for the maximum Social Security benefit?
You may be eager to eke as much money as possible out of Social Security. But if it doesn't seem like you're on track to snag that maximum monthly benefit, don't sweat it.
Most seniors don't get anywhere close to $4,194 a month from Social Security. And even if your benefit is much lower, there are steps you can take to supplement your retirement income, like building a strong nest egg by saving consistently or working on a part-time basis during retirement.
If your Social Security benefit ends up being much lower than expected, you could even come up with creative ways to give your income a boost, like renting out a portion of your home or even renting out a parking spot in your driveway. If you live in an area where parking is difficult to find, that could be a big moneymaker.
Either way, don't get too hung up on snagging the maximum monthly benefit. You may miss out on it due to factors outside your control, so it's best to focus on the things you can control, like delaying your filing to raise your benefit beyond what you'd be eligible for at FRA.