The maximum monthly Social Security benefit in 2022 is $4,194 per month. Will you get that much in your checks though?

There's a good chance the answer is no. But here's how you can find out if you're on track for such generous payments from the Social Security Administration.

Adult looking at financial paperwork.

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There are two crucial things you need to do to get a $4,194 monthly Social Security benefit

If you want to earn the $4,194 maximum monthly Social Security benefit, there are two things you must do:

  1. Earn the inflation-adjusted equivalent of $147,000 for 35 years
  2. Claim Social Security at 70

Why do you need to do these two things? It's simple.

The maximum Social Security benefit is only available if you earn the maximum income counted toward determining your benefit and if you earn the maximum number of delayed retirement credits that increase your standard retirement benefit. 

There is a maximum income counted toward your benefits because there's a cap on how much money you pay Social Security taxes on. It's called the "wage base limit." It's $147,000 in 2022, but adjusted regularly for inflation.

All earnings equal to or below the wage base limit become part of your earnings history. Social Security adjusts your annual countable wages for inflation and takes an average of what you made in your 35 highest-earning years. You get benefits equal to a percentage of that average.

So if you earn less than the wage base limit in any one of the 35 years included in this formula, your benefit falls below the maximum available amount since you won't have the highest possible average wage. 

If you do have the highest possible average wage, you still need to make it grow by earning delayed retirement credits. These become available after your designated full retirement age, and can be earned until 70. If you pass up even one month of delayed retirement credits, you won't grow your standard benefit as much as possible, and will give up your chance at getting the maximum benefit. 

What do if you aren't meeting these requirements?

Chances are very good you will meet neither of these requirements and will not get a $4,194 monthly Social Security check. And that's OK. Only a small percentage of people earn the maximum. You can still have a great retirement if you aren't one of them.

What you need to do is be realistic about the fact your retirement checks are going to replace only around 40% of pre-retirement income. Since you can't live on that, you should work throughout your career to build plenty of supplementary savings.

You can also try to earn as close as you can to the wage base limit for as many years as possible, and wait as long as you can to claim Social Security. By doing that, you'll max out the monthly income you get even if your payments still fall well short of $4,194.  It does take sacrifice to try to boost earnings and to put off your benefits claim, but if you want to get the biggest checks possible, those are your best options.