Nearly everyone expects to rely on Social Security for vital income during their retirement years. Some Americans work hard in an effort to boost their future Social Security benefits as much as they possibly can. Yet even with all those efforts, the average Social Security benefit for retired workers is just $1,503 per month, or a little over $18,000 a year.
There are ways that you can get more from Social Security, though. In fact, according to the latest calculations from the Social Security Administration, some workers will get much more than double that average amount, topping out at $3,790 per month. That's almost $45,500 a year -- a much more reasonable amount for a retiree to expect to live on.
So how can you move beyond the $1,500 amount toward reaching that $3,790 goal? The three things you have to do are easy to explain but hard to accomplish, but even if you fall short, you can still have a positive impact on the monthly benefits you'll receive. Specifically, you have to:
- Maximize your earnings from your work.
- Work at least 35 years in your career.
- Wait until age 70 to claim your Social Security benefits.
We'll go through each of those items.
1. Boost your earnings
The formula that calculates Social Security benefits for workers takes into account a certain maximum amount of earnings each year. That's based on the same number that imposes a limit on how much Social Security payroll tax you have to pay, and it changes every year based on rising wages over time. For instance, the maximum earnings taken into account for 2020 will be $137,700, up from $132,900 in 2019.
The more money you make, the higher your average career earnings will be for purposes of calculating your retirement benefit. If you want $3,790 a month, you'll have to hit the maximum earnings number over many years. But even if you can't max out your earnings for Social Security purposes, every extra dollar of wages can help.
2. Work 35 years
In determining the maximum Social Security benefit, the SSA takes the 35 top-earning years of your career, adjusting earlier years in your career for inflation to make the numbers comparable over time. Working 35 years at the maximum earnings amount will put you in line to get the maximum benefit.
If you work less than 35 years, though, then you won't reach the $3,790 per month figure. That's because the SSA puts in a $0 amount for any year short of 35, so a shorter career will bring your overall average earnings down. The negative impact of falling a year or two short won't be huge, but those with significantly shorter careers could see a substantial drop from what they could've gotten in benefits if they'd worked longer.
3. Wait until age 70 to take Social Security
Finally, when you claim Social Security has a huge impact on your maximum benefit. If you're turning 62 in 2020 and have maximum earnings over a 35-year career, the maximum you can get in retirement benefits from Social Security is $2,265. That's $1,525 less than the number for someone turning 70 in 2020 with maximum benefits.
Even if you can't wait until 70, each year you wait helps. Those turning 65 in 2020 will max out at $2,857 per month, while those who turn 66 this year could see monthly benefits of $3,011.
How to get what you can
There aren't that many people who have high enough incomes, long enough careers, and enough patience to wait until age 70 to collect the maximum Social Security benefit. But by trying to boost your earnings, working a little longer, and waiting until you're older to claim Social Security, you'll be able to get closer to that $3,790 per month number as you approach retirement.