If you file for Social Security in 2021, the maximum monthly benefit you could receive is $3,895. This is well above the average benefit most retirees will get, and it's $105 more than the $3,790 maximum monthly benefit retirees could score in 2020.
Of course, only a very small number of seniors will get such a large Social Security benefit. In order to be one of them, there are three steps you need to take.
1. Work at least 35 years
The size of your Social Security check is determined based on average wages in your 35 highest-earning years. If you work for less time, you'll have $0s dragging down the average your benefit is based on and won't be able to earn the maximum benefit.
If you're hoping to score $3,895 per month in benefits in 2021, you'll need to make sure you've put in at least 35 years on the job to avoid any years of $0 wages being counted against you.
2. Earn the maximum taxable earnings (or more)
Remember above where I said Social Security benefits are based on average wages? This doesn't necessarily refer to all wages you earned. Only wages up to the annual "wage base limit" are subject to Social Security tax and only wages up to that threshold count toward determining your benefits.
For 2021, for example, the annual wage base limit is $142,000, but the limit changes from year to year. The limit creates a de facto cap on the amount of benefits you can receive. If your annual earnings meet or exceed the taxable maximum every year for 35 years, you'll get the largest possible Social Security benefit -- that coveted $3,895 monthly check in 2021.
3. Claim your benefits at age 70
The Social Security formula that gives you benefits equaling your average wages is used to determine your "primary insurance amount," which is the benefit you'd receive at your full retirement age. If you delay receiving benefits beyond full retirement age, you can raise the size of your checks by earning delayed retirement credits. These are valued at two thirds of 1% per month, or 8% annually.
If your hope is to get the highest possible monthly benefit, you'll want to wait until your 70th birthday to start getting your checks. If you claim earlier, you won't max out your delayed retirement credits, so your Social Security check will be smaller. And if you claim before full retirement age, you'd be hit with early filing penalties that reduce your check. In 2021, for example, the maximum benefit for someone who claims at 62 is just $2,324.
How can you maximize your own benefits?
For most older Americans thinking about claiming Social Security benefits, it's too late to change your earnings record or to go back and earn more every year. But you can control both of the other two factors on this list -- you can make sure you've worked for at least 35 years prior to claiming benefits, and you can wait until 70 to claim them. Both of these steps can mean getting larger benefits, which can provide you with more financial security in your later years.