Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Are You on Track for the $3895 Max Social Security Benefit?

By Maurie Backman – Updated Nov 11, 2021 at 6:18PM

Key Points

  • Social Security benefits are based on lifetime earnings.
  • Most workers don't earn enough to qualify for the maximum monthly benefit.
  • Here's how to know if you have a chance of claiming it.

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

Snagging the maximum monthly benefit isn't easy. Here's how to know if you might get it.

You'll often hear that it's difficult, if not impossible, to retire on Social Security alone. But if you're in line for the maximum monthly benefit, you might manage to do a decent job of covering your bills.

This year, the maximum monthly Social Security payday comes out to an impressive $3,895. And while most seniors aren't eligible for it, here's how to know if you're the exception.

Social Security card wrapped in bills.

Image source: Getty Images.

What do your lifetime earnings look like?

To qualify for the maximum monthly Social Security benefit, you'll need to earn enough money each year to hit the wage cap. Every year, that limit changes. In 2021, it's $142,800. Next year, it will be $147,000.

Earnings above the wage cap aren't subject to Social Security taxes. They also aren't counted for the purpose of calculating benefits. But if you earn enough to hit the wage cap for 35 years during your career, then the maximum monthly Social Security benefit could be yours.

Why 35 years? That's what the Social Security Administration takes into account when calculating your benefits. Specifically, it's your 35 highest years of earnings that go into that formula. As such, you can still qualify for the maximum monthly Social Security benefit if there are some years during your career when your earnings were lower.

When do you plan to claim Social Security?

You're allowed to sign up for Social Security benefits beginning at age 62, but if you file at that age, your monthly benefit will be reduced. Once you reach full retirement age, which is either 66, 67, or somewhere in between, you'll be eligible for your full monthly benefit based on your earnings history.

If you want to score the maximum monthly Social Security benefit, you'll need to delay your filing until the age of 70. For each year you hold off on claiming benefits beyond full retirement age, those payments get an 8% boost. Once you turn 70, that incentive runs out, but if you want that maximum benefit, you'll need to wait until then.

Should you worry about getting the maximum monthly Social Security benefit?

While you can make the decision to delay your Social Security filing as long as possible, you may not be able to control what your wages look like during your career. As such, you may not manage to snag that maximum monthly benefit once you retire.

But that doesn't have to be a point of concern. First of all, if you work on boosting your wages as much as you can during your career, you can set yourself up with a higher benefit down the line. Also, delaying your filing until age 70 will still result in a more generous monthly payday for life.

At the same time, you can work on building retirement savings so you have income available to supplement your Social Security benefits. If you grow a large enough nest egg, you may end up having access to far more money than what the maximum monthly Social Security benefit would pay you.

The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.