Social Security benefits can be a lifeline for many retirees, especially if your savings are falling short.
The average benefit amount is around $1,657 per month, according to the Social Security Administration. However, the maximum you can receive in 2022 is a whopping $4,194 per month.
While achieving the max monthly payment isn't easy, it doesn't hurt to try to get as close as you can. Here's what it takes to reach the highest benefit amount possible.
1. Make sure you've worked at least 35 years
Your basic benefit amount is determined by your earnings throughout your career. The Social Security Administration will take an average of your wages over the 35 highest-earning years of your career, then adjust that number for inflation.
To earn the maximum benefit amount, you'll need to have worked at least 35 full years. If you begin claiming Social Security before that, you'll have zeros added to your earnings average to account for the time you weren't working -- which will bring down your benefit amount.
2. Delay claiming benefits
Your earnings history will determine the amount you receive if you file at your full retirement age (FRA). But the age you begin claiming will also impact the size of your monthly checks, and delaying benefits past your FRA will result in larger payments.
The earliest you can file for Social Security is age 62. But the longer you wait (up to age 70), the more you'll receive each month.
To earn the maximum $4,194 benefit amount, you'll need to wait until age 70 to file. Even if you met all the other requirements to earn the max payments, if you were to claim at age 62, you'd only receive $2,364 per month.
3. Maximize your income
Your income throughout your career is perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle when it comes to boosting your benefits. To earn as much as possible from Social Security, you'll need to consistently reach the maximum taxable earnings limit -- which is the highest income subject to Social Security taxes.
This limit changes from year to year to account for inflation, but in 2022, it's $147,000 per year. If you began your career 35 years ago in 1987, the maximum taxable earnings limit back then was $43,800.
What to do if you can't reach the max benefit amount
For most Americans, the max $4,194 monthly payment will be out of reach. However, that doesn't mean you can't take steps to boost your benefits.
Any of these three steps on their own can increase your benefits. For instance, maybe you're not earning enough to reach the maximum taxable earnings limit and would prefer not to delay benefits until age 70. But if you can work at least 35 years, that alone can result in larger checks.
Likewise, maybe it's not possible to earn $147,000 per year to reach the earnings limit, but you can boost your income a little. That, too, can earn you higher payments. Or perhaps you're not comfortable delaying benefits until age 70, but you can wait a few years past age 62. That could also boost your benefits, potentially by hundreds of dollars per month.
Regardless of whether you're able to achieve Social Security's maximum benefit amount or not, these three strategies can help you earn larger payments. By heading into retirement with a plan, you can ensure you're receiving as much as possible.