Social Security was never designed to replace your savings entirely in retirement. But it can go a long way toward bridging the gap between what you have saved and what you need to retire comfortably.
The average retiree benefit amount falls around $1,657 per month, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA), but it's possible to earn much more.
In 2022, the maximum you can receive in benefits is $4,194 per month -- but there are a few requirements you'll need to meet before you can collect this amount.
1. Work for at least 35 years
Your benefits are calculated, in part, by the length of your career. The SSA will take an average of your wages over the 35 years of your career that you earned the most. That number is then adjusted for inflation, and the result is your basic benefit amount.
If you haven't worked a full 35 years by the time you file for benefits, you'll have a zero in your average for each year with no earnings. That will bring down your benefit amount and prevent you from reaching the maximum.
2. Delay claiming benefits
Your basic benefit amount (or the amount calculated by the SSA) assumes you'll be filing at your full retirement age (FRA). But to receive as much as possible, you'll need to delay claiming benefits until age 70.
Even if you meet all of the requirements for the maximum benefit amount, claiming earlier than age 70 could reduce your Social Security by hundreds or close to thousands of dollars per month.
|Age You Begin Claiming||Maximum Amount You Can Receive in Benefits Each Month|
Waiting until age 70 to file for benefits isn't the right move for everyone. But to collect as much as possible from Social Security each month, you'll need to hold off on claiming.
3. Earn a substantial income
The maximum taxable earnings limit is the highest income subject to Social Security taxes, and it's also the income you need to qualify for the maximum benefit amount.
This limit will change each year to account for inflation, but in 2022, it's $147,000 per year. For context, 35 years ago in 1987, the limit was $43,800 per year. To receive the highest Social Security benefit possible, you'll need to reach this limit consistently throughout your career.
What if you don't qualify for the max benefit?
The reality is that the vast majority of seniors won't be eligible for the maximum Social Security benefit, and that's OK. You can still take steps to increase your benefits as much as possible.
For instance, maybe you can't reach the maximum taxable earnings limit, but you can increase your income slightly. That alone will result in larger checks each month. Or maybe you can't or choose not to delay benefits, but you can work at least 35 years before you claim. That, too, will make a difference in your monthly payments.
You don't need to reach the maximum benefit amount to enjoy a comfortable retirement. By taking smaller steps to boost your Social Security, though, you can earn more than you might think.