Most seniors will rely on Social Security benefits to some degree in retirement, so it's wise to make the most of them.
In 2022, the maximum you can receive in benefits is $4,194 per month. But for some Americans, your benefits could top out at just $2,364 per month -- a difference of $1,830. Here's what that means, as well as the steps you can take to earn as much as possible.
How to earn the max benefit
To earn the maximum amount from Social Security, there are a few requirements you'll need to meet.
First, you'll need to have worked for at least 35 years. The Social Security Administration calculates your benefit amount by taking an average of your earnings over the 35 highest-earning years of your career, then adjusting that number for inflation. If you haven't worked a full 35 years by the time you file for benefits, you'll receive smaller checks.
Next, you'll need to consistently reach the maximum taxable earnings limit. This is the highest income subject to Social Security taxes, and in 2022, it's $147,000 per year. This limit will change year to year to account for adjustments in inflation, but it's always a lofty number.
The final requirement involves waiting until age 70 to begin claiming benefits. If you meet the previous two requirements but you file for Social Security at 62, the most you can receive is $2,364 per month. By waiting until age 70, though, you'll receive a $1,830-per-month boost, giving you the maximum $4,194 monthly payment.
Easier ways to boost your benefits
If you're not on track to earn the maximum benefit amount, that's OK. The vast majority of seniors will not be able to meet all of these requirements. But that doesn't mean you can't increase the size of your monthly checks.
To receive the max benefit, you'll need to work 35 years, consistently reach the maximum taxable earnings limit, and wait until age 70 to claim. But accomplishing any one of these things (to any extent) will also increase your benefits.
For example, maybe you can't earn $147,000 per year, but you can increase your income slightly. That alone could boost your monthly payments. Or perhaps you can't delay benefits, but you can work 35 years before you begin claiming. That could also result in larger checks.
Smaller measures in conjunction could increase your benefits even further. For instance, if you're able to increase your income slightly, work a year or two longer, and delay benefits until, say, age 64 or 65, you could earn substantially larger checks each month.
Even small steps can boost your benefits more than you might think, so don't give up just because you can't reach the maximum payments.
Making the most of Social Security
Social Security benefits can go a long way in retirement, so it pays to have a strategy in place to make the most of them.
If you're able to earn the maximum monthly payments, that's fantastic. But if not, taking steps to increase your benefits as much as possible is a smart move and can result in a more financially secure retirement.