If you're worried your retirement savings will fall short, maxing out your Social Security benefit is a smart Plan B. In 2022, the maximum monthly Social Security check is $4,194. With an 8.7% cost-of-living adjustment boosting checks beginning in January, Social Security's top earners will receive $4,559 a month starting January 2023.

Are you wondering if you have a shot at claiming Social Security's largest benefit? It's actually a lot harder than you think. These three questions will help you determine if you're on track to collect the maximum Social Security check someday. 

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Can you wait until age 70?

If you can't afford to delay Social Security until you're 70 (or you simply don't want to wait that long), you won't be eligible for the maximum benefit. While Social Security allows you to collect reduced benefits as early as 62, you won't get your primary insurance amount until you hit full retirement age. That's 67 if you were born in 1960 or later.

In order to get the biggest Social Security check, you have to wait even longer and take advantage of delayed retirement credits. You earn 8% per year for every year you wait past full retirement age. Then your benefit caps out at age 70.

Maximum Social Security benefits in 2022 

Retirement age Monthly benefit
62 $2,364
65 $2,993
66 $3,240
67 $3,568
70 $4,194

Source: Social Security Administration.

Will you work for at least 35 years?

Social Security bases your benefit on your top 35 years of earnings. If you don't work for 35 years, it's impossible to collect the maximum benefit because your earnings will be entered as "$0" for the years you didn't work. However, working more than 35 years can help you get a bigger benefit if you can replace some of those lower-earning years with higher earnings.

Do you earn a high salary?

Here's the really hard part: Working for 35 years isn't enough if you want to score the biggest monthly check possible from Social Security. You need to earn the maximum taxable income amount for Social Security for at least 35 years.

In 2022, that amount is $147,000. Most years, it rises based on changes to the national average wage index. The maximum will increase to $160,200 in 2023. If you don't earn the taxable maximum for even one year out of your 35 top-earning years, you won't get the maximum Social Security benefit.

Why you shouldn't expect Social Security's maximum benefit

If you earned the taxable maximum for at least 35 years, you probably won't be relying heavily on your Social Security benefit. People who earn six figures or more can typically afford to sock away plenty of money in a retirement account

But if you'll depend on Social Security for a significant part of your retirement income, you're probably not going to come anywhere close to the maximum benefit. You can still boost your Social Security benefit, though.

If your nest egg falls short, try to work as long as possible. That way, you can continue to contribute to your retirement accounts while also holding out for a bigger Social Security benefit. You'll get larger checks by delaying for as long as possible. If you're earning more now than you did earlier in your career, your benefit could also increase since your higher salary will replace some of those lower-earning years.

Don't pay too much attention to the absolute maximum benefit. Focus, instead, on what you can do to increase your benefit as much as possible.