The Social Security Administration (SSA) adjusts retirement benefits on an annual basis to account for rising prices and changes in general wage levels. As a result, the maximum Social Security benefit for retired workers increases each year. For individuals that claim benefits in 2023, that sum will climb to $4,555 per month, up from $4,194 per month in 2022.

After battling runaway inflation for the past year, anyone planning to start Social Security next year is probably hoping for the maximum benefit. But only a small percentage of retired workers will actually qualify.

Here is what it will take to get the biggest Social Security check.

Several $100 bills fanned out atop a Social Security card and a check from the U.S. Treasury.

Image source: Getty Images.

How to get the maximum Social Security retirement benefit

How much income a retired worker receives from Social Security depends on two things: lifetime earnings and retirement age, meaning the age at which they claim retirement benefits (whether or not they are still actively working).

Lifetime earnings: The first step is calculating a worker's primary insurance amount (PIA), the benefit they would receive by claiming Social Security at full retirement age (FRA). The PIA is based on how much that worker earned during the 35 highest-paid years of their career. Specifically, their wages are indexed (adjusted for changes in wage levels that occurred over time) and averaged, then that figure is run through a formula to find the PIA. However, only wages that fall below the maximum taxable earnings limit are included in the calculation. That figure was $147,000 in 2022, and it will rise to $160,200 in 2023.

Retirement age: The next step factors age into the equation. Workers can claim Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62, but claiming benefits before FRA results in a permanent penalty. For instance, a worker born in 1961 that claims benefits when they turn 62 next year would only receive 70% of their PIA. Alternatively, delaying benefits until after FRA results in a permanent credit. For instance, anyone born in 1953 who claims benefits when they turn 70 next year would receive 132% of their PIA. As a caveat, the delayed retirement credits stop at age 70, meaning it never makes sense to delay benefits any later.

Putting those pieces together, retired workers must meet two criteria to qualify for the maximum Social Security benefit. First, their wages must have met or exceeded the maximum taxable earnings limit for at least 35 years. Second, they must wait until age 70 to claim retirement benefits. Anyone that can check both boxes is on track to receive $4,555 per month in Social Security income in 2023.

What happens to retired workers that can check the first box but not the second? The chart below shows how the maximum benefit in 2023 will vary across different retirement ages.

Retirement Age

62 Years Old

Full Retirement Age

70 Years Old

Maximum Benefit




Data source: Social Security Administration.

For context, only 6% of Americans made more than the maximum taxable earnings limit last year, meaning the vast majority of retired workers will not qualify for the maximum benefit.

Generally speaking, Social Security replaces about 40% of annual pre-retirement earnings, but anyone looking for a more exact estimate of their future Social Security income can use these calculators from the SSA, or they can create a my Social Security account.