In 2022, you can get a Social Security benefit totaling $4,194 per month, but your checks cannot be bigger than this amount no matter your circumstances.

Very few people will get this maximum monthly benefit, though. To be one of them, you would need to do three things.

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1. Work for at least 35 years

Your Social Security benefit is based on a percentage of your average wages in your 35 highest earning years. The Social Security Administration adjusts wages for inflation and then determines the relevant average monthly income to use for your benefits calculation.

If you work less than 35 years, you will have a lower average wage input for the formula. For each year you fall short, a $0 annual wage is factored into the determination of your average income. Having any $0 years included in your benefits calculation makes it impossible to max out your benefits, since only those with the highest possible average wage could earn that max benefit.

2. Max out your taxed earnings for all 35 years

As part of the Social Security administration's determination of your benefits, there's also a cap to how much income is included in the formula -- the wage base limit. If you earn money above the wage base limit, you don't get credit for that extra income in your Social Security benefit calculation, and you don't pay Social Security taxes on that extra money either.

If you earn the wage base limit (or more) for a full 35 years, your average wage is as high as it possibly can be, so you'd be on schedule for the highest Social Security benefit. But if you fall short in any year counted in your 35, that year will bring down your average wage. It will become impossible to earn the max monthly benefit since you didn't max out your average wage.

In 2022, the wage base limit is $147,000. That's a huge amount of money that you'd need to earn (or exceed) this year if 2022 will count as part of your 35 years in the benefits formula. In 2023,  the wage base limit is actually going up to $160,200. The limit is adjusted in most years to keep pace with inflation, but it's always going to be a high annual income few people earn.

3. Claim your first Social Security check at 70

If you cleared the max income threshold for at least 35 years, you still only have the potential to collect $4,194 per month in Social Security in 2022. There's one more step you have to take.

The benefits formula mentioned above is used to calculate your standard benefit. Then, there's a system of early filing penalties and delayed retirement credits that also applies. You get your standard benefit only if you claim Social Security at a designated "full retirement age," but you have the opportunity to increase it by waiting until age 70 to claim.

The max benefit, therefore, is available only to people who qualify for the highest possible standard benefit and who then wait to increase it as much as they can. Few people are able to do all of these things together.

Your benefit will likely be significantly lower than $4,194, so make sure you're saving plenty of extra money to supplement your Social Security payments and have the life you deserve as a retiree.