In October, seniors on Social Security got some excellent news. They learned that due to soaring inflation levels, their benefits would be getting an 8.7% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in 2023. That's the largest boost to come around in decades.

Because of that COLA, the maximum Social Security benefit that will be available to seniors in 2023 is $4,555 a month. And that's clearly not a small amount of money.

But will you qualify for a benefit that large? Probably not. And that's really OK.

Social Security cards.

Image source: Getty Images.

A hard number to snag

To qualify for the maximum Social Security benefit, you need to do three things:

  • Work at least 35 years
  • Earn an income for at least 35 years that's equal to or beyond the wage cap each year
  • Delay your Social Security filing until age 70

See, Social Security benefits are calculated based on your 35 highest-paid years in the labor force. And each year, there's a wage cap put into place that determines how much income gets taxed for Social Security purposes.

This year, the wage cap is $147,000. Next year, it's rising to $160,200. So to get the highest possible monthly benefit out of Social Security, you need to earn enough money for 35 years to meet or exceed the wage cap.

Finally, if you want the highest Social Security benefit, you'll need to delay your claim until age 70. That will boost your benefit and potentially bring it up to $4,555.

It may be possible for you to work for 35 years, and it may also be pretty easy for you to exercise patience and delay your Social Security filing until your 70th birthday. But snagging a high enough wage to claim the maximum monthly benefit is a different story. So for that reason alone, a $4,555 monthly payday may not be in the cards for you.

Don't worry if you can't claim the maximum benefit

Most seniors don't manage to score the highest possible Social Security benefit. In fact, it's estimated that the average monthly benefit in 2023 will be $1,827, which is a far cry from $4,555.

Instead of worrying about claiming the maximum Social Security benefit, do what you can to help your benefit grow. That could mean delaying your filing, and also fighting for raises during your career to boost your income. Taking on a second job and growing your wages that way could also set you up for a higher Social Security benefit down the line.

At the same time, it's generally not a good idea to retire on Social Security alone -- even if you are eligible for the maximum monthly benefit. Do your best to build yourself a solid nest egg, whether by funding an IRA or contributing money to an employer-sponsored 401(k).

If you wind up with a Social Security benefit worth $2,000 a month but also manage to retire with a $1 million nest egg, you should end up in pretty good financial shape -- even without the maximum monthly benefit.