After a nice 8.7% bump to benefits this year, the maximum monthly Social Security check that retirees can qualify for rose to $4,555, or $54,660 annually. 

But qualifying for the maximum Social Security benefit is no easy task, and only a very small portion of the 66 million retirees who collect Social Security actually do qualify. In fact, only 10% of retirees claiming Social Security receive monthly checks over $2,600.

But if you really want the maximum Social Security benefit, while it's very, very difficult, it's not impossible. Here's the salary you would need.

How to qualify for the maximum benefit

Before we discuss salary, you will first want to understand how to qualify for the maximum Social Security check once you eventually claim benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) calculates your benefits based on three main things: how long you worked, when you start claiming benefits, and the amount of taxes you paid into the program over your career.

People looking at laptop.

Image source: Getty Images.

The first qualification is pretty easy: work for at least 35 years. The SSA uses a retiree's highest 35 years of earnings to calculate their primary insurance amount (PIA), which is the full amount of benefits a retiree is entitled to at their full retirement age (FRA), which is 67 for those born in 1960 or after.

The next important part of Social Security is determining when to claim benefits. You can opt into the program as early as age 62 and as late as age 70. However, if you claim benefits early you will typically see your benefits penalized -- by potentially as much as 30%.

So naturally if you want the maximum Social Security check, you'll want to delay claiming benefits until 70. For each year you delay benefits past your FRA they will grow 8%, so by delaying benefits for three years you can increase them by 24%.

How high does your salary need to be?

The third and final part of achieving the maximum Social Security check depends on your highest 35 years of earnings. Social Security is largely funded through payroll taxes. Employees and individuals pay 6.2% each, while self-employed individuals pay 12.4%. But Social Security taxes only apply to a certain amount of a person's annual earnings, known as the benefit base.

To qualify for the maximum Social Security check, a person must make annual earnings equivalent to or more than the benefit base in each one of the 35 years the SSA uses to calculate a retiree's benefits. This is not so easy, because the benefit base is usually equal to the salary of a high-net-worth individual. Here is the benefit base for the last 35 years.

Year Benefit Base
1989 $48,000
1990 $51,300
1991 $53,400
1992 $55,500
1993 $57,600
1994 $60,600
1995 $61,200
1996 $62,700
1997 $65,400
1998 $68,400
1999 $72,600
2000 $76,200
2001 $80,400
2002 $84,900
2003 $87,000
2004 $87,900
2005 $90,000
2006 $94,200
2007 $97,500
2008 $102,000
2009 $106,800
2010 $106,800
2011 $106,800
2012 $110,100
2013 $113,700
2014 $117,000
2015 $118,500
2016 $118,500
2017 $127,200
2018 $128,400
2019 $132,900
2020 $137,700
2021 $142,800
2022 $147,000
2023 $160,200

Source: Social Security Administration

As you can see, you really need to make a high salary consistently to hit the benefit base, and it isn't always so easy to keep up with the increases. For instance, if you made $150,000 in 2022, to keep pace with the benefit base, you would have needed a 6.8% raise.

Not an easy feat

While working for at least 35 years and delaying benefits until the age of 70 is very doable, making a salary equivalent to the benefit base is not so easy. Not only do you need to have a high salary, but you need to make sure you are getting raises whenever the benefit base increases as well. This is why only a very small portion of retirees end up getting the maximum Social Security check.