Maximum Social Security Benefit: What Is It, How Is It Figured?

Waiting ’til age 70 yields the highest benefit, but only big earners get the max

The maximum Social Security retirement benefit that you can receive depends on the age when you begin collecting and your earnings history, among other factors. In 2022, the maximum is $3,345 per month for someone who files at full retirement age (FRA) at age 66. But $4,194 is the absolute highest benefit for those who qualify and delay claiming until age 70.

Key Takeaways

  • Qualifying for Social Security requires 10 years of work or 40 work credits.
  • For someone at full retirement age (FRA), the maximum benefit is $3,345.
  • The absolute maximum benefit that an individual can receive per month in 2022 is $4,194, and to get it, you must wait until age 70 to claim benefits and have been a high earner for 35 years.

How Social Security Benefits Are Calculated

Qualifying for Social Security in the first place requires 40 work credits or approximately 10 years of work. To be eligible to receive the maximum benefit, you need to earn Social Security’s maximum taxable income for 35 years. The cap, which is the amount of earnings subject to Social Security tax, is $147,000 in 2022, up from $142,800 in 2021.

Social Security benefits are calculated by combining your 35 highest-paid years (if you worked for more than 35 years). First, all wages are indexed to account for inflation. Wages from previous years are multiplied by a factor based on the years when they were earned. This calculation gives an amount comparable to buying power based on the current value of the dollar. Accounting for this valuation change is important because a salary of $14,000, for example, was far more impressive in 1954 than it is today.

Once all wages have been indexed, your average indexed monthly earnings (AIME) is computed by dividing the sum of all indexed wages by 420 (35 years expressed as months). If you worked fewer than 35 years, a zero is entered for years when you did not work. The benefit amount is then calculated based on factors that include the year when collection begins, whether you have reached FRA, and whether you continue to work while collecting benefits.

If you have 40 work credits, you are eligible to claim Social Security as early as age 62, but waiting until FRA will result in a much higher benefit. The most that you can receive in 2022 if you start collecting at age 62 is $2,364. Your FRA depends on the year of your birth. For example, if you were born in 1960 or later, your FRA is 67, and if you were born in the 1943–1954 years, it is 66. You will receive 100% of your benefits if you wait until your FRA to claim them. If you claim at age 70, vs. at FRA, you get an 8% bonus for each year that you delayed claiming.

Once you reach age 70, there is no reason to wait longer to start collecting—your benefit won’t increase further.

How to Get the Maximum Social Security Benefit

Few people receive the maximum Social Security check from the government. To defy this and potentially become one of a small handful to bag $4,194 per month, you’ll need to be a high earner over many decades and delay receiving the benefits.

The checklist is as follows:

  1. Earn at least the maximum wage taxable by Social Security over 35 years: Social Security takes your 35 highest-paid inflation-adjusted years and averages them together to compute your benefits. To be in with a chance of getting the max, you’ll need to contribute the max, which adjusts every year based on the national average wage index, across this time frame.
  2. Elect to start receiving Social Security benefits at age 70: Social Security benefits can be accessed as early as age 62. However, to get the maximum, you’ll need to wait until you’re 70.

Example of Maximum Social Security Benefits

Say that someone who turned age 62 in 2021 will reach FRA at 66 years and 10 months, with earnings that make them eligible at that point for a monthly benefit of $1,000. Opting to receive benefits at age 62 will reduce their monthly benefit by 29.2%, to $708, to account for the longer time that they could receive benefits, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA). That decrease is usually permanent.

If that same person waits to get benefits until age 70, their monthly benefit increases to $1,253. The larger amount is due to the delayed retirement credits earned for the decision to postpone receiving benefits past FRA. In this example, that higher amount at age 70 is about 77% more than the benefit that they would receive each month if benefits started at age 62—a difference of $545 each month.

Of course, the best time for someone to start taking Social Security benefits depends on a variety of factors, not just the dollar amount of the benefit. Things such as current income and employment status, other available retirement funds, and life expectancy also must be factored into the decision.

The SSA has calculators to help you estimate your benefits.

Average Social Security Payment by Age

The average Social Security retirement benefit is significantly lower than the maximum. It was $1,544.70 per month in July 2022, according to the most recent data available from the SSA. Here’s what the average benefit looks like at different ages for those who started collecting at FRA, according to an annual report published by the SSA in 2021.

Average Social Security Benefit by Age
Age Average Monthly Benefit
66 $1,745.14
67 $1,719.23
68 $1,739.24
69 $1,736.43
70 $1,728.79
71 $1,751.26
72 $1,786.89
73 $1,792.45
74 $1,825.03
75 $1,793.63
76 $1,801.90
77 $1,818.23
78 $1,829.57
79 $1,824.08
80 $1,805.93
81 $1,763.16
82 $1,740.47
83 $1,703.41
84 $1,657.44
85 $1,636.90
86 $1,369.43
87 $1,350.42
88 $1,354.06
89 $1,345.23
90 or older $1,344.76

Source: Social Security Administration


How much of your preretirement income Social Security is designed to replace.

To ensure that benefits maintain their buying power, the SSA adjusts them every year in accordance with changes in the cost of living, For example, the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) was increased by 5.9% for 2022, compared with a 1.3% increase for 2021.

Advisor Insight

Marguerita M. Cheng, CFP®, CRPC®, RICP, CDFA
CEO of Blue Ocean Global Wealth, Gaithersburg, Md.

According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), the maximum monthly benefit paid at full retirement age (FRA) in 2022 is $3,345. Bear in mind that this is the maximum benefit at FRA, but you can defer your benefits and increase your Social Security benefit. Here are two examples:

  1. Julia Child retires and delays claiming benefits two years beyond her FRA. She will receive a monthly benefit 16% larger than her primary insurance amount (PIA): (2/3) × 24 = 16%. By deferring her benefits, Julia permanently increased her $1,400 FRA benefit to $1,624.
  2. James Brown retires and delays claiming benefits four years beyond his FRA. He will receive a monthly benefit that is 32% larger than his PIA: (2/3) × 48 = 32%. By deferring his benefits, James permanently increased his $1,600 FRA benefit to $2,112.

What is full retirement age (FRA)?

Full retirement age (FRA) is the age when you are eligible to collect full Social Security retirement benefits, and it is based on the year when you were born. The FRA is 66 years and two months for those born in 1955 and gradually increases to 67 for those born in 1960 and after.

What is the average Social Security benefit?

In July 2022, the average Social Security retirement benefit was $1,544.70 per month, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA). The maximum is $3,345 per month for those who start collecting at FRA and were high earners for 35 years.

What are delayed retirement credits?

If you wait past your FRA to collect Social Security retirement benefits, you’ll receive credits for each month that you delay, up to age 70. These credits can increase your monthly payment by 8% a year.

How much do you have to make to get maximum Social Security?

To receive the maximum Social Security benefit, you would need to earn at least the maximum wage taxable by Social Security for 35 years and delay claiming the benefit until you reach 70. The earnings cap adjusts every year based on changes to the national average wage index and is $147,000 in 2022, up from $142,800 in 2021.

Is Social Security based on the last five years of work?

No, that’s not true. Social Security benefits are based on your 35 highest-paid inflation-adjusted years and take into consideration the age when you start receiving benefits.

The Bottom Line

The maximum Social Security benefit is $4,194 per month or $50,328 per year. However, before rubbing your hands together, it’s important to be aware that most people have little to no chance of getting anything near that much.

The average monthly payout in the U.S. in July 2022 was about $1,500 per month. If you hope to get substantially more than that and receive the maximum, you’ll need to wait until you reach 70 to receive Social Security benefits and be a consistently high earner for 35 years.

Article Sources
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