Want the Max $ 4,194 Social Security Benefit? Here’s the Salary You Need

Think you have a shot at getting Social Security’s maximum benefit someday? Sorry to say it, but you probably don’t.

The biggest monthly check you can get from Social Security is $ 4,194 in 2022. The benefit is adjusted for inflation, so in most years, the maximum benefit rises. But very few people will consistently earn enough over the course of their careers to get the maximum benefit.

Here’s how much you have to earn to get Social Security’s largest checks.

Image source: Getty Images.

How do you get a $ 4,194 Social Security check?

If you don’t earn at least $ 147,000 in 2022, you’re not on track to get the maximum Social Security benefit. Making more than $ 147,000? Don’t celebrate yet.

Social Security bases your benefit on your top 35 years of earnings. To get the biggest checks possible, you need to earn at least Social Security’s maximum taxable income for at least 35 years. In 2022, that amount is $ 147,000. It rises almost every year.

Here are Social Security maximum taxable earnings from 2015 to 2022.

Year Maximum Taxable Earnings
2015 $ 118,500
2016 $ 118,500
2017 $ 127,200
2018 $ 128,400
2019 $ 132,900
2020 $ 137,700
2021 $ 142,800
2022 $ 147,000

Data source: Social Security Administration.

Here’s how it works: You pay 6.2% on the taxable minimum. Your employer matches that 6.2%. But anything you earn above that amount doesn’t go into Social Security coffers. So even if you earn $ 1 million in 2022, your income in Social Security’s eyes is $ 147,000.

Meanwhile, falling short of the taxable wage in just one year out of 35 years of earnings will result in a check that’s less than the maximum. Even top earners often don’t command that level of pay early on in their careers. That’s why it’s so hard to get a $ 4,194 monthly check from Social Security.

Fewer than 20% of workers will have earnings higher than the taxable maximum in any year during their lifetimes. Your odds of earning the taxable maximum in a given year? Only around 6%.

It’s not just about your paycheck

But earning at least the taxable maximum isn’t enough if you want to maximize your Social Security check. You’ll also need to wait until age 70 to collect. To get your entire benefit, you need to wait until your full retirement age (FRA). That’s 67 if you were born in 1960 or later, though you can take benefits as early as 62, albeit for a reduced amount.

To maximize your check, you have to take advantage of the 8% delayed retirement credits you earn for each year you hold out past your full retirement age until your benefit caps out at age 70. Someone starting benefits at their full retirement age in 2022 would receive a maximum benefit of just $ 3,345.

Is getting the maximum Social Security check worth it?

If you’ve earned enough over the course of 35 years to collect the maximum Social Security check, you’re probably not doing so with the goal of maximizing your Social Security benefits. In this scenario, you probably have ample savings and won’t depend on Social Security for a significant part of your retirement income.

But if your retirement savings fall short, maximizing your Social Security as much as possible is a good goal. The longer you wait, the bigger your benefit. You can also get more money if you’re able to replace the earnings from a lower-paying year with earnings from a higher-paying year.

Delaying retirement, even by a year or two, can make a significant difference in your retirement budget. Not only can you score more Social Security money by waiting, but you can also allow your investments to compound for a bit longer by postponing your withdrawals.

Social Security is an important stream of income for seniors, but ideally, it’s just one of several income sources. Regardless of your retirement plans, very few people should expect to receive the maximum benefit.

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