The amount of money you collect in Social Security will depend on a number of factors. Those include your lifetime earnings and the age at which you decide to sign up for benefits.
Still, it may help you to know that if you're filing for Social Security this year, the maximum benefit you can collect is $3,895 a month. That translates into $46,740 in annual income, which could make for a pretty comfortable lifestyle, especially if you're able to supplement your benefits with withdrawals from retirement savings.
But most people who claim Social Security this year won't be eligible for the maximum benefit. In fact, the maximum benefit is really hard to get, no matter when you're set to retire.
How Social Security benefits are calculated
Your Social Security benefits are calculated by taking your average monthly wage over your 35 highest-paid years in the workforce, adjusting that number for inflation, and applying it to a special formula. Keep in mind that only wages up to an annual cap are counted for Social Security purposes. That cap changes every year, and currently, it's $142,800.
But while you may be entitled to a certain benefit based on your earnings history, that number could change — for better or for worse — based on when you file for benefits.
If you sign up for benefits at your full retirement age, or FRA, (which is either 66, 67, or somewhere in between, depending on your year of birth), you'll get the exact monthly benefit you're entitled to based on your lifetime earnings. But if you file before FRA, your benefit will be reduced. The earliest you can claim Social Security is age 62.
On the flipside, if you delay your filing beyond FRA, your benefit will increase by 2/3 of 1% for each month you hold off (or 8% per year). You can accrue delayed retirement credits that boost your benefits up until the age of 70, at which point that incentive runs out.
Now, getting back to this year's maximum benefit. To qualify for $3,895 a month in Social Security income, you'll need to have earned the maximum annual wage that's counted for Social Security purposes over your 35 highest-paid years on the job. You'll also need to make sure you're filing for benefits at age 70, and not before.
Most people don't earn enough to qualify for the maximum benefit. And 70 is hardly the most popular age to sign up for Social Security. Those who can snag $3,895 a month this year are therefore in the minority.
How to snag the highest monthly benefit in the future
If you're nowhere close to having wrapped up your time in the workforce but you'd like to score the maximum Social Security benefit once you're ready to retire, you'll need to do two things:
Earn a lot of money throughout your career
Delay your filing until age 70
The latter is easier to achieve than the former. However, if you work on boosting your job skills, you may put yourself in a strong position to earn enough to reach Social Security's annual wage cap year after year.
However, if you can't manage to snag Social Security's maximum benefit, don't sweat it. There are other things you can do to provide a healthy retirement income for yourself.
For one thing, you can contribute steadily to an IRA or 401(k) plan throughout your career. Secondly, you can invest your savings in stocks to fuel their growth. Additionally, you can look at setting up different earnings streams in retirement, like renting out part of your home or starting a small business.
Attaining the maximum Social Security benefit is an impressive feat. But rather than spin your wheels going after it, focus on the steps you can take to set yourself up for a financially secure retirement.
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