One common myth about Social Security is that it pays all seniors the same amount of money each month. In reality, there's a range of income you may be eligible for once you sign up for benefits.
In 2022, the highest monthly benefit you can snag is $4,194. But let's get one thing out of the way — most seniors aren't collecting that much money from Social Security on a monthly basis. In fact, the average monthly benefit is thousands of dollars lower.
But that doesn't mean a $4,194 benefit is out of reach. Here's what you need to do to snag it.
1. Put in 35 years in the workforce — or more
The Social Security benefit you're entitled to during retirement will be based on your earnings during your 35 most profitable years on the job. And if you don't work at least 35 years, you can write off that maximum benefit. That's because you'll have a $0 factored into your personal-benefits calculation for each year within that 35 that you don't have any income on record.
2. Earn a lot of money
Higher earners don't pay Social Security taxes on all of their income. Rather, there's a wage cap that's set each year that determines how much income is taxable to fund the program.
This year, the wage cap sits at $147,000, so earnings beyond that point don't get taxed. But because of that, earnings beyond $147,000 also don't count toward calculating Social Security benefits. Either way, if you're eager to snag the maximum monthly benefit, you'll need 35 years of earnings during which your wages will equal or exceed the wage cap.
3. Wait until age 70 to claim Social Security
The monthly benefit you're entitled to based on your wage history is yours to collect in full when you reach full retirement age, or FRA, which kicks in at either 66, 67, or somewhere in between, depending on when you were born. But for each year you delay your filing past FRA, up until age 70, you accrue delayed retirement credits that raise your benefit by 8%.
If you want to snag the maximum Social Security benefit, you'll have to delay your filing until age 70. That may not be a problem if you plan to keep working until that point or have a lot of savings to tap, but it's not an easy or viable option for everyone.
What if you can't snag the maximum benefit?
As mentioned earlier, claiming the maximum Social Security benefit is tough and something the typical senior can't do. But rather than worry about that, focus on eking out as much money as you can from Social Security.
That could mean working hard to boost your job skills so you're eligible for promotions and the raises that come with them. The higher your wages (at least up to a point), the higher a benefit you'll get later on.
Also, review your Social Security earnings statement each year for errors. If there's a year when your earnings are underreported, it could result in a lower monthly benefit, but being vigilant could help you avoid that scenario.
Finally, aim to delay your filing as long as possible. You may not manage to do so until age 70, but if your FRA is 67 and you wait until age 68 to sign up, you'll still enjoy a nice boost to your benefits.
Scoring a $4,194 monthly benefit from Social Security is obviously a great thing. But don't assume your retirement is doomed if your benefit is lower. You may end up with more-than-enough money to live comfortably during your senior years, especially if you make an effort to build a nice nest egg to supplement your Social Security income.
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