We think of retirement as a time of freedom and relaxation, but it’s filled with just as many financial concerns as working life. Fortunately, retirees can usually count upon Social Security to help them out with their expenses, but not everyone gets the same amount.
A few lucky people could get $1 million or more from the program, but most people will have to settle for less. Below, we’ll look at what it takes to earn a seven-figure Social Security benefit and how to estimate what you’ll get.
Is it possible to get $1 million from Social Security?
Social Security doesn’t hand out $1 million checks, not even to the wealthiest Americans. But it’s possible to get $1 million or more over your lifetime from the program. However, very few will achieve this.
The largest monthly Social Security benefit available in 2022 is $4,194. In order to get this, you must have earned at least $147,000 in 2022 dollars for at least 35 years. You must also delay Social Security until age 70, when you sign up for your largest possible benefit. Then, you’d have to live until at least 90 to get $1 million out of the program, not including any increases in future years. That’s a tall order for most people.
Those with benefits close to the maximum who live longer than 90 might also pass the million-dollar mark, but most people will have to content themselves with far less. If you qualify for the average $1,665 monthly Social Security benefit at 62 and claim until 85, you’d get $459,540 overall, not including any increases in future years. That’s still a large sum, but it’s probably not enough to cover all your retirement costs.
How much will I get from Social Security?
There’s no way to predict exactly how much you’ll get from Social Security because there are factors in play, like your life expectancy, that no one can know for certain. But you can get a good estimate.
First, create a my Social Security account if you don’t have one already. Here, you’ll find information on all the money you’ve paid Social Security taxes on over the years, as well as your estimated monthly benefit. If you anticipate an income change, like a raise, in the future, you can see how this will affect your benefit as well.
Note that the age you claim Social Security will also affect the size of your checks. You can claim as early as 62, but you must wait until your full retirement age (FRA) if you want the full amount you’re entitled to based on your work history. This is anywhere from 66 to 67 for today’s workers. If you claim earlier than this, your checks will be smaller. If you delay benefits, they’ll grow until you hit your maximum benefit at 70.
Once you have a rough idea of when you want to start claiming and how much you think you’ll get from the program each month, you can multiply your monthly benefit amount by 12 to get your estimated annual benefit. Finally, multiply this by the number of years you expect to claim to figure out your lifetime benefit. For instance, in our example above, we looked at a $1,665 monthly benefit claimed from 62 to 85. That would give you an annual benefit of $19,980 and a lifetime benefit of $459,540.
How can I increase my Social Security benefit?
There are a few things you might be able to do to increase your Social Security benefit if you’re not happy with its size. First, work at least 35 years, so you don’t have any zero-income years factored into your benefit calculation. If possible, work longer than 35 years. Most people earn more later in their careers than they did starting out. Once they pass the 35-year mark, these more recent, higher-earning years will begin to replace their earlier, lower-earning years in their benefit calculation.
Rethinking your claiming age is another way to boost your benefit. Delaying Social Security is generally wise if you can afford to do so and believe you’ll live until your mid-80s or beyond. Those with shorter life expectancies or little to no savings may have to sign up earlier, though.
Finally, you should coordinate with other household members that are eligible for Social Security benefits to ensure everyone is getting all they qualify for. Married people may not get $1 million each from the program, but it’s possible that they could wind up with $1 million in total once they’ve pooled their benefits.
Your Social Security plan doesn’t have to be set in stone, especially if you’re far from claiming age. But it’s important to start thinking about when you’ll claim if you haven’t already. Knowing how much you can expect from the program is crucial to figuring out how much you need to save on your own for a comfortable retirement.
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