Why the Maximum Monthly Social Security Benefit Could Become Even Harder to Get

Social Security calculates benefits for seniors on an individual basis, and the monthly benefit you’re entitled to during retirement will hinge on different factors. Those include the amount of money you earned during your career, the number of years you worked, and the age at which you sign up for Social Security.

This year, the maximum Social Security benefit you can collect is $4,194. And most seniors don’t receive a monthly benefit anywhere near that high.

But as difficult as it is right now to claim the maximum monthly Social Security benefit, in the future, it could become even more difficult. Here’s why.

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We can’t all earn a super-high paycheck

To claim the maximum Social Security benefit, you’ll need to do a few things:

Work at least 35 full years
Delay your filing until the age of 70
Earn a high-enough income to meet or exceed the annual wage cap for 35 years

The first two items may be somewhat doable. It’s the latter one that’s tougher to pull off.

Each year, there’s a wage cap put into place that determines how much income on which workers pay Social Security taxes. This year, that cap is $147,000, so earnings beyond that point aren’t liable for Social Security taxes. Earnings beyond that point also don’t count toward calculating future monthly Social Security benefits.

But the wage cap tends to rise from year to year. While we don’t know what 2023’s wage cap will look like at this point, it’s fair to assume that it will be several thousand dollars higher than $147,000. In fact, last-year’s wage cap was set at $142,800, so this year, we saw that number increase by $4,200. But if the wage cap keeps climbing year after year, you might struggle to earn a high-enough income to qualify for the maximum monthly Social Security benefit down the line.

Don’t sweat a lower benefit

You may have the goal of eking out as much money as you can from Social Security. But that doesn’t mean you should get down on yourself if you don’t wind up eligible for whatever the maximum monthly benefit is by the time you’re ready to file.

As mentioned earlier, most seniors today aren’t eligible for the maximum monthly benefit. And there are steps you can take to boost your retirement income so that your senior years won’t be impacted if you collect a lower benefit from Social Security.

Building yourself a solid nest egg, for example, could make it so you’re perfectly comfortable in retirement, financially speaking, even if the Social Security benefit you get is only half of what the maximum benefit amounts to. Plus, you may end up wanting to work part-time as a retiree to have a reason to get out of the house. That’s even more income to look forward to.

All told, the maximum monthly Social Security benefit is already difficult to snag. And in the coming years, it could get even harder to score. But as long as you set yourself up with appropriate income streams, that shouldn’t have to be a point of stress.

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