The largest possible Social Security benefit is set to climb from $4,194 to $4,555 in 2023. Checks that big could pay for a pretty comfortable retirement, especially when paired with personal savings. But one of the requirements for claiming the maximum benefit is that you must wait until you're 70 to claim.
Signing up earlier shrinks your benefit and if you claim as soon as you become eligible at 62, you'll wind up with a lot less. Here's what you need to know about how the government calculates your benefit and the maximum you can get claiming at 62.
Why the age you claim Social Security matters
One of the most important parts of the Social Security benefit formula is the full retirement age (FRA). This is the age at which you become eligible for your full benefit based on your work history. The government assigns one to everyone based on their birth year. This table will help you find yours:
Full Retirement Age (FRA)
1943 to 1954
66 and two months
66 and four months
66 and six months
66 and eight months
66 and 10 months
1960 and later
Claiming under your FRA enables you to receive more checks, but the government considers this claiming early, so it reduces the amount you receive per check. On the other hand, if you delay benefits past your FRA, you'll get fewer checks, but each one will be larger until you qualify for your maximum benefit at 70.
The difference can be significant, especially when you're talking about large checks. If your FRA is 66, you only get 75% of your full benefit per check by claiming at 62. And if your FRA is 67, you get 70% of your full benefit per check when you sign up right away.
What's the largest possible benefit you can claim at 62?
The maximum benefit available at 62 increases over time as Social Security cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) drive up the average check. In 2022, the maximum monthly benefit available to adults who sign up for Social Security at 62 is $2,364. This will rise to $2,572 in 2023.
Those who claim these checks will take home about $30,000 per year in Social Security benefits. That could still go a long way toward covering your retirement expenses, but it's not a realistic expectation for most people.
In order to qualify for checks this large, you must have earned the maximum income subject to Social Security taxes in at least 35 different years. This amount varies from year to year due to inflation. But essentially, you must have earned at least the equivalent of $147,000 in 2022 dollars in at least 35 years to pull this off. And for most people, that's not going to happen.
The average Social Security benefit for a retired worker is about $1,680 per month, and this will climb to about $1,827 per month. This is a more realistic expectation of what you might get out of the program, though your actual benefit could be lower or higher, depending on your income history and when you sign up.
If you want a clear idea of how much you'll get from Social Security, create a my Social Security account. There's a calculator tool there that can help you estimate your benefit at any age between 62 and 70. You can also see how changes to your income could affect your benefit in the future.
Taking the time to understand how much you can expect from Social Security will help you figure out how much you need to save on your own to pay for all your retirement expenses. This is especially important if the average figures above surprised you. You don't want to overestimate your checks, or you could find yourself struggling in retirement.
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