gettyimages us treasury check social security.jpeg

Want the Max $4,873 Social Security Benefit? Here’s the Salary You Will Need.

Maximizing your monthly Social Security benefit could be the difference between making ends meet in retirement and really enjoying your golden years. But the key to maximizing Social Security starts while you’re still working.

The size of your monthly benefit is determined by several factors, including how much you earned during your career. If you earn a high enough salary for long enough, you can receive the maximum possible benefit. That’s $4,873 per month in 2024, and it’ll climb even higher in the future.

Here’s the salary you need to qualify for the maximum Social Security benefit.

A check from the United States Treasury in an envelope.

Image source: Getty Images.

The number to aim for

Every year, the Social Security Administration puts a cap on wages subject to the Social Security tax. If you earn that amount or more, you’ll put yourself in a position to receive the maximum possible Social Security benefit in retirement.

For 2024, the SSA set that wage limit at $168,600.

That’s a high bar. The Social Security Administration estimates only 6% of Americans earn above that amount.

But there’s more to the story. You can’t just earn above that wage limit one time. The Social Security Administration averages your 35 highest-earning years when calculating your Social Security benefit. So, you need to max out the salary for at least 35 years.

The wage limit hasn’t always been so high. The Social Security Administration adjusts it based on average wages every year. This means you’ll likely have to earn even more to max out Social Security in the future.

Here’s the wage limit for the last 50 years.

Year Earnings Year Earnings
1975 $14,100 2000 $76,200
1976 $15,300 2001 $80,400
1977 $16,500 2002 $84,900
1978 $17,700 2003 $87,000
1979 $22,900 2004 $87,900
1980 $25,900 2005 $90,000
1981 $29,700 2006 $94,200
1982 $32,400 2007 $97,500
1983 $35,700 2008 $102,000
1984 $37,800 2009 $106,800
1985 $39,600 2010 $106,800
1986 $42,000 2011 $106,800
1987 $43,800 2012 $110,100
1988 $45,000 2013 $113,700
1989 $48,000 2014 $117,000
1990 $51,300 2015 $118,500
1991 $53,400 2016 $118,500
1992 $55,500 2017 $127,200
1993 $57,600 2018 $128,400
1994 $60,600 2019 $132,900
1995 $61,200 2020 $137,700
1996 $62,700 2021 $142,800
1997 $65,400 2022 $147,000
1998 $68,400 2023 $160,200
1999 $72,600 2024 $168,600

Data source: Social Security Administration.

There’s more to it than just earning a high salary

Getting the maximum benefit requires more than earning enough in 35 years. You also have to wait until age 70 to claim your benefits. Besides factoring in how much you earned during your career, the Social Security Administration also determines the size of your monthly benefits check based on when you make your claim. If you claim earlier, you’ll receive a smaller check; claim later, and you’ll receive a bigger check. Your monthly benefit doesn’t grow any larger after reaching age 70, though, so it rarely makes sense to delay beyond that age.

Waiting to claim can make a huge difference. The maximum possible benefit in 2024 for someone age 62 is just $2,710. That’s nearly a 45% pay cut from the $4,873 maximum for someone with the right salary history claiming at age 70. Granted, the 62-year-old would be able to collect benefits during their 60s, but it usually works out that delaying benefits increases the total amount you collect over your lifetime.

Even if you’re not in line to receive the maximum monthly benefit from Social Security, you should consider delaying until 70 to maximize the benefit you do receive. And if you have an opportunity to keep working and earning a higher salary, you could improve your monthly benefit even further.

It’s important not to get hung up on getting the maximum Social Security benefit. Consistently saving and investing for the long run can do a lot more to improve your finances in retirement than a bigger Social Security check.

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