For millions of older Americans, social security benefits are a lifeline in retirement. Half of married couples rely on their benefits for at least 50% of their retirement income, and for almost a quarter of couples, social security accounts for at least 90% of their income.
However, the average beneficiary is only getting $ 1,514 per month (roughly $ 18,000 per year), making it difficult to survive mainly on social security.
However, some retirees collect significantly more. The maximum amount you can get from Social Security is $ 3,790 per month – more than $ 45,000 per year. However, to earn that much, you need to follow three steps.
1. Work for at least 35 years
To calculate your benefit amount, the Social Security Agency (SSA) takes an average of your earnings over the 35 highest earnings years in your career, and then adjusts that earnings for inflation. The result is the amount you will receive when you claim benefits from your full retirement age.
If you have not worked for 35 years at the time you claim, zeros are added to your average earnings. This will reduce your benefit amount so that you will not be eligible for a maximum of $ 3,790 per month.
2. Maximize your income
Since the SSA uses your income to determine your benefit amount, the higher your income, the higher your monthly checks – at least up to a certain limit.
The SSA maximum taxable income is the highest amount you owe Social Security payroll taxes on, and it changes every year to reflect inflation. As of 2020, the maximum taxable income limit is $ 137,700 per year. This means that any income generated above this limit will not be subject to Social Security payroll tax and will not affect your benefit amount.
To receive the maximum of $ 3,790 per month, you must have consistently reached the maximum taxable income limit for decades. While this may not be feasible for the majority of workers, it will help you grow your income as much as possible in order to get more from Social Security.
3. Wait until you are 70 years old to receive benefits
Even if you have earned a substantial income and have worked for more than 35 years, if you want to collect as much as possible, you still need to hold back to claim benefits.
The age you claim directly affects how much you get. If you make a claim before the age of 70, you will receive smaller checks every month. Even if you’ve been earning the maximum taxable income since you were 22 and you are receiving benefits from age 62, you will only receive $ 2,265 per month, more than $ 1,500 less than the maximum benefit amount.
What to do if this goal is not achievable?
To get the maximum social security benefit, a six-figure salary must be earned over several decades, which is a difficult goal. But every little bit counts, and increasing your benefits can be easier than you think.
Even if you cannot work for a full 35 years, you may hit the maximum income limit each year or wait until you are 70 to claim benefits. Take baby steps to work a little longer, grow your income as much as you can, or keep it going. If you’ve been on Social Security for a year or two, there are ways to upgrade your monthly checks.