Want the Max $4,873 Social Security Monthly Benefit? 3 Things to Do Before Retirement

Social Security can be a lifeline for millions of older adults, with around 60% of current retirees saying their monthly checks are a major source of income, according to a 2023 Gallup poll.

Considering that the average retiree only receives around $1,900 per month in benefits, as of February 2024, it may be tough for most people to retire on Social Security alone or as a primary income source.

However, it's possible to earn far more than the average amount. In 2024, the maximum benefit is a whopping $4,873 per month, which can go a long way in retirement. If you're not yet retired, there are a few steps you can take to get as close as possible to the max payment.

Two people sitting outside and smiling.

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1. Work for at least 35 years

The Social Security Administration calculates your benefit by taking an average of your wages over the 35 years of your career in which you earned the most. That number is then run through a complex formula and adjusted to inflation, and the result is the amount you'll receive at your full retirement age (FRA).

If you haven't worked a full 35 years by the time you begin claiming, you'll have zeros added to your earnings average to account for the time you were not working. That will bring down your average and result in a lower payment.

2. Delay claiming benefits

Your FRA is the age at which you'll receive 100% of the benefit you qualify for based on your earnings record. It varies by birth year, but it's 67 years old for everyone born in 1960 or later.

Social Security full retirement age chart.

Image source: The Motley Fool.

You can file before that age, as early as 62 years old. But doing so will result in a permanent benefit reduction of up to 30%. By delaying claiming past your FRA, you'll receive your full benefit amount plus a bonus each month.

To receive the maximum benefit amount, you'll need to wait until age 70 to begin claiming. Even if you meet all the other requirements for the max payment, if you were to claim at age 62, the most you can receive in 2024 is $2,710 per month. At age 67, the max is $3,911 per month. Waiting until age 70 is the only way to collect the highest possible $4,873 monthly payment.

3. Get as close as you can to the wage cap

Your income throughout your career will also affect your benefit. The maximum taxable earnings limit is the highest income subject to Social Security taxes, and the closer you get to this cap, the higher your benefit will be.

To earn the highest possible benefit amount, you'll need to have been consistently reaching the wage cap throughout your career. In 2024, this limit is $168,600 per year. For context, 35 years ago in 1989, the cap was $48,000 per year.

Other ways to increase your benefits

Even if you're off track to reach the maximum benefit, that doesn't mean you can't still increase your monthly payments. The closer you can get to any one of these benchmarks, the more you'll receive each month.

For example, maybe you can't work a full 35 years, wait until age 70 to file, and reach the $168,600 annual wage cap. But if you can work just one or two more years, delay benefits until your mid-60s, or boost your income by a couple thousand dollars per year, all of those strategies will result in larger checks.

Whether or not the maximum benefit is within reach, it's wise to make the most of your Social Security. When you know the factors influencing your benefit amount, you can ensure you're doing everything possible to set yourself up for a financially secure retirement.

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