Here’s Exactly How to Optimize for the $4,194 Social Security Monthly Max | Smart Change: Personal Finance

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(Sam Swenson, CFA, CPA)

Receiving the maximum monthly Social Security benefit is possible, though it isn’t easy. You’ll need a few major things to have gone well for you over the course of your working career, and you’ll need to run into some luck once you’ve hit your 60s.

We’ll run through what needs to happen for you to receive the maximum Social Security benefit of $4,194 per month.

Work for at least 35 years

When the Social Security Administration (SSA) calculates your projected benefit payment, they consider your 35 highest-earning years. If you’ve worked only 30 years, the remaining five years will be counted as zeroes; it’s especially important to log at least 35 years if you’d like to optimize your monthly check in retirement.

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Working for 35 years isn’t an easy feat, and many specialties require extensive unpaid work or years of schooling before a full working career is possible. Working for 35 years also is health dependent and assumes you can reliably show up for work in a full-time capacity for a string of decades.

Those that begin work early in their lives, particularly those that develop a sought-after skill set, are those most likely to register a long track record of competitively paid work.

Earn the maximum wage base

To score a monthly benefit check of $4,194, you’ll need to have worked at least 35 years but have earned the maximum Social Security wage base in each of those years. The wage base is the maximum wage level that is subject to Social Security tax.

In 1937, at the inception of the SSA, the wage base was $3,000; this amount grew to $76,200 in 2000 and is now $147,000 in 2022.

The SSA raises the maximum wage base for inflationary reasons, though you’d have to earn at least the wage base for each of the years included in your benefit calculation.

Simply put, those who pay the most in Social Security tax over the years are those who stand to benefit the most when it comes to collecting a monthly check in retirement.

Remember that you’ll need to have a length track record of work and to have earned at least the maximum Social Security wage base in there of those years to be eligible for the maximum benefit.

Delay filing to age 70

While you’re able to claim Social Security benefits as early as age 62, you’ll be shortchanging yourself in the long run — especially if you were a high earner during your working career.

To claim the maximum Social Security check, not only will you have to wait until full retirement age (FRA) to file for benefits, but you’ll need to wait an additional three years to age 70 to file.

The act of not filing allows further credit to build up in your name, to the tune of an additional 8% per year. If you worked for 35 years and earned the maximum Social Security wage base in each of those years, you’ve already made yourself eligible for a very competitive monthly check. To get the maximum, however, you’ll also need to delay filing until age 70.

The tricky part here is that you’ll either need to have a plan to support yourself with your own savings, or you’ll need to work continuously until age 70. Neither is a given for even the healthiest worker, so delaying your filing may be difficult — but it is the one way to the maximum monthly check.

If you’re able to delay until age 70, you’ll receive a hefty $4,194 per month.

A few difficult but simple steps

To earn the maximum monthly benefit, your strategy boils down to three actions. First, you’ll need to have at least 35 years of work history. Second, in your highest-earning 35 years, you’ll need to have earned at least the maximum Social Security wage base. And finally, you’ll need to delay filing for Social Security benefits until age 70.

It’s not an easy task, but it is possible. When it comes to maximizing your benefit, think primarily about choosing a career you enjoy and can stick with for a long time, while also prioritizing your health and overall well-being. In the end, Social Security will be an extra reward.

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