Here’s Exactly How to Optimize for the $4,194 Social Security Monthly Max

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In 2022, the largest monthly retirement check sent out by the Social Security Administration totals $4,194 per month. This is well above the average $1,657 benefit. Obviously if you can get such a large check, it will go a long way toward providing you with financial security in your later years — although you probably can’t live on Social Security alone. 

So how can you set yourself on the path to such a big payment? Here are the steps you would need to take. 

Image source: Getty Images.

Plan to work for a long time

The Social Security benefits formula entitles workers to receive a monthly payment equal to a percentage of their Average Indexed Monthly Earnings (AIME). AIME is your average monthly wage based on your earnings in the 35 years when you made the most money, after adjusting each year’s wages to account for inflation. 

If you do not work for at least 35 years, your AIME that benefits are based on will be reduced. The reason for that is simple. Any time you include zeros when calculating an average, it lowers it. And zeros will be included in your AIME calculation for any year that you fell short.

Most people do work for that long, but you’ll need to make certain you do if you want a $4,194 Social Security benefit. In fact, chances are good you’ll need to work even longer for reasons that will be explained below.  

Develop solid career skills that earn you a hefty income

If you want the maximum Social Security benefit, t’s not enough to just work for 35 years or more. During every single one of those relevant years, you must earn something called the “maximum taxable wage” aka “the wage base limit.” 

This limit is the maximum amount of income each year that is subject to Social Security tax. Income above it isn’t taxed, and also doesn’t count in your AIME calculation. The existence of this limit is the reason there’s a cap on the monthly Social Security checks people receive. In 2022, for example, the maximum taxable wage is $147,000. If you earn $148,000, you would only have $147,000 included in your AIME and used to calculate your monthly Social Security check. 

The wage base limit changes over time, but is always the inflation- adjusted equivalent of this amount. And only the country’s highest earners have income equal to or exceeding it. If your earnings in even a single one of the 35 years included in your AIME calculation falls short of the limit, you can’t get the $4,194 maximum benefit.

Now, this doesn’t mean you must earn the limit for your whole career. Say, for example, you earn less in the first two years as you’re working your way up. You would need a 37-year career history to be on track for the highest possible payment in this case, so each one of the 35 years included in your formula was as high as it could possibly be.

It can be hard to earn so much money. So if you want to make sure you optimize for the $4,194 max benefit, you’ll need to develop career skills that will make you one of the country’s top earners. 

Prepare for a late retirement

The maximum monthly Social Security benefit isn’t earned just by getting paychecks equal to or above the highest taxable wage each year. This will allow you to max out your standard benefit by earning the maximum AIME used to calculate it. 

But the standard benefit is below the highest possible monthly benefit. That’s because it can be increased by delaying when you claim your payments. Social Security check amounts are based on both your earnings history and the age when you file for benefits. If you wait until 70, you will increase your potential payment each year beyond age 62 when you first become eligible.  

If you cannot support yourself without Social Security checks and you want the max monthly benefit, you’re going to need to put off retiring until you can get your payments. That would mean staying on-the-job until 70, which is far later than most people retire.

As you can see, there are a lot of difficult tasks on your plate if you want a $4,194 monthly Social Security check. In fact, it may be impossible for you to accomplish them all. It could be a lot easier to just accept that your retirement benefits will be a lot lower than this amount and focus on developing a big nest egg to supplement the income these benefits provide. 

 

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