Beginning in 2022, the Social Security Administration (SSA) started sending out a small number of monthly checks for $ 4,194 to a select group of recipients. That $ 4,194 total is the largest monthly payment those receiving Social Security benefits can qualify for. It’s also a payment that has so many difficult qualification thresholds built into it that you probably have a better chance of financing your retirement with lottery winnings than being one of the recipients.
But why is a $ 4,194 Social Security retirement benefit so difficult for the vast majority of Americans to attain? There are multiple reasons, but two main ones provide most of the explanation.
Earning enough salary over at least 35 years is no easy task
Social Security’s $ 4,194 maximum monthly benefit is available only to people who have earned very high wages for a very long time.
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Each year, the SSA collects data on how much you earn. A formula calculates your wages and adjusts for inflation and the SSA then determines your average wage over 35 years of your employed life when your earnings were highest. Your monthly check is equal to a defined percentage of those average earnings.
The SSA sets a maximum wage to use in determining the benefit. Any wages earned in excess of this cap are not taxed to fund Social Security, but they also do not contribute to receiving a higher benefit. This cap limits the size of benefit checks because Social Security is only intended to provide a base level of support for retirees. Anything beyond that base level is the retiree’s responsibility.
The annual cap is called the “wage base limit.” In 2022, it was set at $ 147,000. The amount changes each year, but the cap is always the equivalent of that amount after adjusting for wage growth. To get the maximum monthly benefit, a worker would need to have annual earnings that met or exceeded the wage base limit in 35 of their working years. Only those people who earned a huge salary for almost their entire career would qualify.
Only those who delay claiming benefits until age 70 qualify
Say you are very successful at a young age and you manage to earn an income at least the wage base limit for 35 years or more. You still do not qualify to get those big Social Security checks – at least not yet. You also need to wait until age 70 to claim Social Security.
That’s because the highest possible Social Security check is available only to people who both max out their qualifying wages spirit who earn the maximum number of delayed retirement credits.
To determine someone’s “standard” benefit, they need to claim Social Security at full retirement age (FRA). FRA varies based on the year you were born and the designated age ranges between 66 and four months and 67. For each month of age after FRA you wait to start collecting, you earn delayed retirement credits that increase your standard benefit by two-thirds of 1% until you reach age 70 and hit the maximum age to start collecting.
Miss out on any of these delayed retirement credits and you miss out on getting the maximum monthly benefit. The average Social Security recipient has not been willing to delay benefits that long. In 2019, only 15% of potential Social Security recipients were over the age of 66 when they initiated their benefits. Another 25% were 66. Only 3.7% waited until age 70 to begin collecting.
What will your benefit be?
So those are two big reasons why you’re very unlikely to see anywhere close to $ 4,194 in your monthly Social Security check. You can find out what amount is realistic for you by signing into your mySocialSecurity account and then setting retirement savings goals based on the benefits likely to come your way.
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