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How to Qualify for the Highest Possible Social Security Benefit


older Americans senior citizens computer
stockfour / Shutterstock.com

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on NewRetirement.

Maximizing your retirement paycheck and getting the most out of Social Security is a goal for many retirees.

For 2021, the highest possible Social Security benefit is $3,895 a month.

Following you will learn what you would have needed to do to qualify for this amount.

Work for 35 Years

Office worker
CREATISTA / Shutterstock.com

You only need to work for 10 years in an eligible job to qualify for Social Security.

However, to max your Social Security benefit, you should work at least 35 years.

Max Out Your Salary Over at Least 35 Years

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Your benefit is based on the average indexed monthly earnings during the 35 years in which you earned the most.

To be eligible for the maximum Social Security benefit allowable, you must have consistently earned an amount that is equal to or exceeds the Social Security Administration’s maximum taxable earnings limit throughout your career.

For 2021, the maximum limit is $142,800 per year, although the amount changes yearly to account for cost-of-living adjustments.

Delay Starting Benefits Until Age 70

Happy senior woman with cash
RomarioIen / Shutterstock.com

The longer you wait to start your benefits, up until age 70, the more your monthly check will be.

According to the Social Security Administration, the maximum benefit that anyone can receive in 2021 is:

  • $2,324 if you start benefits at age 62
  • $3,113 if you start at your full retirement age (FRA)
  • $3,895 if you file at age 70

Live a Long Time

Senior men playing tennis
sirtravelalot / Shutterstock.com

Maxing out your Social Security benefits is more than just maximizing your monthly paycheck.

You also want to consider how long you will be receiving those benefits and calculate your potential lifetime benefit amount.

To figure out your lifetime benefit amount, simply multiply your monthly paycheck by the number of months you expect to receive benefits.

So, for example, if you are eligible for a maximum benefit and will live until age 85, there is a significant difference in lifetime benefit amounts.

If you claim at:

  • 70, then you will collect benefits for 180 months and receive: $701,100 ($3,895 x 180 months = $701,100) over your lifetime.
  • 62, then you will collect benefits for 276 months but only receive $641,424 ($2,324 x 276 months = $641,424) over your lifetime.

And, the longer you live, the more it behooves you to hold off starting benefits.

Married? Make Sure the Highest Earner Claims Later

Senior couple with financial adviser
sirtravelalot / Shutterstock.com

Okay, so getting the most out of Social Security is a matter of earning the highest possible salary for at least 35 years, delaying the start of benefits and living a long time.

However, if you are married, there is another factor to consider. You want to factor both your own as well as your spouse’s longevity.

If one of you dies before the other, then the surviving spouse will get to make a choice about which Social Security benefit to receive. (A surviving spouse is entitled to just one benefit – not both.)

And, if the higher-earning spouse has maxed out their benefit, then the surviving spouse will enjoy the bigger paycheck.

The highest earner in the couple should defer the start of benefits as long as possible up until the maximum retirement age of 70. Don’t focus on who is older or who retires first. The key is to make sure the highest earner grabs the highest possible payout.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.