Want the max $4,873 Social Security benefit? Here’s the salary you need.

In bowling, 300 is the highest score. If you play golf, the best you can do is 54 (making a hole-in-one on all 18 holes). But what’s the “perfect score” for Social Security recipients — the highest level of benefits possible?

Currently, the greatest monthly benefit payable to retired workers is $4,873. Want to get that maximum benefit? Here’s the salary you’ll need.

Two people lying on grass.

The magic number(s)

To even have a shot at receiving the maximum Social Security benefit when you retire, you’ll need to earn $168,600 this year. So is this the magic number to make? Yes and no.

Instead of a magic number for getting the maximum Social Security benefit, there are multiple magic numbers. The following table shows the maximum earnings thresholds by year since 1973:

It is the earnings threshold you must achieve in 2024. However, the maximum changes nearly every year. Because of how Social Security retirement benefits are calculated, you must make the maximum salary for 35 years.

Data source: Social Security Administration.

It’s important to know that you must work in a job in which you contribute to Social Security. Some state, county, and municipal employees are covered by state-funded pension plans and not by Social Security. Federal employees hired before 1984 were under the old Civil Service Retirement System. Railroad employees are also covered under a different pension system.

Hitting the earnings thresholds won’t be enough

So if you earn the “magic amount” for 35 years, will you be guaranteed to receive the maximum Social Security benefit when you retire? No. Hitting the earnings thresholds isn’t enough by itself.

The maximum $4,873 monthly benefit in 2024 is only paid to individuals who wait until age 70 to retire. If you retire at your full retirement age (FRA) this year, your maximum monthly benefit would be $3,822. If you retire at 62, the earliest age possible to collect Social Security, your maximum monthly benefit would only be $2,710.

Social Security imposes an early retirement penalty for anyone who begins receiving benefits before reaching FRA. The federal program also rewards those who hold off on claiming benefits until after their FRA with delayed retirement credits. Those credits apply only through age 70,

As you’ve likely figured out, getting the maximum Social Security retirement benefit is a steep challenge. Few Americans will achieve the goal.

The Motley Fool is a USA TODAY content partner offering financial news, analysis and commentary designed to help people take control of their financial lives. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY.

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