This Is the Most Money Any Retiree Has Collected From Social Security So Far in 2024

The maximum benefit exists because there is a cap on the wages subject to Social Security tax.

Many seniors rely on Social Security to help them cover their routine costs once they stop working and paychecks are no longer coming in. It’s important to have some idea of what Social Security benefits will do for retirees, so you may be wondering just how much seniors have brought home so far this year from this government benefits program.

The good news is that the data is available, so it’s easy to determine exactly the maximum amount of money Social Security has paid out to any seniors so far in order to get an idea of where retirees stand.

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This is the absolute max amount Social Security has paid out to retirees so far in 2024

During the first half of 2024, the maximum amount that Social Security paid to any senior retiree was $29,238 from January to June.

This doesn’t sound like a ton of money, especially when you consider that the average annual salary in the U.S. is $59,228 in 2024. In fact, it may come as a big surprise that the absolute most Social Security could have paid out to the wealthiest seniors would still give them less to live on than what the average worker brings home.

It may also come as a surprise that it’s even possible to figure out the most Social Security has paid, since benefits are based on average salary and we don’t necessarily know the salaries of every person in the United States.

There is, however, a very good reason why we know the max that Social Security has paid out to any senior this year and why this maximum is lower than you might expect it to be. There’s a cap on the Social Security benefits that the government will pay, and it exists because there is also a cap on the wages that count when your benefits are calculated.

Here’s why there’s a maximum annual Social Security benefit

Social Security benefits are earned benefits. As you work, you pay taxes into the Social Security system and you earn work credits. Once you have earned enough work credits, you get retirement benefits. Those benefits are calculated using a formula that gives you benefits equal to a percentage of average wages over the 35 years you earned the most money.

Based on these rules alone, it might seem like there’s no actual ceiling on the benefits you could get, since some people make tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars monthly. However, the government didn’t want to be paying out huge Social Security checks to millionaires and billionaires. As a result, they set a “wage base limit” or cap on the benefits subject to Social Security tax.

If you earn below the cap or up to it, all your wages are subject to Social Security tax and are counted in the calculation of your benefits, so you end up with about 40% of pre-retirement income. (This amount may be a little more or less, depending on when you claim benefits and just how much you earned, since the Social Security formula is progressive). If you earn above the cap, though, not all your wages count and you aren’t taxed on all of what you earn.

This means the maximum Social Security could possibly pay out is determined based on how much the wage base limit was during the relevant years. A person could earn the maximum possible benefit only if they earned at least the wage base limit during the entire 35 years included in their benefits formula, and if they waited until age 70 to claim their Social Security check.

Waiting is crucial because maxing out your wages earns you the highest standard benefit, but you then need to earn delayed retirement credits to increase that standard benefit. Those credits are available if you put off claiming Social Security beyond your full retirement age, until age 70.

In 2024, the wage base limit is $168,600, and the amount in past years was the inflation-adjusted equivalent of that. Seniors who earned that much for 35 or more years and who waited until 70 would get monthly checks of $4,873 this year. Over the first half of the year, Social Security would have provided them with $29,238 in benefits — the most any retiree could possibly have received so far in 2024.

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