The average monthly Social Security check for an individual in 2017 was $1,360. The amount of your benefits is based on your highest earnings over a period of thirty-five years. If you work fewer than thirty-five years, your benefits will be based on your earnings history during those years. If you work longer than thirty-five years, you can boost your benefits because only the highest thirty-five years of earnings will be counted. Thus, you can effectively bump lower earnings years out of the calculation if your income is higher than it was in previous years.
After age sixty, the progressive formula used in assigning benefits no longer applies. That means that working after age sixty gives you an extra bonus in terms of nudging low earnings years out of your thirty-five-year earnings history. If you remain gainfully employed until age seventy, chances are you’ll not only banish the lowest of earnings years from your work record, you will also grow your retirement benefits by 8 percent per year through delayed retirement credits.
In 2017, the maximum taxable annual earnings for Social Security hit $127,200. If you paid the maximum for the full highest thirty-five years of your work history that are used to calculate your retirement benefits (assuming you worked for thirty-five years or more), you would reach the maximum monthly Social Security benefit. In 2017, that benefit was $2,687.
It’s worth pointing out that a married couple who were both high earners for most of their working lives can expect to receive as much as $500,000 each in Social Security benefits if they both live long and prosper! Before you pop the champagne cork it’s also worth noting that numerous sources say the combined healthcare costs for a retired couple will exceed $250,000 even with Medicare, assuming one or both of the spouses live into their late eighties or early nineties.