Social Security offers a monthly benefit check to many kinds of recipients. As of May 2021, the average check is $1,430.73, according to the Social Security Administration – but that amount can differ drastically depending on the type of recipient. In fact, retirees typically make more than the overall average.
Here’s the average Social Security check by recipient, how much your check could grow over time as well as the maximum benefit.
Average Social Security check by type
While most people think of Social Security as a program just for retirees, it serves many other groups, including the disabled, spouses and minor children of retirees as well as the spouses and minor children of deceased workers. The amount that each group receives differs substantially.
|Type of beneficiary||Percent of total payouts||Average monthly benefit|
Source: Social Security Administration, May 2021
The table shows the three major recipient categories in bold: retirement benefits, survivor benefits and disability benefits. The totals from these categories add up to 100 percent. The sub-category below each shows the top recipient of Social Security aid for that category.
As you can see, retirement benefits make up the vast bulk of Social Security – 76.2 percent – with most of that going to retired workers. The remainder in this category goes to spouses and minor children of retired workers, who receive a check of less than $800 a month on average.
Survivor benefits comprise 9.1 percent of Social Security benefits. The top sub-category is non-disabled widows or widowers, who receive an average of $1,460.55 each month.
Disability insurance comprises about 14.7 percent of all Social Security payments, and the top recipient is disabled workers, who receive an average $1,280.17.
Those benefits may not be entirely taxable, either. Some Social Security recipients can also avoid taxes – legally – on their benefit check
Benefits rise with cost of living adjustments
While the Social Security benefit is a nice chunk of change, if it stayed the same over the next 30 years, its purchasing power would decline due to inflation. That’s why Social Security increases its benefit checks over time with a cost of living adjustment, or COLA.
This increase is based on one version of the Consumer Price Index, which measures how much inflation has affected the prices that consumers pay for goods and services.
Usually, the COLA is relatively small, and the increase for 2021 is just 1.3 percent. Here’s the level of adjustments that recipients have enjoyed over the past decade.
|Year||COLA increase||Year||COLA increase|
Source: Social Security Administration
So what would your total check be if you started with a $1,000 benefit in 2010? Over the last decade, your monthly check would have grown to $1,162.13 due to COLA increases and you’d be receiving $1,177.24 in 2021.
What is the maximum monthly Social Security benefit?
The most you could receive from Social Security depends on a few factors: how much you’ve earned over your working life, when you begin to take your benefits, and your COLA increase. Over time your benefits will increase if the COLA indicates an increase, of course.
The maximum monthly benefit for 2021 by retirement age:
- At age 62: $2,324
- At age 65: $2,841
- At age 66: $3,113
- At age 70: $3,895
These figures assume a worker had steady earnings at the maximum taxable level since age 22. For 2021, maximum taxable income is $142,800, a number that usually rises each year. Here’s how to estimate your benefit check.
Your benefit depends on how much you’ve earned, up to some maximum each year. And taking your benefit later in your life can also increase it substantially. Workers are able to claim a benefit early, at age 62, if they’ve contributed 10 years of work, before they reach what’s called full retirement age, which can range from 65 to 67, depending on when you were born.
If you claim early benefits, your check will be less than it otherwise could be at full retirement or even later. If you wait until age 70 to claim benefits, you’ll receive still more each month.
In fact, the right age to claim Social Security is probably the single most debated topic about the program.
To receive these benefits, you pay Social Security taxes of 6.2 percent on your income, up to the maximum tax income. Your employer pays another 6.2 percent of your salary into the fund, but if you’re self-employed you foot that portion of the tax bill, too.
The average Social Security check was never meant to replace a retired worker’s full income, and so it’s important that Social Security be part of your overall retirement plan, not your single source of income. If you have years to go before retirement, it’s vital that you get started on saving and investing while you still have time working in your favor.