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What’s the largest Social Security retirement check someone can get?

(Bradley C. Bower/AP)

I’m still surprised when I speak to people how few of them have looked at their personal Social Security statement lately.

In fact, a lot of people think the statements are still mailed. They aren’t anymore unless you’re 60 or older and you aren’t receiving Social Security benefits and haven’t set up a “my Social Security” online account.

If that’s not you, please go to and set up an account. FYI: If you’ve placed a security freeze on your credit reports you’ll have to lift the freezes or go into a Social Security office to set up your account.

Worried about cuts to Social Security? Here’s how to navigate this retirement benefit

Looking at your Social Security statement regularly should be a key part of your retirement planning. This means not just waiting at a few years before you retire to check what’s on your benefit.

Retirement planning should begin the day you start working full-time. Knowing how much you can expect from Social Security (assuming there aren’t major changes by the time you do retire) should be part of determining how much you need to save and invest for retirement.

So, what’s the maximum retirement benefit you can get?

Let’s start with the average.

As Matthew Frankel of the Motley Fool points out, “The average Social Security benefit currently being paid out to a retired worker is about $1,372 per month, or $16,464 per year. However, many Americans who have earned relatively high salaries throughout their careers get much more. In fact, the maximum possible Social Security benefit that can be paid in 2018 is more than twice this amount — and that’s before the increase seniors can get for waiting to claim.”

What if you’ve made really good money during your working career? What can you expect at this point?

As Frankel calculates the maximum benefit a retiree reaching full retirement age in 2018 would be $2,788 a  month, or $33,456 a year. For an individual turning 70 next year who waited to collect Social Security, thus getting a 32 percent increase in his or her monthly benefit, it would be $3,680 a month, or $44,162 a year.

How can you reach the maximum?

Frankel runs it down in writing, “In order to get the maximum possible Social Security benefit in 2018, a couple of things need to be true. First, you would need to have earned more than the Social Security taxable maximum in at least 35 years. Also, you would need to have chosen to wait until age 70 to claim Social Security benefits, and you must be turning 70 during 2018, since the past few years of maximum earnings — which had higher inflation-adjusted taxable wage caps — would be necessary to get the highest possible benefit.”

As you can guess, not many people reach this top scale.

“Only 6 percent of covered workers have earnings above the taxable maximum in any given year (not every year), and only about 4 percent of seniors wait until age 70 to claim their retirement benefits,” Frankel writes.

[Read more: How Social Security benefits are calculated]

When nursing homes dump patients to make more money

I wrote recently about AARP’s concern about nursing-home evictions.

[Read: AARP Foundation sues to combat cruel evictions]

Before the Thanksgiving holiday I asked “What’s been your experience with nursing homes?”

Chris wrote, “We currently have a lawsuit against an Arkansas nursing home for sexual abuse against our mother. It happened when she was 95, she just celebrated her 98 birthday. Sexual abuse and other abuses (physical and mental) are rampant in nursing homes. There needs to better reporting and inspection.”

The media doesn’t make it a top priority, but there is reporting on this issue. In September there was this story in Maryland: Police investigating allegation of nursing home sexual assault of elderly woman

In Alabama there was this recent report about an attack on an elderly male patient: Florence nursing home employee charged with sexually assaulting an elderly person

As a report by CNN says, “The unthinkable is happening at facilities throughout the country: Vulnerable seniors are being raped and sexually abused by the very people paid to care for them. It’s impossible to know just how many victims are out there. But through an exclusive analysis of state and federal data and interviews with experts, regulators and the families of victims, CNN has found that this little-discussed issue is more widespread than anyone would imagine.”

[Read more: Sick, dying and raped in America’s nursing homes]

The stories put together by CNN are haunting and so very disturbing. The Washington Post’s The Lily had this report recently: #MyMotherToo: It’s time to pay attention to elder sexual abuse

Do you have a story you want to share on this issue? If so, send your comments to

Retirement rants and raves

I’m interested in your experiences or concerns about retirement or aging.

This space is yours. It’s a chance for you to express what’s on your mind. Send your comments to Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”

So what issues around retirement have you concerned? Any regrets about retirement?

Newsletter comments policy

Please note it is my personal policy to identify readers who respond to questions I ask in my newsletters. I find it encourages thoughtful and civil conversation. I want my newsletters to be a safe place to express your opinion. On sensitive matters or upon request, I’m happy to include just your first name and/or last initial. But I prefer not to post anonymous comments (I do make exceptions when I’m asking questions that might reveal sensitive information or cause conflict.)

Have a question about your finances? Michelle Singletary has a weekly live chat every Thursday at noon where she discusses financial dilemmas with readers. You can also write to Michelle directly by sending an email to Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read more Color of Money columns, go here.

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