Shortly and simply, you could say the maximum Social Security Retirement Benefit is $2,366 per month. Having said that, there are (as with any government system) many different layers prior to reaching that maximum amount. That number is based on a worker having retired in 2011 at age 66, and earnings being based on the maximum amount every year since age 21.
But say the worker is not age 66, has not earned the maximum earnings and has not worked every year since age 21. Then, depending on earnings, age at time of retirement, and length of work years, the amount will be less. How much less goes by a formula that is not easy to explain and most of us couldn’t follow anyway.
There is a chart published by the government, which shows the Social Security Retirement Benefit at different ages. This chart can be found online. It will give you a good look at the different amounts paid out at different age levels. The chart is located at http://www.ssa.gov/oact/cola/examplemax.html.
By studying the chart you can easily see that the Social Security Retirement Benefit is lower if you choose to begin receiving them earlier than the suggested age or will higher if you choose to wait until you are 70, which is where benefits stop increasing.
There are also many different types of Social Security Retirement Benefit programs that are used for many other situations. They are not part of what Social Security was designed to do, but they do it anyway. Having initially begun as a retirement supplemental program, Social Security Retirement Benefit encompasses disability, survivors, supplemental security income and Medicare.