The unfortunate news is that some of you will have to pay federal income taxes on your Social Security benefits. This usually happens only if you have other substantial income in addition to your benefits (such as wages, pensions, self-employment, interest, dividends and other taxable income that must be reported on your tax return). For purposes of determining how the Internal Revenue Service treats your Social Security payments, “income” means your adjusted gross income plus nontaxable interest income plus half of your Social Security benefits.
If your total income is more than $25,000 for an individual or $32,000 for a married couple filing jointly, you must pay income taxes on your Social Security benefits. Below those thresholds, your benefits are not taxed. That applies to spousal, survivor and disability benefits as well as retirement benefits.
The portion of your benefits subject to taxation varies with income level. You’ll be taxed on:
- up to 50 percent of your benefits if your income is $25,000 to $34,000 for an individual or $32,000 to $44,000 for a married couple filing jointly.
- up to 85 percent of your benefits if your income is more than $34,000 (individual) or $44,000 (couple).
Say you file individually, have $50,000 in income and get $1,500 a month from Social Security. You would pay taxes on 85 percent of your $18,000 in annual benefits, or $15,300. Nobody pays taxes on more than 85 percent of their Social Security benefits, no matter their income.
All of the above concerns federal taxes; 13 states also tax Social Security to varying degrees. If you live in Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Rhode Island, North Dakota, Vermont, Utah or West Virginia, contact your state tax agency for details on how benefits are taxed.
Keep in mind
- If your child receives Social Security dependent or survivor benefits, those payments do not count toward your taxable income. That money is taxable if the child has sufficient income (from Social Security and other sources) to have to file a return in his or her own name.
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is never taxable.
- If you do have to pay taxes on your benefits, you have a choice as to how: You can file quarterly estimated tax returns with the IRS or ask Social Security to withhold federal taxes from your benefit payment.