For over 80 years, Social Security has made guaranteed monthly payouts to eligible retired workers. Today, over 64 million people receive a monthly benefit from the Social Security program. The average retired worker benefit is $1,505.50 a month, as of January 2020. Generally Social Security income for the ordinary retiree is not taxed. There are states however, that do tax Social Security income.
The federal government can tax your Social Security benefits
The taxation of Social Security benefits began in earnest as part of the Social Security Amendments of 1983. Beginning in 1984, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is allowed to apply federal ordinary income tax rates on up to one-half of an individual’s or couple’s Social Security benefit, depending on their income. If an individual’s or couple’s modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) plus one-half of benefits exceeds $25,000 or $32,000, respectively, they would be subject to this tax.
In 1993, additional changes were implemented adding a second federal tier of taxation. If an individual or couple exceeds $34,000 or $44,000, respectively, using the same MAGI plus one-half benefits formula, then up to 85% of their Social Security benefits are subject to federal ordinary income tax. This means that nearly half of all seniors now pay tax on their benefits.
13 states also tax Social Security Income
In the tri-state area of Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York, only Connecticut taxes Social Security income. The other 12 states are: Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia.
Do you have to file federal returns in 2019?
The IRS requires you to file a tax return when your gross income exceeds the sum of the standard deduction for your filing status plus one exemption amount. These filing rules still apply to senior citizens who are living on Social Security benefits. If you are a senior, however, you don’t count your Social Security income as gross income. If Social Security is your sole source of income, then you don’t need to file a tax return.
When to include Social Security in gross income
There are certain situations when seniors must include their Social Security benefits in gross income. If you are married but file a separate tax return and live with your spouse at any time during the year, then 85% your Social Security benefits are considered gross income which may require you to file a tax return. In addition, a portion of your Social Security benefits are included in gross income, regardless of your filing status, in any year the sum of half your Social Security plus all other income, including tax-exempt interest, exceeds $25,000 or $32,000 if you are married filing jointly.
Tax credit for seniors
Even if you must file a tax return, there are ways you can reduce the amount of tax you have to pay on your taxable income. As long as you are at least 65 years old and your income from sources other than Social Security is not high, then the tax credit for the elderly or disabled can reduce your tax bill on a dollar-for-dollar basis. However, this tax credit is only useful when you actually owe tax to the IRS.