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Will You Have To Pay Tax On Your Social Security Benefits?

If you are getting close to retirement, you may wonder: Are my Social Security benefits going to be taxed? If so, how much will you have to pay?

It depends on your other income. If you are taxed, between 50 and 85 percent of your benefits could be taxed. (This does not mean you pay 85 percent of your benefits back to the government in taxes. It merely means that you would include 85 percent of them in your income subject to your regular tax rates).

Crunch The Numbers

To determine how much of your benefits are taxed, first determine your other income, including certain items otherwise excluded for tax purposes (for example, tax-exempt interest). Add to that the income of your spouse, if you file joint tax returns. To this, add half of the Social Security benefits you and your spouse received during the year. The figure you come up with is your total income plus half of your benefits. Now apply the following rules:

1. If your income plus half your benefits is not above \$32,000 (\$25,000 for single taxpayers), none of your benefits are taxed.
2. If your income plus half your benefits exceeds \$32,000 but is not more than \$44,000, you will be taxed on one half of the excess over \$32,000, or one half of the benefits, whichever is lower.

Here Is An Example

For example, you and your spouse have \$20,000 in taxable dividends, \$2,400 of tax-exempt interest, and combined Social Security benefits of \$21,000. So, your income plus half your benefits is \$32,900 (\$20,000 + \$2,400 +1/2 of \$21,000). You must include \$450 of the benefits in gross income (1/2 (\$32,900 − \$32,000)). (If your combined Social Security benefits were \$5,000, and your income plus half your benefits were \$40,000, you would include \$2,500 of the benefits in income: 1/2 (\$40,000 − \$32,000) equals \$4,000, but 1/2 the \$5,000 of benefits (\$2,500) is lower, and the lower figure is used).

Important: If you are not paying tax on your Social Security benefits now because your income is below the floor, or you are paying tax on only 50 percent of those benefits, an unplanned increase in your income can have a triple tax cost. You will have to pay tax on the additional income, you will have to pay tax on (or on more of ) your Social Security benefits (since the higher your income the more of your Social Security benefits that are taxed), and you may get pushed into a higher marginal tax bracket.

For example, this situation might arise if you receive a large distribution from an individual retirement account (IRA) during the year or you have large capital gains. Careful planning might be able to avoid this negative tax result. You might be able to spread the additional income over more than one year, or liquidate assets other than an IRA account, such as stock showing only a small gain or stock with gain that can be offset by a capital loss on other shares.

If you know your Social Security benefits will be taxed, you can voluntarily arrange to have the tax withheld from the payments by filing a Form W-4V. Otherwise, you may have to make estimated tax payments. Contact us for assistance or more information.

Talk with the pros

Our CPAs and advisors are a great resource if you’re ready to learn even more.