Social Security Benefits: How and When They’re Taxed

Social Security Benefits: How and When They're Taxed

In 2017, nearly 62 million people collected Social Security benefits, the federally administered old-age, retirement, and disability insurance program. Signed into law by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935, it spans multiple social welfare and social insurance programs and is relied on by one in four American families, with 47 million of its beneficiaries over the age of 65.

For nearly half a century, Social Security benefits were not subject to tax. But in 1984, Congress first voted to tax up to 50 percent of social Security benefits, later voting a second time in 1993 to increase this figure to as much as 85 percent, with the surplus revenue allotted to shore up Medicare.

Even so, 70 percent of all Social Security beneficiaries are not subject to tax. Whether a person’s Social Security benefits are taxable depends on their filing status and the amount of additional income they may receive: the higher their total income, the higher percentage of Social Security benefits subject to tax (more here).

What this means for Social Security beneficiaries is that if their “provisional income” is between $25,000 and $34,000 on a single return, or between $32,000 and $44,000 on a joint return, up to 50 percent of their benefits can be taxed.

If a person’s provisional income exceeds $34,000 on a single return, or $44,000 on a joint return, 85 percent of their benefits may be taxed.

The IRS provides an 18-line worksheet to help Social Security beneficiaries determine their margin of taxation and to determine whether their Social Security benefits are taxable, filers will need to have form SSA-1099 on hand (this will be sent through postal mail directly to the recipient), as well as records of any additional forms of income they will claim, via a W-2, 1099, K-1 or other income-related documents.

If a person’s sole source of income is their Social Security check, their benefits are rarely subject to tax, and it may not even be necessary to file a return. Social Security beneficiaries can determine whether they need to file by consulting the IRS website.

For those who do need to file, at, Social Security beneficiaries will be walked through a simplified process that takes any confusion, guesswork, or anxiety out of the filing of their return. The system does almost all of the work for the filer, without them needing any tax-filing experience, math skills, or even much knowledge of computers. And if ever any questions or concerns arise, we provide free professional tax assistance and support at any point in the process, as frequently as a filer might desire, ensuring that the process is fast, easy, and accurate.