Social Security Benefits – Are They Subject to Tax?

In Common Tax Questions by Sarah E. Martello

You, like many other Social Security recipients may be wondering whether your 2011 benefits are taxable.

All Social Security recipients should receive a Form SSA-1099 from the Social Security Administration which shows the total amount of their benefits. You can use this information in addition to the following to determine if your benefits are taxable:

Did you receive other income?

  • If Social Security benefits were your only income for 2011, your benefits are not taxable and you probably do not need to file a federal income tax return.
  • If you DID received income from other sources, your benefits will not be taxed unless your modified adjusted gross income is more than the base amount for your filing status (calculated on a worksheet in the Form 1040A or Form 1040 Instruction booklet – but must tax software will calculate this for you).

Here’s quick computation to determine whether some of your benefits may be taxable:

  1. Add one-half of the total Social Security benefits you received to all your other income, including any tax-exempt interest and other exclusions from income.
  2. Compare this total to the base amount for your filing status. If the total is more than your base amount, some of your benefits may be taxable.

The 2011 base amounts are:

$32,000 for married couples filing jointly.
$25,000 for single, head of household, qualifying widow/widower with a dependent child.
$0 for married persons filing separately who lived together during the year.

For additional information on the taxability of Social Security benefits, see IRS Publication 915.