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Taxing Social Security

Today we talk about taxing Social Security. We will discuss:

  • the factors that go into determining whether your Social Security income is taxable or not
  • give you some examples, and
  • tell you about a few potential surprises that you may encounter.

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Taxing Social Security

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Taxing Other Types Of Retirement Income

Last week we discussed how other types of common retirement income are taxed. Click Here to watch that episode.

Today, we focus on taxing Social Security benefits. For some people, your Social Security may be taxable. Here is how we can determine if your benefits will be taxed.

Provisional Income

It starts with your provisional income. To determine if your Social Security is taxable, you’ll need to compute this. It includes:

  • half of your Social Security
  • dividends
  • interest, both taxable and non taxable
  • earnings
  • pension income
  • IRA distributions, and
  • other income

If your provisional income is less than

  • $32,000, for a couple
  • $25,000 for a single person,

your Social Security benefits are not taxed.

But if your provisional income is between

  • $32,000- $44,000 for a couple
  • $25,000- $34,000, for a single filer,

50% of your Social Security income is taxed.

And if your provisional income is over

  • $44,000 for a couple
  • $32,000 for a single person

85% of your Social Security benefits is taxed.


John and Carol

John receives about $27,600 in Social Security benefits and Carol receives $21,600. That totals $49,200. Half of their benefit is $24,600. They receive $2,000 a month from John’s IRA, for a total of $24,000. Total, they earn $5,000 per year in dividends and another $1,500 in interest.

Their provisional income is $55,100. This means 85% of their Social Security benefits are taxable.

taxing Social Security


Mary was recently widowed. She receives $21,600 in Social Security, half of which is $10,800. She takes a required minimum distribution from her IRA which was $8,300. Her provisional income in this case is $19,100. This is below the $25,000 threshold, so her Social Security benefits are not taxed.

taxing Social Security


Carl is single. He receives $2,000 per month from Social Security, $24,000 total. Half of that is $12,000. He also gets about $2,000 in dividends and $1,000 in interest. The rest of Karl’s income comes from a Roth IRA. He takes $50,000 from his Roth account. His provisional income is $15,000.  His Social Security benefits will not be taxed.

The Roth IRA distributions do not add to his provisional income.This is an additional benefit of using a Roth IRA in your retirement planning. Distributions from the Roth are not taxed. They also won’t make your Social Security benefits taxable.

taxing Social Security

Potential Surprises

Change in Marital Status

The first surprise is a sudden change in your marital status. If you find yourself suddenly single, you may owe more in taxes. The income limits for single people are lower than those for married couples. A sudden change in marital status may lead to more of your social security benefits being taxed.

Change in Income

A sudden increase in your income can also have a hidden surprise. This normally happens when you reach the age for required minimum distributions. At age 72, you have to start taking money from your IRA account. This will add to your provisional income. The distribution may cause your Social Security income to be taxed

Talk to a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional

There are a lot of factors that affect your taxes in your retirement, and you can manage some of them. Talk to a financial planner to learn more.


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About the Author

Neal Watson is a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional and a Financial Advisor with Fleming Watson Financial Advisors.    He specializes in helping hard working, middle class families plan for retirement.

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