Social Security Benefits: When Are They Taxable?

Social Security is a key income source in retirement, but many people are appalled to find out that their benefits can be subject to tax. How much can you earn before your Social Security benefits will become taxable?

In the following video from our Social Security Q&A series, Dan Caplinger, The Motley Fool's director of investment planning, answers a question from Fool reader Harry, who asks how much income you can have before your Social Security benefits become taxable. Dan goes through the procedure for figuring out the answer to that question, where first you add up all your income from work and investments, including tax-exempt income, and then take one-half of your Social Security benefits and add that to get a final number.

Dan then discusses two thresholds. The first takes place at $25,000 for single filers and $32,000 for joint filers, above which as much as half of your benefits can be taxable. The second is at $34,000 for singles and $44,000 for joint filers and marks the point at which as much as 85% of your benefits can be taxable. Dan goes through the mechanics of the calculation to make it clear that you'll usually have far less of your benefits taxed because the 50% and 85% figures are based on the amount by which your income exceeds the thresholds.

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Have general questions about Social Security? Email them to, and they might be the subject of a future video!

Read/Post Comments (9) | Recommend This Article (15)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On May 09, 2014, at 5:11 PM, annimhere wrote:

    You completely forgot to mention those who file married filing separately. There is no minimum.

  • Report this Comment On May 09, 2014, at 5:43 PM, turbos140 wrote:

    Who is the government kidding, since SS was taxed in each of my payroll checks that I paid but the employer did not. Shouldn't we all be exempted and pay tax on only 50% of the SS payouts that the employer did not pay income taxes on ?

  • Report this Comment On May 09, 2014, at 5:58 PM, greyhound44 wrote:

    The best I could do was retire 31 Aug 2003 at age 58.75 after having paid Max SS portion of FICA for 35 + years - none since.

    Took Max SS retirement benefits (reduced for age) at 62 and have never paid a dime in income tax on those (actually, no income tax since 2007).

    However, early in 2015, I have to begin taking MRDs from my IRAs, so, I'll be taxed heavily.

    retired expatriate.

  • Report this Comment On May 09, 2014, at 8:53 PM, billmartin725 wrote:

    Turbos 140 is correct, we all paid tax on our SS

    contribution before it was deducted from our

    pay checks so we are getting screwed royally be

    the government on the tax issue.

    Now they have the gall to call SS an entitlement !

    It is our own money, deducted from our hard earned

    paychecks, once again it is our money, not an entitlement.

    Oh, for you Bill and Hillary Clinton fans out there,

    the Clintons instituted a 5 % tax on SS benefits

    while Bill was president, opening the door for more

    tax down the road which Harry Reid and the Democrats are looking at as we speak.

  • Report this Comment On May 09, 2014, at 9:04 PM, tag wrote:

    And who can we thank for taxing our Social Security benefits? Al Gore who as VP presided over the Senate and when the Senate deadlocked 50/50, Al stepped down, gave the gavel to another and cast the tie breaking vote to tax S.S. benefits of the well to do. He and his party have never seen a tax they didn't like. With enough other peoples money to spend you can make a lot of "friends".

  • Report this Comment On May 09, 2014, at 9:30 PM, rowlandw123 wrote:

    Since we had no choice but to pay SS tax while working, SS benefits should not figure into our tax obligation. If I collect $25K in SS income and $30K in other income, my taxes should be computed only on the $30K.

    This would encourage retired people to work more and thereby pay more SS tax into the system so everyone benefits.

  • Report this Comment On May 09, 2014, at 11:57 PM, RxPro wrote:

    Just like everything in the USA you are punished for doing the right thing and punished for hard work (aka taxes).

  • Report this Comment On May 10, 2014, at 1:40 AM, ChetJester wrote:

    You know you have arrived when your social security benefits are totally consumed by the IRS as partial payment of your annual federal income taxes.

  • Report this Comment On May 11, 2014, at 9:59 AM, 4thebird wrote:

    There was one year they said I made too much money as a joint filer and reduced my monthly check by $200 as well. that was a one year thing but it was never returned.

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Dan Caplinger

Dan Caplinger has been a contract writer for the Motley Fool since 2006. As the Fool's Director of Investment Planning, Dan oversees much of the personal-finance and investment-planning content published daily on With a background as an estate-planning attorney and independent financial consultant, Dan's articles are based on more than 20 years of experience from all angles of the financial world.

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