Your Social Security benefits will probably serve as an important source of income once you retire. And one way to stretch those benefits is to limit the amount of taxes you pay on them.
Depending on your income, you may be subject to federal taxes on your benefits. But the state you retire in will dictate whether you're taxed on your benefits at the state level.
Who does -- and doesn't -- tax Social Security?
First, the good news. There are 37 states that do not currently impose a tax on Social Security benefits:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
If you retire in one of these states, you won't lose a chunk of your benefits to extra taxes, so you may want to consider that when deciding where to settle down for your senior years.
Meanwhile, these are the 13 states that do tax Social Security benefits:
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
Most of these states offer a tax exemption to low- or moderate-income seniors, but four of them -- Minnesota, North Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia -- do not. That said, come 2022, West Virginia will stop imposing a tax on Social Security income, so if you're not yet retired, don't be too quick to cross it off your list.
What about federal taxes?
Whether you'll be taxed on Social Security at the federal level hinges on your provisional income -- that's your non-Social Security income plus 50% of your annual benefit. If you're single with a provisional income of $25,000 to $34,000, you could be taxed on up to 50% of your benefits, and beyond $34,000, that percentage rises to 85%. If you're married, a provisional income between $32,000 and $44,000 means you'll risk taxes on up to 50% of your benefits, and beyond $44,000, that percentage rises to 85%.
By wisely choosing the state in which you retire, you can stave off taxes on your benefits. But there's another important move you can make, too -- house your retirement savings in a Roth IRA. Roth IRA withdrawals are tax-free and don't count toward provisional income, so that's a good way to secure more retirement cash without impacting your benefits.
Don't pay more taxes than necessary
Taxes can be a huge burden for seniors on a fixed income, so it's best to avoid them to the greatest extent possible. And a good way to do that is to know which states impose a tax on Social Security and which don't.
Of course, there are other factors to consider when deciding where to retire, like the general cost of living, access to senior healthcare, climate, and amenities. But if you're able to avoid state taxes on your benefits, you'll have some extra money to enjoy during your senior years.