Social Security and Taxes: What You Should Know

Retired Couple Sitting On Bench With Hot Drink In Assisted Living Facility
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Retirement is a bit like a puzzle. It includes many different pieces that are all required for assembly: savings, investments, and, of course, Social Security. When combined, all of these pieces help you secure your finances and enter your golden years.

However, a hidden factor can affect the size and scope of your Social Security benefit. Taxes play a huge role in determining your final Social Security payout. Just like everyone’s savings look a bit different, everyone’s Social Security will look a bit different, too.

All your retirement pieces must fit together well, and understanding how taxes may affect your Social Security benefit is required to accomplish this. 

We’ll look at how taxes and social security go together below. 

The Social Security Piece

Closeup detail of several Social Security Cards representing finances and retirement
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Many people rely on Social Security for retirement, but exactly what you can expect to get each month can be complicated.

Social Security serves as a cornerstone of retirement income security for many across the United States. This federal program was established in 1935 and provides a monthly benefit to eligible individuals. Originally, this included those over retirement age. However, Social Security has since developed into a three-part system

Today, Social Security includes:

  • Income Replacement: Social Security replaces a portion of your pre-retirement income once you reach retirement age, helping you remain financially stable into your golden years. 
  • Survivor Benefits: Social Security also offers financial assistance to spouses and dependents facing financial hardship after the death of a wage earner. 
  • Disability Benefits: If a worker becomes disabled and cannot work, Social Security will replace a portion of their income. 

While Social Security offers a safety net, it’s important to understand that it’s not intended to be your sole source of retirement income. It’s assumed that you will have other sources of income, like savings and investments, too. 

Social Security also isn’t a set benefit. Everyone does not receive the same amount. The next section will explain why the size of your Social Security benefit isn’t fixed and how it can be impacted by – you guessed it – taxes. 

The Tax Piece

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You may not like paying taxes while working, but Social Security promises to give some of those taxes back after retirement.

Your work contributions are the foundation for your future Social Security benefits. These contributions occur as Social Security taxes, which are automatically deducted from your paycheck. This system might seem straightforward on the surface: You pay in, you get benefits out. However, as with most government programs, it isn’t that simple. 

There is another important piece of information to consider: taxes on your Social Security benefits. Unlike some government programs, Social Security payments can be subject to federal income taxes, depending on your taxable income threshold. 

Simply put, this threshold is a specific amount of income above your Social Security benefits that are taxable. Understanding how this works is important, as it directly impacts your monthly income. 

Putting the Pieces Together

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Retirement can be an exciting time. However, it’s important that you plan ahead to ensure your financial future is intact.

Now that we know a bit about Social Security and taxes, let’s examine how they affect each other. The key is understanding how your overall income level interacts with taxable income thresholds

These thresholds essentially work like income limits set by the IRS. Suppose your combined income, which includes your adjusted gross income (wages, pensions, interest, etc.) plus half of your Social Security benefits, falls below the threshold for your filing status. In that case, none of your Social Security benefits are taxed. 

However, if your combined income exceeds the threshold, a portion of your Social Security benefits becomes taxable. The higher your income, the greater the percentage of your benefits that will be taxed.

This is where strategic planning can get you far. By understanding how taxes affect your benefits, you can make informed decisions that can potentially maximize your Social Security payout. 

For example, delaying retirement can increase your benefit amount. However, it may or may not push you above the taxable income threshold. You can also consider utilizing other tax-saving strategies, like maximizing contributions to retirement accounts. 

Planning Ahead

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Use these resources to help you plan ahead for retirement.

The image of Social Security as a guaranteed, fixed benefit can be misleading. Taxes greatly affect the amount of money you’ll receive each month. On the front end, the taxes you pay affect the amount you’ll receive later. On the back end, having too much income can lead to your Social Security benefit being taxed. 

Proactive planning is key. Utilize available resources, like our Social Security hub and the SSA website. Understanding how Social Security works is vital to maximizing your benefits. You also need to consider things like your maximum benefits eligibility by age, which probably isn’t what you think it is!

Looking beyond taxes, there are some other important considerations, too. Inflation adjustments, for instance, can gradually erode the purchasing power of your Social Security income. 

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