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Social Security Income and Benefits

Social Security benefits include monthly

  • Retirement benefits
  • Survivor benefits
  • Disability benefits

They don't include supplemental security income (SSI) payments. These aren't taxable.

Equivalent Tier 1 railroad retirement benefits are part of Tier 1 benefits. These are benefits a railroad employee or beneficiary would have received under the Social Security system. They're commonly called the Social Security equivalent benefit (SSEB) portion of Tier 1 benefits. Tier 1 railroad retirement benefits are equal to Social Security benefits. So, they’re treated the same way for tax purposes.

If you receive these benefits during the year, you'll get a Form SSA-1099 or Form RRB-1099. These forms show the total payments you received. Box 5 of each form includes the net benefit amount that allows you to figure the taxable portion.

Taxable and nontaxable benefits

You might only have Social Security or the SSEB portion of Tier 1 railroad retirement benefits as your income for 2013. If this is true, then:

  • Your benefits usually aren't taxable.
  • You probably don't have to file a return.

If you have other income besides your benefits, up to 85% of your Social Security or SSEB payments can be taxed. You might have to file a return even if none of your benefits are taxable. To figure out if any of your benefits can be taxed, compare the base amount for your filing status with the total of:

  • Half of your benefits
  • All your other income, including tax-exempt interest

When making the comparison, don’t subtract these exclusions from your other income:

  • Interest from qualified U.S. Savings Bonds
  • Employer-provided adoption assistance
  • Foreign earned income or foreign housing
  • Income earned by a bona fide resident of American Samoa or Puerto Rico

These are the base amounts for each filing status:

  • $25,000 if you’re single, head of household, or qualifying widow(er)
  • $25,000 if you’re married filing separately and lived apart from your spouse for all of the year
  • $32,000 if married filing jointly
  • $0 if you’re married filing separately and lived with your spouse at any time in the current year

Up to 50% of your benefits will usually be taxable. However, up to 85% of your benefits can be taxable if either of these situations applies to you:

  • The total of half of your benefits and all your other income is more than $34,000 -- or $44,000 if married filing jointly.
  • You’re married filing separately and lived with your spouse at any time in 2013.

If you want to find out how much of your benefits are taxable, compare these:

  • The base amount for your filing status 
  • Your provisional income -- half of your benefits plus all your other income from above

Up to 50% of the benefits you receive are taxable if your provisional income isn’t more than:

  • $34,000 for single filers
  • $44,000 if married filing jointly

However, up to 85% of the amount you receive is taxable if your provisional income is more than:

  • $34,000 for single filers
  • $44,000 if married filing jointly

To figure the taxable amount of your benefits, see the worksheet in Publication 915 or Form 1040 instructions at www.irs.gov.

If you'd like to learn more, see:

  • Publication 554: Tax Guide for Seniors
  • Publication 915: Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits
  • Form 1040A instructions
  • Form 1040 instructions

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