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Managing Taxes on Social Security Benefits

Social Security cost-of-living adjustments may impact how much of your benefits are taxed. But taking a few smart steps can help you reduce the income tax bite.


Social Security makes up a big chunk of retirees’ income. For Social Security beneficiaries age 65 and older, 37% of men and 42% of women get at least half of their income from Social Security, according to the Social Security Administration.1

This is why determining the best time to start receiving benefits, as well as having smart investing and tax planning strategies, can be so important.

Are Social Security Benefits Taxable?

Income from Social Security benefits could be taxable, depending on your overall income. Annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increases for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income recipients may also lead to additional income taxes for the year. This year’s COLA increase was 3.2% (2023’s update was 8.7%).

Many retirees may not know that their Social Security benefits can be taxable—and they might end up owing income taxes they didn’t plan for.

of U.S. retirees pay taxes on a portion of their Social Security benefits.² The recent COLA increase could mean an increase in taxes for some.

No one likes a surprise tax bill during tax season. And with inflation eating away at purchasing power, it’s even more important for retirees to contain the tax cost.

Calculating ‘Provisional Income’ and Social Security Taxes

Social Security benefits are considered to be a tax-efficient retirement income source compared to retirement plans, and it’s important to understand the tax impact to be prepared for it.

How to Calculate Provisional Income

Adjusted Gross Income

Tax-Exempt Income

50% of Social Security

Provisional Income

According to the IRS, up to 85% of an individual’s Social Security benefits can be subject to taxes if the person’s provisional income is higher than stated IRS income limits. The provisional income is calculated by adding the recipient’s adjusted annual gross income and tax-exempt interest income, plus 50% of all Social Security benefits.

Single federal tax filers with $25,000 or more in provisional income and married couples filing jointly with $32,000 or more may have up to 85% of their total Social Security benefits subject to income taxes.

If your provisional income reaches the IRS income threshold, the amount of Social Security subject to taxes will depend on your annual income and tax status.

For individual tax filers:

  • If income is between $25,000 and $34,000, up to 50% of your Social Security benefits may be subject to tax.

  • If income is above $34,000, up to 85% of your Social Security benefits may be subject to tax.

For married filing jointly filers:

  • If combined income is between $32,000 and $44,000, up to 50% of Social Security may be subject to tax.

  • If combined income is above $44,000, up to 85% of Social Security benefits may be subject to tax.

Reviewing your annual Social Security benefit statement—which shows benefit payouts for the current year—with your financial professional and tax advisor can help you make more informed decisions on your benefit withdrawal strategy and potential tax and financial implications.

Managing Social Security Taxes

Consider these tips to minimize the tax burden on your Social Security benefits.

Adjust your withholding and supplemental income strategies to anticipate COLA.

If you have earned income from a part-time job, keep an eye on the amount you earn and how the COLA boost to your Social Security benefit may push your income over the threshold. Also, consider having taxes withheld in the current year to help lessen a possible tax bill.

Withhold taxes from IRA distributions or a company pension.

Income tax withholding can save you from an unpleasant surprise come tax season. For instance, if you take distributions from an IRA (Individual Retirement Account) or pension plan, you can request to withhold income taxes, including the amount you expect to owe on Social Security benefits. Generally, your retirement plan custodian will withhold 10% on taxable distributions, unless you provide different withholding instructions.

Use IRS Form W-4V.

With Form W-4V, you can withhold 7%, 10%, 12% or 22% of your monthly Social Security income and apply it to your income taxes. Aside from the withholding alternatives, you may consider working with your tax advisor to estimate any quarterly tax payments to avoid owing penalties and interest.

Consider a Roth conversion.

Roth IRAs are funded with after-tax dollars. In general, these plans grow tax-free, and you are not required to take a minimum distribution (RMD). You pay no taxes when the money is withdrawn as a qualified distribution after meeting certain requirements. As a result, Roth IRA withdrawals in retirement don’t count as part of your provisional income. Working with a financial advisor and tax planner can help you determine the amount to consider converting into a Roth IRA, as this option may increase your income tax liability in the year of conversion.

Delay claiming Social Security benefits.

If you have not started taking your Social Security benefits, you may want to consider the pros and cons of delaying the benefits until your full retirement age (FRA), or as late as age 70. The delayed start may increase your Social Security benefits by an 8% delayed retirement credit, allow you to receive larger COLA increases, boost survivor benefits and let you control your income tax situation. Work with your financial advisor to determine the best strategy for you.

Space out one-time taxable events.

A payout from selling your business, an inheritance, Roth conversion or other one-time taxable event could tip you into an income bracket where you may owe tax on Social Security benefits. Consider spreading out the payments as installments over multiple tax years instead of as a lump-sum payment. Along with potentially reducing the tax on your Social Security benefits, doing so might even reduce your income tax bracket.

Consider the order of withdrawals.

If you have a large taxable and tax-advantaged portfolio, you may want to consider the timing of distributions from your taxable versus tax-advantaged accounts. Any distribution from a 401(k) retirement plan or traditional IRA counts as ordinary income the year the money is withdrawn, whereas taxable account distributions are taxed at the preferred capital gains rates. Roth accounts are distributed income tax-free. Coordination and tax diversification can play a critical role in reducing your overall income tax liability.

The Takeaway on Social Security Income and Taxes

When making any financial decision, consider your cash flow needs first, and then consider the impact on your investment plan. Lastly, consider tax efficiency; don’t let the tax tail wag the decision you are making.

You don’t have to get a big tax bite taken out of your Social Security payments. Staying aware of the latest policies can help you plan for taxes. Talking to your financial advisor and tax professional about Social Security can help you make informed decisions about when and how to claim Social Security and manage your income tax situation (including investment strategies).

Social Security Is Never One Size Fits All

Besides taking steps to reduce potential tax burdens, learn more about how to get the most out of your benefits before you file.

Social Security Administration, Social Security Fact Sheet, December 2023 Beneficiary Data.

Social Security Administration, Understanding the Benefits, 2024.

This material has been prepared for educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for, investment, accounting, legal or tax advice.

Please consult your tax advisor for more detailed information regarding the Roth IRA or for advice regarding your individual situation.

Taxes are deferred until withdrawal if the requirements are met. A 10% penalty may be imposed for withdrawal prior to reaching age 59½.

IRS Circular 230 Disclosure: American Century Companies, Inc. and its affiliates do not provide tax advice. Accordingly, any discussion of U.S. tax matters contained herein (including any attachments) is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, in connection with the promotion, marketing or recommendation by anyone unaffiliated with American Century Companies, Inc. of any of the matters addressed herein or for the purpose of avoiding U.S. tax-related penalties.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as tax advice. Please consult your tax advisor for more detailed information or for advice regarding your individual situation.