If the only income you received during the tax year was your Social Security or equivalent railroad retirement benefits, your benefits may not be taxable and you may not have to file a tax return.
If you also received other income, your benefits will not be taxable unless your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is more than the base amount for your filing status. If you have income in addition to your benefits, you may have to file a return even if none of your benefits are taxable. Your taxable benefits and MAGI are figured by completing a worksheet in the Form 1040 Instructions (PDF) or Form 1040A Instructions (PDF). If you received benefits in the current tax year that were for a prior year, see Publication 915, Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits, for rules on a special election called a lump-sum election you can make. This election may reduce the amount of your taxable benefits.
The person who has the legal right to receive taxable benefits, if any, must include them in gross income. For example, if you and your child received benefits, you must use only your own portion of the benefits in figuring if any part is taxable to you, even if the check for your child was made out in your name. In calculating your child's taxable benefits, half of the portion that belongs to your child must be added to your child's other income to determine if any of those benefits are taxable to your child.
If you are married and file a joint return, you and your spouse must combine your incomes, Social Security benefits and equivalent railroad retirement benefits when figuring the taxable portion of your benefits. On a joint return, you must add your spouse's income to yours when figuring if any of your benefits are taxable, even if your spouse did not receive any benefits.
If any portion of your benefits is taxable, you must use Form 1040 (PDF) or Form 1040A (PDF), U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. You cannot use Form 1040EZ (PDF), Income Tax Return for Single and Joint Filers With No Dependents.
You should receive your Form SSA-1099, Social Security Benefit Statement, or Form RRB-1099, Payments by the Railroad Retirement Board, by early February for the benefits paid in the prior calendar year. The form will show benefits paid to the person who has the legal right to receive them, and the amount of any benefits repaid. It will also show amounts by which the benefits were reduced because you received workers' compensation benefits. Substitute workers' compensation benefits would be taxable to the same extent. For additional information, refer to Publication 915.
If any part of your Social Security or equivalent railroad retirement benefits will be taxable in the current tax year, you may request to have additional withholding from other income or pay estimated tax during the year. Refer to Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax, for additional information on estimated tax. You may also choose to have income tax withheld from your Social Security or equivalent railroad retirement benefits. For more information, refer to Form W-4V (PDF), Voluntary Withholding Request.
Page Last Reviewed or Updated: January 28, 2015