Topic no. 423, Social Security and equivalent railroad retirement benefits

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.

Nontaxable benefits

Other income is taken into account in determining whether your benefits are taxable. Your benefits won't be taxable unless the sum of your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) plus one half of your benefits received in the tax year 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.

How do I know if my benefits are taxable?

Review Are my Social Security or railroad retirement tier I benefits taxable? or Worksheet 1 in Publication 915, Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits to figure if your benefits are taxable, or complete a worksheet in the Instructions for Form 1040 (and Form 1040-SR) PDF to figure your taxable benefits and MAGI.

Lump-sum payments

If you received benefits in the current tax year that were for a prior year, see Publication 915 for rules on a special lump-sum election that you can make. This election may reduce the amount of your taxable benefits.

Determining who is taxed

If any of the benefits are taxable, the person with the legal right to receive the benefits 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.

Married filing jointly - If you're 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 didn't receive any benefits.

How benefits are reported to you

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 are taxable to the same extent. For additional information, see Publication 915.

Reporting taxable benefits

Report your taxable benefits on Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return or Form 1040-SR, U.S. Tax Return for Seniors.

Tax withholding and estimated tax

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. See Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax and Am I required to make estimated tax payments? 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, see Form W-4V, Voluntary Withholding Request.