En español | Q: I'm doing my taxes. Are my Social Security benefits going to be subject to federal income tax?
A: Generally speaking, that will depend on your total income. The higher your income, the more taxes you'll pay on your benefits.
Here's how it works: If you file as an individual and your combined income — by this, Social Security means adjusted gross income and nontaxable interest plus one-half of your Social Security benefits — is below $25,000, your benefits won't be taxed at all. If income is between $25,000 and $34,000, up to 50 percent of your benefits may be subject to tax. For income of more than $34,000, up to 85 percent of your benefits may be considered taxable income.
If you and your spouse file a joint return with a combined income below $32,000, your benefits are out of reach. For income between $32,000 and $44,000, up to 50 percent of benefits may be taxable, and up to 85 percent if combined income is more than $44,000.
For more information, go to Social Security's website.
Q: How much money does the federal government collect from taxes on Social Security, and what happens to that money?
A: In 2012, Social Security beneficiaries paid a total of $45.9 billion in income taxes on their benefits. The Social Security Trust Funds, from which benefits are paid, received $27.3 billion, while the Medicare Hospital Insurance Fund (HI) got $18.6 billion.
These deposits accounted for 3.2 percent of the year's income for the Social Security Trust Funds and 7.7 percent of the income of the HI trust fund.
Q: Is it possible to get the government to withhold taxes from my Social Security benefits?
A: Yes. Call Social Security at 800-772-1213 and ask for IRS Form W-4V. Or get the Voluntary Withholding Request form online. The form will give you four choices as to how much money you want withheld from your monthly payments: 7 percent, 10 percent, 15 percent or 25 percent. The withholding may make it easier for you to pay your taxes when April 15 rolls around each year.
Q: And how about states? Do they tax Social Security benefits?
A: It depends where you live. According to the Washington-based Tax Foundation, 27 states and D.C. do not tax Social Security income. Iowa is expected to join the list this year. The 22 remaining states may or may not tax Social Security benefits based on a variety of rates and policies. To see a map showing what happens in each state, visit the TaxFoundation.org.
Stan Hinden, a former columnist for the Washington Post, wrote How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire. Have a question? Check out the Social Security Mailbox archive. If you don't find your answer there, send an email to the Social Security Mailbox.