The cost of labor and how to maximize your Social Security

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Many people are surprised to learn that Social Security payments can be taxable. In fact, depending on your Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI), you may be taxed on up to 85% of your benefits.

Once you reach retirement age, your Social Security benefits are taxed based on your filing status and how much other income you receive.

If you file singly and your provisional income is below $25,000 annually, you will not pay taxes on your Social Security benefits.  (Provisional income includes gross income, tax-free interest, and 50% of Social Security benefits.) A single filer whose provisional income is between $25,000 and $34,000 will be taxed on up to 50%. Single filers whose provisional income is more than $34,000 are taxed on up to 85% of their benefits.

The numbers increase for people who file jointly, with those whose provisional income remains under $32,000 avoiding taxes on Social Security, couples earning a provisional income of between $32,000 and $44,000 taxed on up to 50% and those earning over $44,000 in provisional income taxed on up to 85%.

Some states also tax Social Security benefits, although they are exempt from state taxes in Wisconsin and 36 other states.

Knowing the difference between qualified and non-qualified money is the key to making the most out of the money you’re earned.

Qualified money includes assets you have accumulated but not paid income taxes on yet, for instance, IRA and 401(k) money.  Because you won’t have to pay taxes on these assets until you withdraw them, the government requires you to begin doing so when you reach 70 ½. These are called required minimum distributions and you must take them every year or you will be penalized.

Additionally, these distributions adjust your provisional income higher, which makes more of your Social Security taxable.

That’s one reason to increase the amount of non-qualified assets you have in your portfolio as you get closer to retirement. Assets on which you already have paid taxes, like a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k), require no annual distribution and, because they already have been factored into your provisional income, you can withdraw from them without increasing the taxable impact on your Social Security.

If you have any questions about how to maximize your Social Security benefits, please contact us. We offer classes on this topic and also would be glad to sit down with you to help you analyze your potential benefits.