taxes

Up to 85% of a widow's Social Security survivors benefits could be taxed

Judy O'ConnorDear Tax Talk,
My spouse is deceased. I will be getting his Social Security when I turn 65. I am still working and plan on retiring at age 70. Will I have to claim my husband's Social Security on my taxes for 2016?
-- Mona

Smiling woman looking at the camera | Roberto Westbrook/Image Source/Getty Images

Roberto Westbrook/Image Source/Getty Images

Dear Mona,
The Social Security benefits you receive as a widow or widower are known as Social Security survivors benefits and will be reported to you under your Social Security number, or SSN, rather than under your deceased spouse's SSN. Up to 85% of the benefits you receive may be taxable to you, depending on the amounts of other income you receive during the year.

The IRS has a worksheet to complete to determine the taxable portion of your benefits and it is included in the IRS Form 1040 Instructions. If you are using a tax software program, the amount is calculated for you.

According to the Social Security Administration, approximately 5 million widows and widowers receive benefits based on their deceased spouse's earnings record, and it also pays more benefits to children than any other federal program. Social Security benefits are available for unmarried children who are under 18 years old or up to age 19 if they are full-time students in elementary or secondary schools. This all means that workers paying in to the Social Security system are not only paying in for their own retirement, but also for their survivors, as well.

The amount of survivors benefits you receive is based on the earnings record of the person who died. The benefits are reduced if you have not yet reached full retirement age, so be sure to take that into consideration.

What is full retirement age?

Your full retirement age depends on your year of birth. If you were born in 1937 or earlier, it is age 65. If you were born in 1960 or later, your full retirement age is 67. The table shows the breakdown for those born in between those years.

Year of birthAge
1937 and prior65
193865 and 2 months
193965 and 4 months
194065 and 6 months
194165 and 8 months
194265 and 10 months
1943-5466
195566 and 2 months
195666 and 4 months
195766 and 6 months
195866 and 8 months
195966 and 10 months
1960 and later67

Notes:

  1. Persons born on Jan. 1 of any year should refer to the full retirement age for the previous year.
  2. For the purpose of determining benefit reductions for early retirement, widows and widowers whose entitlement is based on having attained age 60 should add 2 years to the year of birth shown in the table.

Source: Social Security Administration

Since you mentioned that you're still working, you should also be aware that your benefits may be reduced if you're younger than full retirement age and your earnings from employment exceed $15,720 in 2016. Look out for other Social Security traps.

For further details regarding Social Security benefits, you can go to www.SSA.gov.

Thanks for the great question and all the best to you.

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