Paying taxes on Social Security

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Social Security is making it easier this year for people who have lost their SSA-1099 to get a replacement copy by downloading it from their MySocialSecurity account at

If you receive Social Security, you need an SSA-1099 to file your income taxes. Social Security sends out these forms to recipients early in January every year, but a lot of people apparently lose them. Social Security says it got 1.7 million requests for duplicate forms last year.

If you aren’t able to use the online option, call (800) 772-1213 and ask for a replacement via snail mail. Social Security says it takes seven to 10 business days to get your duplicate copy this way. You can also visit a Social Security office and ask for a replacement.

Get help filing taxes

For the last few years, I’ve been helping my sister-in-law do her taxes. She lives on Social Security, a small annuity that her mother left her and some income that she earns working as a hotel maid. Before I started helping her, she went to a tax preparation service every year. The service charged her more than $200 to file her simple return.

If you’ve been paying those kinds of fees because you don’t think you can do it yourself, check out the IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance or VITA program, which offers free tax help to people who have less than $53,000 in income or meet some other criteria, including having a disability, being a senior citizen or speaking limited English. IRS-certified volunteers will prepare your forms and file them for free if you qualify. At some locations, the IRS also offers Tax Counseling for the Elderly or TCE. These volunteers have special training in pension and retirement-related issues.

The IRS has a tool to help you locate VITA or TCE sites. Some sites require an appointment, some don’t. Before you go, check out the What to Bring page to ensure you have all the required documents and information a volunteer will need to help you.

File for free online

It really doesn’t take a lot of knowledge to file taxes yourself using an online program. These programs walk you through the process, then check your answers to make sure you’ve filled out the form. Bankrate’s tax expert Kay Bell explains here how to find and use the IRS’ Free File. Free File is a partnership between the IRS and the Free File Alliance with 14 manufacturers of tax-filing software participating this year, Bell says. If you have adjusted gross income, or AGI, of less than $60,000, chances are you can file for free from the comfort of your computer — and feel confident that you’re doing it right.

In any case, here are some Social Security tax-paying basics worth knowing. You can find them in Social Security’s Publication 915. If the only income you received during 2014 was Social Security, your benefits generally are not taxable and you probably don’t even have to file a return. If you have income in addition to your benefits, you may have to file a return even if none of your benefits are taxable. No matter how much you make, no more than 85 percent of Social Security is taxable.

Here’s more from Bell on who has to file taxes and who doesn’t.