Social Security: When Your Provisional Income Can Lead To 100% Tax-Free Benefits

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If you get Social Security benefits but still earn income from other sources, it’s important to be aware of how this so-called provisional income affects your taxes. The good news is, there are still ways to earn income tax-free.

See: 5 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About Social Security
Find: Surprising Data Reveals The Top 25 Tax-Friendly States To Retire

Provisional income is determined by adding the combined total of half your Social Security benefits, your tax-exempt interest and other non-Social Security items (such as jobs or investments) that make up your adjusted gross income, Kiplinger reported.

For single tax filers, Social Security benefits aren’t taxed if your provisional income is less than $25,000. That rises to $32,000 if you’re married and filing a joint return. Up to half of your Social Security benefits might be taxable if your provisional income is $25,000 to $34,000 for single filers, or $32,000 to $44,000 for joint filers. Anything above those income levels, then up to 85% of your benefits could be taxable.

Those thresholds are still in place for when you file your 2021 tax returns next year, Motley Fool reported, and have not changed since the federal government first began taxing benefits.

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But as MarketWatch recently noted, there are still ways to earn income tax-free when you receive Social Security benefits. Here are a few of them.

  • Tax-free Provisional Income. This is the most straightforward way to earn tax-free income — if you stay below the income thresholds. As mentioned before, if you are single and have provisional income below $25,000, that income is not taxed. If you are married and filing jointly, you can earn up to $32,000 tax-free. This is good option if you have a couple of side hustles that bring in money, but not too much.
  • Tax-free Roth IRA Withdrawals. These let you withdraw money free of federal taxes and usually state taxes as well. But they have to be qualified withdrawals. A qualified withdrawal has to meet certain criteria. It must be taken after you have had at least one Roth IRA open for over five years, and one of the following must be true: you’ve reached age 59½, you are disabled or you are deceased (in which case heirs get the tax-free withdrawals).
  • Tax-free home sale gains: Single taxpayers who sell a principal residence don’t have to pay federal taxes on up to $250,000 of their gain from a home sale. Those who are married filing jointly can exclude up to $500,000 of gain from the sale of a principal home. If you’re considering this income source, it might be an opportune time to do so, given the current surge in home prices. Just keep in mind that you will have to pass certain tests regarding home ownership, home use, filing status and previous sales to qualify for the tax-exempt status. Be sure to consult with a tax accountant or visit the IRS website before signing on the dotted line.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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