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Will Your Stimulus Check Increase the Tax on Your Social Security Benefits?

It comes down to whether your stimulus check will boost your "provisional income."

It sure was nice getting that stimulus check in the mail (or deposited directly into your bank account)! Hopefully, you put the money to good use. But after getting that much money unexpectedly, retirees might be wondering how it could impact their taxes for the year – especially the tax on Social Security benefits.

How Social Security Benefits Are Taxed

The federal government can tax up to 85% of your Social Security benefits. To figure the tax on your benefits, you first need to determine your "provisional income." This is equal to the total of (1) 50% of your Social Security benefits, (2) your tax-exempt interest, and (3) your adjusted gross income (not including the student loan interest deduction or the tuition and fees deduction).

If you're single, none of your Social Security benefits are taxed if your provisional income is less than $25,000. If your provisional income is between $25,000 and $34,000, then up to 50% of your Social Security benefits may be taxable. If your provisional income is more than $34,000, then up to 85% of your benefits may be taxed.

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For married couples filing a join return, your Social Security benefits are safe if your provisional income is less than $32,000. The 50% rate applies if your provisional income is between $32,000 and $44,000. If your provisional income exceeds $44,000, up to 85% of your benefits may be taxable.

Stimulus Check's Impact

Any additional taxable income will increase your adjusted gross income, which then increases your provisional income for Social Security tax purposes. If your provisional income goes up enough to move you from the 0% to the 50% bracket, or from the 50% to the 85% bracket, then you're looking at a tax increase. So, the key question is whether your stimulus check will boost your taxable income.

Stimulus checks are really just advanced payments of a new "recovery rebate" tax credit for the 2020 tax year. As such, they aren't included in taxable income. So, your stimulus check won't increase your AGI, or your provisional income. And if your provisional income doesn't go up, the tax on your Social Security benefits won't either.

What if You Didn't Receive a Stimulus Check?

If you haven't received a stimulus check yet, it might be because you're not eligible for one. Not everyone will get a payment. For instance, anyone who was claimed as a dependent on someone else's tax return won't get a check. For the full list of ineligible people, see Who's Not Getting a Stimulus Check (Or Has to Return It).

Most Social Security recipients who are eligible for a stimulus check should have received payment by now. If you filed a 2018 or 2019 tax return, the IRS will get the information it needs to calculate and process your payment from your most recent return. Otherwise, the IRS will get the necessary information from the Social Security Administration. To check on the status of your payment, go to the IRS's "Get My Payment" portal. If you're slated to get a paper check, you can provide your bank account information to get a direct deposit, which is a much faster form of payment. For more information on the portal, see Where's My Stimulus Check? Use the IRS's "Get My Payment" Portal to Get an Answer.

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If you didn't file a 2018 or 2019 tax return and didn't receive Social Security benefits (or certain other government benefits, like veterans benefits) in 2019, then the IRS might not be able to send you a check because you're not on their radar screen. If that's the case, use the "Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here" website to sign up for your payment. See How to Get a Stimulus Check if You Don't File a Tax Return for details.

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