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Social Security Benefits Still Taxable Despite Tax Overhaul

Outline: Senior Citizens League warns while the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act is expected to lower taxes for many taxpayers, it fails to address a feature of tax law that takes a cut of Social Security income from senior taxpayers.

Main Digest

Even retirees of modest means could pay tax on Social Security Income says The Senior Citizens League...

While the 2017 "Tax Cut and Jobs Act" is expected to lower taxes for many taxpayers, it doesn't address a feature of the tax law that takes a cut of Social Security income from a growing number of older taxpayers, warns The Senior Citizens League.

The income thresholds that subject Social Security benefits to taxation remain unchanged under the new law.

"Even the Social Security benefits of retirees with the most modest of incomes - an Adjusted Gross Income only two times higher than the federal poverty level - could be subject to taxation," says Mary Johnson, Social Security and Medicare policy analyst for The Senior Citizens League.

Social Security benefits were not subject to taxation when the program first became law, but since 1984, beneficiaries with income exceeding a certain threshold have paid taxes on a portion of their Social Security income.

In 1984 only 8 percent of retirees - those with the highest-income - paid tax on their Social Security benefits. In 2019 however, more than half of all retired households - about 51 percent on average - report paying the tax according to surveys by The Senior Citizens League.

The Reason This is Occurring is Due to Fixed Income Thresholds

Unlike tax brackets that are adjusted annually for inflation, the income thresholds that subject Social Security benefits to taxation have never been adjusted for inflation.

To determine whether income is taxable, nontaxable interest (if any), plus one - half of Social Security benefits, is added to the adjusted gross income.

"Had these income levels been adjusted for inflation since 1984, the $25,000 threshold for single filers would be $61,933 today, and the $32,000 level for joint filers would be $78,895," says Johnson.

"When this tax was originally passed into law, lawmakers sold it to the public as a tax mostly affecting wealthy Social Security recipients," says Johnson. "But in reality, it now affects retirees with very modest incomes," Johnson notes.

Revenues

The revenues raised from the taxation of Social Security benefits go to the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds.

Revenues from the 50 percent taxation level go to the Social Security Trust Fund, and revenues from the 85 percent taxation level go to the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund.

The Senior Citizens League supports legislation that would adjust the income thresholds to better protect retired taxpayers with lower incomes.

The Social Security 2100 Act would replace the current thresholds with a single set of thresholds at $50,000 single filers and $100,000 for joint filers.

To learn more and to participate in the 2019 Senior Survey, visit www.SeniorsLeague.org

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