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A disabled woman talks to her accountant about taxes.Social Security benefits, including disability benefits, can help provide a supplemental source of income to people who are eligible to receive them. If you’re receiving disability benefits from Social Security, you might be wondering whether you’ll owe taxes on the money. For most people, the answer is no. But there are some scenarios where you may have to pay taxes on Social Security disability benefits. It may also behoove you to consult with a trusted financial advisor as you navigate the complicated terrain of taxes on Social Security disability benefits.

What Is Social Security Disability?

The Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI) pays benefits to eligible people who have become disabled. To be considered eligible for Social Security disability benefits, you have to be “insured”, which means you worked long enough and recently enough to accumulate benefits based on your Social Security taxes paid.

You also have to meet the Social Security Administration’s definition of disabled. To be considered disabled, it would have to be determined that you can no longer do the kind of work you did before you became disabled and that you won’t be able to do any other type of work because of your disability. Your disability must have lasted at least 12 months or be expected to last 12 months.

Social Security disability benefits are different from Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security retirement benefits. SSI benefits are paid to people who are aged, blind or disabled and have little to no income. These benefits are designed to help meet basic needs for living expenses. Social Security retirement benefits are paid out based on your past earnings, regardless of disability status.

Supplemental Security Income generally isn’t taxed as it’s a needs-based benefit. The people who receive these benefits typically don’t have enough income to require tax reporting. Social Security retirement benefits, on the other hand, can be taxable if you’re working part-time or full-time while receiving benefits.

Is Social Security Disability Taxable? 

This is an important question to ask if you receive Social Security disability benefits and the short answer is, it depends. For the majority of people, these benefits are not taxable. But your Social Security disability benefits may be taxable if you’re also receiving income from another source or your spouse is receiving income.

The good news is, there are thresholds you have to reach before your Social Security disability benefits become taxable.

When Is Social Security Disability Taxable? 

A senior's tax return

The IRS says that Social Security disability benefits may be taxable if one-half of your benefits, plus all your other income, is greater than a certain amount which is based on your tax filing status. Even if you’re not working at all because of a disability, other income you’d have to report includes unearned income such as tax-exempt interest and dividends.

If you’re married and file a joint return, you also have to include your spouse’s income to determine whether any part of your Social Security disability benefits are taxable. This true even if your spouse isn’t receiving any benefits from Social Security.

The IRS sets the threshold for taxing Social Security disability benefits at the following limits:

  • $25,000 if you’re single, head of household, or qualifying widow(er),
  • $25,000 if you’re married filing separately and lived apart from your spouse for the entire year,
  • $32,000 if you’re married filing jointly,
  • $0 if you’re married filing separately and lived with your spouse at any time during the tax year.

This means that if you’re married and file a joint return, you can report a combined income of up to $32,000 before you’d have to pay taxes on Social Security disability benefits. There are two different tax rates the IRS can apply, based on how much income you report and your filing status.

If you’re single and file an individual return, you’d pay taxes on:

  • Up to 50% of your benefits if your income is between $25,000 and $34,000
  • Up to 85% of your benefits if your income is more than $34,000

If you’re married and file a joint return, you’d pay taxes on:

  • Up to 50% of your benefits if your combined income is between $32,000 and $44,000
  • Up to 85% of your benefits if your combined income is more than $44,000

In other words, the more income you have individually or as a married couple, the more likely you are to have to pay taxes on Social Security disability benefits. In terms of the actual tax rate that’s applied to these benefits, the IRS uses your marginal tax rate. So you wouldn’t be paying a 50% or 85% tax rate; instead, you’d pay your ordinary income tax rate based on whatever tax bracket you land in.

It’s also important to note that you could be temporarily pushed into a higher tax bracket if you receive Social Security disability back payments. These back payments can be paid to you in a lump sum to cover periods where you were disabled but were still waiting for your benefits application to be approved. The good news is you can apply some of those benefits to past years’ tax returns retroactively to spread out your tax liability. You’d need to file an amended return to do so.

Is Social Security Disability Taxable at the State Level?

Besides owing federal income taxes on Social Security disability benefits, it’s possible that you could owe state taxes as well. As of 2020, 12 states imposed some form of taxation on Social Security disability benefits, though they each apply the tax differently.

Nebraska and Utah, for example, follow federal government taxation rules. But other states allow for certain exemptions or exclusions and at least one state, West Virginia, plans to phase out Social Security benefits taxation by 2022. If you’re concerned about how much you might have to pay in state taxes on Social Security benefits, it can help to read up on the taxation rules for where you live.

How to Report Taxes on Social Security Disability Benefits

If you received Social Security disability benefits, those are reported in Box 5 of Form SSA-1099, Social Security Benefit Statement. This is mailed out to you each year by the Social Security Administration.

You report the amount listed in Box 5 on that form on line 5a of your Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR, depending on which one you file. The taxable part of your Social Security disability benefits is reported on line 5b of either form.

The Bottom Line

A disabled man in a wheelchairSocial Security disability benefits aren’t automatically taxable, but you may owe taxes on them if you pass the income thresholds. If you’re worried about how receiving disability benefits while reporting other income might affect your tax bill, talking to a tax professional can help. They may be able to come up with strategies or solutions to minimize the amount of taxes you’ll end up owing.

Tips on Taxes

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor as well about how to make the most of your Social Security disability benefits and other income. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help. By answering a few simple questions you can get personalized recommendations for professional advisors in your local area in minutes. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • While you don’t have to reach a specific age to apply for Social Security disability benefits or Supplemental Security Income benefits, there is a minimum age for claiming Social Security retirement benefits. A Social Security calculator can help you decide when you should retire.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/kate_sept2004, ©iStock.com/JannHuizenga, ©iStock.com/AndreyPopov

Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She's worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, CreditCards.com and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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