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State Income Taxation of Social Security Benefits

Since the onset of the pandemic, many individuals have decided to relocate. Some move to be closer to family, others for better weather. Still others change domicile for financial reasons, like the pursuit of different job opportunities or for lower taxes. Estate Planning attorneys advise individuals who move to update their Estate Planning documents to conform with the rules of the new state of residence. Numerous factors impact an estate plan, many of which originate from the state of domicile. For example, it’s important to know whether the state is community property, elective community property, or a separate property state. It’s important to understand what forms of ownership the state acknowledges and the nuances of property ownership in that state. Understanding the property ownership and nuances of the state left behind may also impact Estate Planning. Finally, new residents need to understand how state and local taxation works, including whether the state imposes an income tax, gift tax, estate tax, or inheritance tax. If the state imposes an income tax, then the resident needs to determine what types of income will be subject to taxation and may be surprised to learn that their new state taxes Social Security benefits.

The federal government includes in income a portion of your Social Security retirement, disability, and other benefits if your income exceeds a certain amount. Some states follow the federal government’s lead and include these benefits in income for state income tax purposes. Let’s start, however, with those states that do not include these benefits in income. Eight states, including Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming do not impose a state income tax. This means that a resident’s Social Security benefits are safe from state income tax liability. Of the remaining forty-two states, only twelve states include Social Security benefits in the calculation of taxable income. North Dakota used to tax Social Security benefits but amended its tax code in 2021 to remove Social Security benefits from the statutory definition of taxable income. Thus, less than one-quarter of the states in the United States impose a tax on Social Security benefits, some of which depend upon the resident’s income or age. Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia tax some or all their residents’ Social Security benefits.

In the states that impose taxes on these benefits, the policies and rules regarding taxation vary widely. For example, Colorado imposes a flat tax of 4.55% on Social Security benefits; however, it also allows an offsetting deduction of up to $20,000 in retirement income for those aged 55 to 64, which increases to $24,000 for those aged 65 and older. Colorado passed legislation that will allow residents to deduct all federally taxable Social Security benefits from their state income beginning in 2022. For residents in Connecticut, Kansas, Nebraska, and Vermont, if their state Adjusted Gross Income (“AGI”) is below a certain amount based upon filing status, then residents need not worry about taxation of their Social Security benefits. Nebraska began to phase out taxation of Social Security benefits in 2021, with the phase-out continuing until 2025 when at which time lawmakers will vote on whether to eliminate the tax on Social Security benefits altogether by 2030. In Missouri, if state AGI is below a threshold amount and the resident is over the age of 62, then the state will not tax Social Security benefits. Even for those Missourians whose income exceeds the threshold amount, the state may only partially tax benefits. For residents in those states whose income exceeds the set amount, the state’s department of revenue generally imposes tax at the same rate as other income.

Minnesota, Montana, and New Mexico follow the Federal guidelines to some degree by allowing Social Security benefits for those residents whose state AGI does not exceed $25,000 for single filers, or $32,000 for married filing jointly, to escape taxation. States deviate slightly from the Federal model in determining the amount of Social Security benefits subject to taxation and the rate of tax. For example, Utah uses the Federal formula to determine how much of a resident’s benefits will be subject to tax but applies its own rate of tax. In addition, Utah offers residents partial credits for those Social Security benefits taxed at the Federal level.

Rhode Island does not impose taxes on Social Security benefits for anyone who has reached full retirement age as defined by the Social Security Administration if their state AGI does not exceed $86,350 for single filers or head of household and $107,950 for married filing jointly. Finally, West Virginia has begun to phase out state income taxes on Social Security benefits for those making less than $50,000 ($100,000, if married) in 2021 by allowing residents to exclude 65% of Social Security benefits from taxable income. In 2022, West Virginia will not tax Social Security benefits for those residents with income below those amounts. If income exceeds those amounts, the benefits will be taxed according to the Federal model.

As is clear, it’s important to understand how your state views Social Security benefits. There is no uniformity in the treatment of these benefits. For each state’s specific guidelines, contact that state’s Department of Revenue or a qualified Estate Planning attorney. Regardless of whether or how your state taxes Social Security benefits, it’s important to consider the ramifications and examine ways that you might be able to reduce your tax burden. Your after-tax income will determine how you, your spouse, and your loved ones will spend your retirement. Remember that just because a state taxes Social Security benefits does not make it unsuitable for retirement. Our Estate Planning attorneys can help you decide what’s best for your family and how to plan for your potential tax liability.

Tereina Stidd, J.D.
Associate Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.