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Key Takeaways

• If the only income you receive is your Social Security benefits, then you typically don't have to file a federal income tax return.

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• If you are at least 65, unmarried, and receive $14,250 or more in non-exempt income in addition to your Social Security benefits, you typically must file a federal income tax return (tax year 2021).

• If you are 65, married, and file a joint return with a spouse who is also 65 or older, you must file a return if your combined gross income is $27,800 or more (or $26,450 if your spouse is under 65 years old).

• Regardless of your filing status, if the sum of half your Social Security plus your adjusted gross income plus your tax-exempt interest and dividends exceed $25,000 (or $32,000 if you are married filing jointly), then a portion of your Social Security benefits are included in gross income.

When seniors must file

For the tax year 2021, unmarried seniors will typically need to file a return if:

  • you are at least 65 years of age, and
  • your gross income is $14,250 or more.

However, if your only income is from Social Security benefits, you don't include these benefits in your gross income. If this is the only income you receive, then your gross income equals zero, and you typically don't have to file a federal income tax return.

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But if you do earn other income including certain tax-exempt income, then each year you must determine whether the total exceeds the filing threshold.

  • For tax years prior to the 2018 tax year (filed in or before 2019), these amounts are based on the year's standard deduction plus the exemption amount for your age and filing status.
  • Beginning in 2018, only your standard deduction is used since exemptions are no longer part of calculating your taxable income under the new tax law passed in late 2017.

For the 2021 tax year,

  • If you are married and file a joint return with a spouse who is also 65 or older, you must file a return if your combined gross income is $27,800 or more.
  • If your spouse is under 65 years old, then the threshold amount decreases to $26,450.
  • Keep in mind that these income thresholds only apply to the 2021 tax year, and generally increase slightly each year.

TurboTax Tip: As long as you are at least 65 years old and your income from sources other than Social Security is not high, then the tax credit for the elderly or disabled can reduce your tax bill on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

When to include Social Security in gross income

There are certain situations when seniors must include some of their Social Security benefits in gross income. If you are married but file a separate tax return and live with your spouse at any time during the year, then 85% of your Social Security benefits are considered gross income which may require you to file a tax return.

In addition, a portion of your Social Security benefits are included in gross income, regardless of your filing status, in any year the sum of half your Social Security benefit plus all of your adjusted gross income, plus all of your tax-exempt interest and dividends, exceeds $25,000, or $32,000 if you are married filing jointly.

Tax credit for seniors

Even if you must file a tax return, there are ways you can reduce the amount of tax you have to pay on your taxable income. As long as you are at least 65 years old and your income from sources other than Social Security is not high, then the tax credit for the elderly or disabled can reduce your tax bill on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

Remember, with TurboTax, we'll ask you simple questions about your life and help you fill out all the right tax forms. With TurboTax, you can be confident your taxes are done right, from simple to complex tax returns, no matter what your situation.