You can't outlive the Internal Revenue Service. No matter how old you are, if you have any income, the IRS may tax at least some of it. That can even include up to 85 percent of your Social Security benefits, if you've got lots of other income. Your other money can come from pensions, retirement accounts, investments, part-time work or any other source. If it's income, it may be taxable.
When to File
It's easy to figure out if you have to file a federal income tax return if you're over 65. This will vary with your filing status -- single or married filing jointly, for instance -- and if you're married, whether both spouses are over 65. If your adjusted gross income, on line 38 of Form 1040, is less than $25,000, and you file jointly, you don't have to file.
Taxable Social Security
You'll have to figure how much, if any, of your Social Security benefits might be taxable. You can do this with a worksheet in the Form 1040 instructions or by doing a quick calculation. Add half the total of your Social Security to all your other income. Include any tax-exempt interest, taxable retirement benefits or any other money you got. If that's more than the Social Security base amount, $32,000 for couples filing jointly in 2012, some of your benefits may be taxed. Between 50 and 85 percent may get a tax hit.
Standard Elderly Deduction
You can itemize your deductions on Form 1040, but if you don't have a lot of mortgage interest or other deductions, the IRS has a special standard rate for seniors. If you and a spouse are both over 65, the standard deduction as of 2012 is $13,900. Standard deduction rates change from year to year with the cost of living, however, but the senior rate for couples usually is at least $2,000 higher than the rate for younger filers.
If a spouse is blind, there's an extra credit, raising the standard elderly deduction to $15,050. There's also a credit for caring for a spouse who's disabled. To qualify, you must be under the $25,000 income limit if you file jointly and have non-taxable Social Security or other retirement income of less than $7,500 a year. You'll have to fill out a Schedule R to calculate this specific credit.
Off the Hook
If your only income is Social Security, you're off the hook. You don't have to file.
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