Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Stimulus Benefits Could End Up Costing Retirees At Tax Time

Sandra Block of wrote an interesting article on how stimulus benefits could complicate the taxes of retirees. You can find a snippet of her post below, but the full text can be found here.

When lawmakers enacted the economic stimulus package this year, they included benefits for seniors. Smart move: Many retirees also have been hit hard by the economic downturn, and they vote in large numbers. Unfortunately, some of the tax headaches we discussed in an earlier column could also affect retirees.

Some examples of potential problems:

Taxpayers who receive a pension and have taxes withheld from their payments could end up owing money to the IRS next year.

In March, the IRS adjusted withholding tables to reflect the Making Work Pay credit, which is worth up to $400 for single workers, and up to $800 for married taxpayers who file jointly. The adjustments will apply to wages, but they'll also affect the amount withheld from pension payments. And that's a problem, because pension payments are ineligible for the credit, says Mark Luscombe, federal tax analyst for tax publisher CCH.

This won't be an issue for retirees who pay taxes on their pension payments each quarter instead of having their taxes withheld, Luscombe says. Likewise, individuals who receive a pension but also have a job may still qualify for the credit because they have earned income, he says. But retirees who have taxes withheld from their pensions and don't have any earned income may need to adjust their withholding to avoid owing money next year.

For information on how to avoid unpleasant surprises at tax time, go to and search for Publication 919, "How Do I Adjust My Tax Withholding." The section titled "Retirees Returning to the Workforce" includes information for pensioners, and is relevant even if you're not going back to work.

Social Security beneficiaries who have earned income could end up receiving a larger credit than they're entitled to.

Next month, the Social Security Administration will deliver a one-time payment of $250 to more than 55 million Americans who receive Social Security benefits or Supplemental Social Security Income. For most beneficiaries, this won't create any problems. But seniors who receive Social Security benefits and also have a job could also end up owing the IRS money next year.

Here's why: If you're employed and have taxes withheld from your paycheck, you'll also receive the Making Work Pay tax credit. But the maximum amount you can receive from both programs is $400, says Michael O'Toole, director of publications and government relations for the American Payroll Association.

"If a single person is getting $400 in reduced withholding from a job, and getting the $250 economic recovery payment because they're collecting Social Security, they're going to be underwithheld by $250," he says.

As a result, Social Security beneficiaries who have jobs may also need to adjust their withholding.

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