Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) is a government program that pays you a monthly benefit when you're disabled and can't work. The average SSDI benefit payment was $1,233 in November 2022.  Getting Social Security disability is free, compared to long-term disability insurance, which you have have to buy, but long-term disability benefits are typically much larger and much easier to qualify for.
If you receive Social Security disability benefits, they are only taxable if you earn above a certain amount of income, which is based on your tax filing status. Benefits are taxed at your normal income tax rate. You must report the total benefit amount on your tax return by using form SSA-1099, which is mailed by the Social Security Administration each year.
When Social Security disability is taxable
Social Security disability benefits are not taxable if you didn't earn any income during the year. They are also exempt from taxes if your disability was caused by a domestic or international terrorist attack.
But if you do earn an income while receiving Social Security benefits, your benefits are taxable if your total income exceeds a certain threshold set by the IRS. The IRS defines this income threshold amount as:
$25,000 for people filing as an individual, head of household, qualifying widow or widower, or married couples filing separately and who live apart from each other
$32,000 for married couples filing a joint return, even if one spouse isn't receiving Social Security benefits
$0 for married people who live together but file separately
When you calculate your income, it includes 50% of your disability benefits, unearned income (like non-exempt interest and dividends) and your spouse's income.
How much of my Social Security disability is taxable?
When your SSDI benefits are taxable, you will only pay income taxes on a portion, not all, of the benefits. There are two ways of calculating how much of your benefit is taxable, based on your income and filing status.
If you file as an individual:
Up to 50% of your Social Security disability benefits are taxable if your income is between $25,000 and $34,000
Up to 85% of your SSDI benefits are taxable if your income is over $34,000
If you're married and file a joint return:
Up to 50% of your Social Security disability benefits are taxable if your combined income is between $32,000 and $44,000
Up to 85% of your SSDI benefits are taxable if your combined income is over $44,000
Reporting Social Security disability benefits on your tax return
Each January the Social Security Administration will send you a Social Security Benefit statement, form SSA-1099, in the mail if you received SSDI benefits during the year. (You will not get this form if you received Supplemental Security Income, which is not taxed.)
Box 4 on Form SSA-1099 shows the net benefits you received for the relevant tax year. Your net benefits are your benefits minus any benefits you had to repay for that year. When you file your tax return, you report the number in Box 5 on your Form 1040 (line 6).
If you elected to voluntarily withhold taxes from your Social Security benefits, that amount will appear in Box 6 of form SSA-1099. Include the amount on line 26b.
Are back payments for SSDI taxable?
The Social Security application process can take a very long time, and you may receive retroactive payments to cover the time you spent waiting for approval. Disability benefit back payments are typically paid out as a lump sum, which could increase your income for the year and leave you with a much higher tax burden. To avoid this, you can file amended tax returns for the prior years covered by the back payment benefits, and report only the remaining amount for the current tax year. A tax advisor should be able to tell you more.