The Surprising Reason You Could End Up Losing Some of Your Social Security Benefits

Even if you end up saving nicely for retirement, you may still have the goal of squeezing as much money as possible out of Social Security. And there are different steps you can take to snag a higher benefit.

For one thing, you can avoid filing early. Although you're allowed to sign up for benefits as early as age 62, doing so will mean resigning yourself to a lower monthly paycheck for life.

Better yet, you can delay your claim beyond full retirement age. For each year you do, your benefit will increase by 8%, up until the age of 70. And to be clear, that's a permanent increase we're talking about.

But just as it's within your power to raise your Social Security benefits, so too might you end up putting yourself in a situation where you're looking at a lower benefit. And in some cases, a seemingly innocent choice could leave you with less retirement income to enjoy.

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It matters where you call home

Seniors are often surprised to learn that their Social Security benefits are subject to federal taxes. Now this isn't always the case. If Social Security ends up being your sole source of retirement income, then those taxes generally will not apply. But if you have outside income sources, you can expect to lose some money to federal taxes on your benefits.

But it's not just the federal government that taxes benefits. Some states impose their own taxes on Social Security income, too. And so if you happen to decide to retire in one of them, you could end up with lower benefits.

Here's a list of the 13 states that tax Social Security:

New Mexico
North Dakota
Rhode Island
West Virginia

Now it's worth noting that most of these states happen to offer an exemption on Social Security benefit taxes for lower earners, and some offer one for moderate-income seniors as well. But some of these states offer no exemption whatsoever.

Do your research

It's unfortunate that the states above impose taxes on Social Security, because that's money you may not be thrilled about losing. At the same time, you shouldn't necessarily write off these 13 states because they tax benefits.

Some of these states offer a host of advantages for retirees. Colorado and New Mexico, for example, are known for their glorious scenery. And Montana has a fairly low cost of living, as does most of West Virginia.

The point, therefore, isn't to rule out these states as your retirement home. Rather, it's that you should understand the financial consequences of moving there from a Social Security standpoint.

Along these lines, it's important to read up on the tax surprises that tend to catch retirees off guard. Social Security isn't the only income source you might pay taxes on later in life. The more prepared you are, the better equipped you'll be to manage your money and make smart choices that allow you to keep more of it.

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