Here’s how big Joe Biden’s Social Security check is: relative to the dollar

For most retirees, social security is an indispensable source of income. Based on 22 consecutive years of surveys from national pollster Gallup, somewhere between 80% and 90% of then-retired workers rely on their monthly check to cover at least some of their monthly expenses.

Although Social Security is responsible for reducing the poverty rate for those age 65 and older from an estimated 38.7% without the program to 10.2% with guaranteed monthly checks, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, benefits for retired workers available to every American. citizen, regardless of his income, who earns the necessary 40 lifelong work points. This includes current President Joe Biden and his wife, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

A smiling President Biden speaks to reporters in the East Room of the White House.

President Biden makes remarks. Image source: Official White House photo by Adam Schultz.

This is exactly how much Joe Biden received in every Social Security check in 2023

For more than half a century, it has been the practice of sitting presidents to publicly release their federal and/or state tax returns for all to see. With few exceptions (Donald Trump, for example), every president has done this. On Monday, April 15 (Tax Day), the Bidens followed suit. I say “the Bidens” because Joe Biden files a federal tax return with his wife.

While most of the attention may be on the Bidens’ adjusted gross income (AGI) of $619,976, it’s the couple’s Social Security benefits that will undoubtedly turn heads and raise eyebrows.

On the very first page of the Bidens’ Form 1040, line 6a shows that the couple received $64,254 in Social Security benefits in 2023, which amounts to $5,354.50 per month. However, this figure doesn’t tell the full story of how much Joe and Jill Biden received individually.

Included in the president’s joint tax return is a Social Security benefits worksheet (slide 13 of the president’s PDF tax return, for those interested) that shows exactly how much Joe and Jill Biden received in benefits last year. Joe Biden took home $42,842 in 2023, or about $3,570 per month, while Dr. Jill Biden earned $21,412, or about $1,784 per month.

You’ll notice that Jill Biden’s payout is actually half of her husband’s, which likely indicates that she is receiving spousal benefits. The spousal benefit amounts to a maximum of 50% of the spouse’s monthly payment.

In March, the nearly 50.7 million retiree beneficiaries who received Social Security checks took home an average of $1,913.31. This means that Joe Biden’s Social Security benefit in 2023 will be almost 87% higher than what the average retired worker earned last month from America’s top pension program.

Social security benefits are limited for high-income workers

For the Bidens, generating six figures (or more) in combined income is nothing new. Looking back on 26 years of public federal tax returns, the two have never earned less than $210,797 in AGI in any given year. In 2017 and 2018, the duo generated $11 million and $4.6 million in AGI, respectively. Although their combined Social Security income is well above average, it represents a relatively small percentage of their total AGI.

Nevertheless, the Bidens’ federal tax returns are a good reminder that benefit caps exist for high-earning workers.

For all workers eligible for Social Security benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) relies on four easy-to-understand factors to calculate how much they will be paid each month:

The first two of these criteria are inextricably linked. The SSA considers an employee’s 35 highest-earning, inflation-adjusted years when calculating their monthly payout. In theory, the more you earn in a given year, the bigger your Social Security check should be in retirement.

But there is a caveat to the above statement. If a high earner regularly exceeds the maximum taxable income ceiling ($168,600 in earned income in 2024), their monthly benefit will be limited until full retirement age. In 2023, this limit was $3,627 per month. This year it has increased to $3,822 per month.

Even if the Bidens earned millions of dollars annually in AGI, their maximum monthly payout would be capped at full retirement age.

Glasses, a twenty dollar bill and a social security card, on top of federal tax forms.

Image source: Getty Images.

More retired workers than ever are being taxed on part of their Social Security benefits

The other notable takeaway from the Bidens’ above-average Social Security benefit is that they pay federal income taxes on a significant percentage of what is collected. Line 6b of the Bidens’ Form 1040 shows that $54,616 of their Social Security income was subject to federal taxation.

If you’re wondering why Social Security benefits are taxed, look no further than the Social Security Amendments of 1983, which were passed by Congress and signed into law by then-President Ronald Reagan.

In 1983, Social Security reserves were nearly exhausted. To strengthen the program, core proposals from both political parties were passed into law to generate additional revenue and reduce program expenditures in the long term. This included a gradual increase in payroll taxes for employees, a staggered increase to full retirement age over several decades, and the introduction of tax on benefits.

Beginning in 1984, anyone whose provisional income (gross income, plus nontaxable interest, plus half of Social Security benefits) exceeded $25,000 would see up to 50% of their Social Security income exposed to federal taxes. This threshold was set at $32,000 for couples filing jointly.

In 1993, the Clinton administration added a second level of tax, using the same preliminary income formula as above. Up to 85% of benefits become taxable when single filers and couples jointly exceed $34,000 and $44,000, respectively.

Based on AGI alone, the Bidens qualified for this higher tax level. This is why 85% of their Social Security income ($54,616 of the $64,254 collected) was subject to federal taxation for the 2023 tax year.

What makes federal taxation of Social Security benefits so unpalatable is that the preliminary income thresholds described above have not been adjusted for inflation since they were codified into law decades ago. As cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) increase benefits over time, more and more retirees are exposed to taxation of benefits.

But don’t expect this tax to disappear or adjust for inflation anytime soon. With America’s largest pension program facing a $22.4 trillion (and growing) funding gap through 2097, it needs all the revenue it can get.