I've been collecting state short-term disability benefits and it's my understanding that my state doesn't tax these benefits, so I didn't think federal disability benefits would be taxable either. But someone told me this isn't true and that I will get taxed on my Social Security disability benefits. Who's right?
The taxation of disability benefits is a complicated area. There are federal, state, and private disability benefits, plus two levels of possible taxation: federal and state. Let's go through them one by one.
State taxation of state disability benefits. As to state short-term disability insurance (SDI or TDI), some states do tax their residents on these temporary disability benefits, so you got lucky. While California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island do not tax state-paid short-term disability benefits, New York and Hawaii partially tax these benefits, depending on how much your employer contributed to the cost of the insurance and how much you contributed to the cost of insurance. You can find out more in Nolo's series of articles on state short-term disability.
Federal taxation of state disability benefits. The federal government doesn't tax short-term disability benefits in California (unless the SDI payments are a substitute for unemployment insurance) nor in Rhode Island. The federal government will partially tax short-term disability benefits in New Jersey, New York, and Hawaii, since employers in those states pay for part of the benefit. So just because your state doesn't tax your SDI benefits doesn't mean the federal government won't.
Federal taxation of federal benefits. Whether you'll be taxed on Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits depends on whether you have other income. The benefits are definitely subject to tax, but if you (and/or your spouse) have less than a certain amount of income, the federal government won't tax them at all.
But if you receive between $2,084 and $2,833 per month, counting all income, or between $2,667 and $3,666 if you're married, then half of your Social Security disability benefits will be taxed. If you earn more than that, most of your SSDI benefits will be taxed. See Nolo's article on Social Security disability taxation for the monthly income break points to see whether you can expect to pay taxes, and how much.
Of course, if you'll actually be collecting disability benefits through the SSI program, these benefits won't be taxed at all.
State taxation of federal benefits. Another wrinkle: Whether or not the federal government will tax you on your Social Security disability benefits, your state may tax your Social Security benefits. Most states don't tax Social Security disability, but some do. Read our article on state taxation of disability benefits to see which category your state falls into.