Mailbag: A pastor asks, “Should I Opt Out of Social Security If I’m Already Entitled to Benefits?”

answers to social security questions

Question from a pastor on opting out of Social Security.


I am a full time pastor in NC & I read this article you wrote which prompted a question (

I worked in secular employment for about 20 years before becoming a pastor. I have always had some religious and ethical issues with the SS system but more so since I receive my entire salary from peoples tithes and offerings. So I have a question about should I opt out of Social Security…

Since I worked in non-church based jobs for 20 years and paid SS tax all those years would I still get a benefit from that portion of working life if I opt out of the system with regard to my church income?

Just wondering.


The short answer is “yes” you would still be eligible for Social Security and Medicare even if you opt out now. Unless your earnings were really small, your 20 years of work history will have already qualified you for future Medicare benefits & Social Security retirement, survivor and disability benefits. Here’s an article I wrote that covers the Social Security credits required to qualify for each benefit.

In many cases, new pastors are still very young and have never worked in other employment. For them, opting out means that they will never receive any Social Security benefits and will be faced with paying the full premium for Medicare. In my article “Should Ministers Opt Out of Social Security” I calculate how much it would cost to replace those benefits. In my opinion, the cost of opting out is simply too high.

However, your situation is unique in that you have already qualified for Social Security benefits. If you opt out now, it will not affect your eligibility for any of the benefit programs but it will affect the amount of benefits that you or your surviving spouse will receive. This is because the social security benefits calculation uses your highest 35 years of earnings. If you have less than 35 years, zeros are substituted. In your case, you would have 20 years of earnings and 15 years of zeros in the calculation. So for a true cost-benefit analysis you need to estimate how much you would pay in SS taxes over the remainder of your working years and compare that to how your benefit would increase.

Without knowing more details it’s hard to say, but my initial thought is that from a financial perspective it would be a good idea for someone in your particular situation to opt out of Social Security.

If you want to run an analysis I’d be happy to help you on a consulting basis.

Good luck in your new career!

A note for all readers.

I love Social Security questions! I’ll answer them privately as time allows, but if I think the answer will benefit a wide audience, I’ll also publish them on my blog. Don’t worry, I’ll change up enough personal details so you’ll stay unknown. Send your questions to

If you need individual and specific help, I’m always available for a consultation.

As a final resource, read my article on other ways to find answers to your Social Security questions.