Thursday, January 20, 2005

Baptist Ministers & Social Security

Nearly thirty years ago I discovered that Baptist ministers -- who for IRS purposes are self-employed -- have the ability to opt in or out of the Social Security system. To opt out a minister has to swear that he is opposed in principle (by religious scruple) to saving for retirement.

Few ministers that I know are truly opposed to saving for retirement. Some, however, claim to have such scruples when they discover that their self-employed status means they must pay the entire amount required for social security (-- most people get to split the payments with their employers).

It's a temptation made heavy by necessity. Few ministers make much money. Very few make much money when they are starting out in the ministry. In addition, their self-employed status also makes most Baptist ministers ineligible for group rates on insurance -- which means they must pay higher premiums for their health insurance. The result is that many Baptist ministers, especially those pastoring small churches, have often opted out of the social security system.

Perhaps that is why Baptist pulpits have been so silent about plans to make drastic changes to social security. Some Baptist preachers don't think they have a dog in this hunt. That is a mistake. Nearly every Baptist church has widows and widowers who are barely scraping by on a fixed income that consists entirely social security benefits. When social security is gone or some Wall Street tycoon absconds with the money they put in their private investment account, those people will be reduced to begging at the door of the church. Is your church prepared for that?

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