Are Social Security Benefits Titheable?


Here’s an interesting question that should be relevant for everyone at some point! There is no single answer because there is no single situation, but I believe that I have some logical answers for you for different situations.

Suppose you are self-employed and have tithed on your gross income during your adult life. Supposedly, the government is investing that tax money for you so that you can get it back when you retire. I would say that you do not owe a tithe on your Social Security benefits any more than you need to tithe on cash withdrawals you make from the bank.  You put the money into the system in the first place and tithed on the income that produced that money; therefore I would see your social security income as being “pre-tithed” just like a cash withdrawal from the bank would be.

However, say that you worked for a corporation you don’t own and you tithed on your gross income.  In this case, you provided only HALF the money that got “saved up” in the Social Security system because your employer is required to pay the other half on your behalf.  Unless you tithed on that benefit, which I can be reasonably sure you didn’t at the time, I would say that you should tithe on HALF your Social Security income; in other words, your “tithe” would be 5% of the benefit check.  This covers the additional paid-in money that you did NOT tithe on already.

Now say that you tithed on your net income all your life (i.e., what you had left after taxes, including the Social Security tax).  In that case, you should tithe on ALL of your Social Security income, because you did not tithe on it when it was put away in the first place.

Here is the rule of thumb I’d follow.  If you tithed on the original income, you don’t need to tithe again. If you did not tithe on the original income, you should tithe on the new income. So you wouldn’t tithe on money you take out of the bank because you tithed on the money you earned to produce that money in the first place.

Here’s another example.  Should you tithe on an income tax refund? It depends!  If you tithe on your NET income, then yes, you should tithe on the tax refund because it’s additional net income.  If you tithe on your GROSS income, you do not owe a tithe on your tax refund because you’re just settling up with the IRS for taxes on income you’ve already tithed on.

I will not be legalistic and tell you whether to tithe on the gross or the net because the Bible does not specify it. (There were no additional taxes in the desert, so Moses’ followers were tithing on the gross AND tithing on the net!)  However, I can testify that I have never been sorry tithing on my gross pay, and actually over-tithing somewhat. It may be more than I technically have to do, but I get blessed more than I technically have to, also! If you wanted to really get like the Pharisees and nit-pick, you could make a case for tithing on your non-cash fringe benefits, company 401(k) match contributions, the value of company-paid life and health insurance, and so on almost ad infinitum.  While you’re at it, maybe you should tithe on the dill and cummin plants in your garden – the Pharisees would have applauded you for it.  Just don’t forget the weightier aspects of the law– love, justice and mercy!

Really, it comes down to you, God and your conscience. I believe in tithing and that your tithe should support your church, not a parachurch ministry. As far as the particulars go, work that out with God!  For example, say that you sell a house for $400,000 after commissions and you originally paid $300,000 for it. Should you tithe on the $100,000?  What if you bought it years and years ago and based on inflation, $300,000 then is worth $450,000 today? You’ve actually lost money relative to inflation and you’d need the money and more to buy an equal house elsewhere! I’d be OK with not tithing, but it’s up to you.