Retirement means a change in your source of income. For some, this means living off Social Security and money they saved up throughout their life. For others, it may mean reducing the hours spent at their job or finding a different job that works with their retirement ambitions. No matter what, your source of income is going to change when you retire, and this may leave you asking a question: Should I pay tithe on my retirement income?
The first answer to this question is that tithing is about much more than simply following or not following a Biblical rule. Tithing is debated within the Christian church, but giving is not. If you are only concerned about making sure you follow all of the Bible’s rules so you are saved, then you have missed the purpose for giving to God. If instead you would like to give to God because of your connection with Him and desire to help those around you, here are a few considerations to determine if you should be tithing on your retirement income.
There are two different scenarios that must be considered under Social Security: those who were self-employed and those who worked for an employer.
Self-employed: If you tithed on your gross income while self-employed, this included your full Social Security amount. You were tithing on both the employee and the employer matching portions.
If you consistently tithed on your gross income as a self-employed worker or business owner, this means you do not “owe” any tithe on the amount up to what you put in. If you would like to be really technical, though, Social Security does not work exactly like an investment. If you die before using up the amount you put in, that amount will not be passed on to your family. Likewise, if you outlive the amount of money you put in, you will continue to be given Social Security benefits.
This means that depending on your lifespan and how long you put money into Social Security, you may reach a point where you begin receiving money on which you never tithed. If you really want to get this detailed, you have to go back and determine how much Social Security you gave and compare it to the Social Security check you are receiving to find out at what point this will occur.
Employee: If you were employed by a business and you tithed on your gross income, this means you tithed on half of your Social Security. This is because the business is providing the other half of Social Security as an employer contribution. This money is not included in your gross income.
If this is your situation, then you could argue that you should tithe on half of your Social Security. Again, though, you run into the same situation as above where there will be a certain point where your Social Security will exceed the money you put in, meaning it will be money you never tithed on.
What if you tithed on your net income? If you tithed on your net income, then determining whether or not to tithe will actually be much easier. Since you only tithed on net income, this means you did not tithe on any Social Security, so you will want to tithe on all of your Social Security income.
Other retirement income
You probably have other forms of retirement income in addition to Social Security, and these can seem just as complicated to determine if you should tithe on them or not. First let’s look at pensions.
Pensions: These are becoming increasingly rare, but they do still exist. These will vary depending on your company, but you may or may not have contributed to it during your career. If you did, then tithing will look very similar to the Social Security above. If you did not, then you should treat this as new income and tithe on it accordingly.
Annuities: These can vary depending on the type, but they are usually very similar in nature to Social Security or a pension. If the lump sum where the annuity is being drawn from was funded by your income (and you already tithed on it), then don’t worry about tithing. If it is not, then treat it as new income.
Retirement savings accounts: These are complicated. The first question to answer is who funded the retirement savings account—was it just you or did your employer help fund it?
If you were the only one funding the retirement account, then the money that went into it was money that was already tithed. This type of account is usually a personal IRA or something similar. If your employer helped fund it (such as a 401K or 403b), then you may have paid tithe on a percentage of the money, but not all of it (assuming you paid tithe on your gross income). Your employer’s contribution will not show up as part of your gross income, and employer contribution amounts vary widely. Some match 2-3 percent, some match and give extra, and some do not match or give anything.
In addition, these kinds of retirement accounts accrue money over time by being invested in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and the like. This money is untaxed and untithed until it is withdrawn. You would have to do a considerable amount of math, but if you determined the total amount you put in (not including your employer’s contributions), then subtracted that from the total balance you would have your untithed gain.
Is there a better way?
At this point, you are probably swimming in numbers and sweating about details. But is this really the way tithe should be handled? I don’t believe it is. If you’re convicted to crunch all the numbers and find the exact amount to give because you enjoy it, then feel free. But if this stresses you out and causes you to fear being in error, then I don’t believe it is healthy.
I believe there is a healthier way to handle tithe in retirement, and it is much simpler. Many people get caught up in the exact percentages and whether you should be tithing on net income or gross income, but the focus should instead be on how we can connect with God and how God can use our gifts for good. This is why I believe there are two simple options for giving in retirement.
- The first option is to give a set monthly percentage (10 percent, for example) of all the money that enters your bank account. This disregards whether that money was already tithed or not, and focuses instead on giving because you enjoy giving, and watching the rewards of those gifts.
- The second option is to determine a set figure to give each month (regardless of how much money comes in to your account), and give that. For many people, the amount of money they are receiving each month during retirement is fairly stable. This means what you give as tithe can remain stable as well. For example, if you’d like to give 10 percent then you could look over your statements for the past six months and average the income, then calculate 10 percent and use that as your set amount to give. If you use the Adventist Giving app, you can actually set it to automatically take a fixed dollar amount from your account each month. This way you won’t even have to worry about remembering to tithe.