Is Social Security Voluntary or Mandatory?

••• Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

Social Security participation is mandatory, not voluntary. Just about everyone who earns wages or net income from self-employment must pay Social Security tax on their income. Members of certain religious groups may qualify for exemption from the Social Security tax and benefits. The Social Security tax, also known as the Federal Insurance Contribution Act (FICA) tax, is collected by the Internal Revenue Service along with federal income taxes.

Always Mandatory

An often-repeated myth is that Social Security was originally intended to be a voluntary old-age pension program. That is not true, says the Social Security Administration. In its early decades, the Social Security Act only covered 50 percent of the jobs in the economy. People working in fields not covered by the act didn’t have to pay the Social Security tax but weren’t eligible to draw Social Security benefits. When Congress amended the Social Security Act to expand coverage to more jobs, people working at those jobs were required to pay the Social Security tax.

No Opt-Out

Another myth is that the Social Security act allows individuals to opt out of the Social Security system and get a refund of the Social Security taxes they paid.. This is false. There is no lawful way for people to quit the Social Security program. Although there have been attempts in Congress to pass legislation allowing people to opt out of Social Security in favor of a private pension plan, none of these bills has passed. There also is no way you can get a refund of Social Security taxes.

Number Mandatory

Certain types of government or business transactions are impossible without a Social Security number. For instance, the IRS requires that all dependents have a Social Security number for filing tax returns or the dependent claim will be denied. States require a Social Security number for state tax administration, food stamps, Medicaid, unemployment, welfare and commercial drivers licenses. Employers require a Social Security number for wage and tax reporting. The Veterans Administration requires a Social Security number for hospital admissions. A Social Security number also is required for student loans and worker’s compensation. Banks require a Social Security number for monetary transactions.

Religious Exemption

Members of certain established religious groups may qualify for an exemption from Social Security taxation if the group is conscientiously opposed to accepting government benefits and existed as a religious group before 1951. Also, the member claiming religious exemption must never have qualified for or received Social Security benefits. The member must file a form with Social Security waiving all rights to Social Security and Medicare benefits. Examples of exempt religious groups include the Amish and Mennonites.


About the Author

Herb Kirchhoff has more than three decades of hands-on experience as an avid garden hobbyist and home handyman. Since retiring from the news business in 2008, Kirchhoff takes care of a 12-acre rural Michigan lakefront property and applies his experience to his vegetable and flower gardens and home repair and renovation projects.

Photo Credits

  • Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images