In many cases, they receive stipends from their ministries to cover the basics for living. Some religious send their paychecks directly to their congregations with whom they arrange their annual living expenses (housing, car, tuition, etc.). Other religious have local bank accounts and send in a predetermined portion of their check to their community.
For many years, a parish generally negotiated a sister's salary with her religious community. Some received a stipend; others didn't.
Religious were excluded from participating in Social Security until U.S. legislative changes were made in late 1972. One reason they wren't allowed to join was because religious who took a vow of poverty had no personal income upon which to levy the Social Security tax. Nor were religious usually included in pension programs. In 2006, the annual Social Security payment for religious averaged $4,290.08, in comparison to the national average of $12,024.
With inflation, rising medical costs, declining vocations, and the aging of congregations, communities suddenly found that "the Lord will provide" wasn't the responsible way of dealing with a growing financial crunch. Some communities were building-rich but cash-poor. Others remained traditionally close-mouthed about their financial situations ... right up to the brink of financial ruin.
Spurred by media reports of elderly nuns eating dog food to cut costs, the U.S. bishops okayed a special December collection for a retirement fund for religious in 1988.
- Little White Book, Diocese of Saginaw