September 18, 2009

Two Residences for Housing Allowance Purposes?

Questions:

A minister temporarily commutes 100 miles from his principal residence to serve in a Christian ministry, also renting an apartment near the ministry while away from home. Can he claim a housing allowance on this second dwelling as well as his principal residence?

And what about the commute from home to the ministry--is it deductible? Can the ministry reimburse him on a tax-free basis?

Answers:

A housing allowance is available for only one principal residence. Plus, commuting from a minister's home to his place of business is non-deductible. Hence, reimbursements by a church for non-deductible expenses, while certainly appreciated, will be taxable income.

An exception may be important to consider. It relates to the Internal Revenue Code definition of Tax Home. Travel and lodging expenses while away from one's Tax Home for business purposes may be deductible (and reimbursements non-taxable). According to IRS Publication 463, "if you do not have a regular or a main place of business because of the nature of your work, then your tax home may be the place where you regularly live" (IRS Pub. 463, 2/4/2009, p. 3). It's important to carefully consider the "factors used to determine tax home" that are spelled out by the IRS. Some ministers who serve multiple ministries from one central location (their homes) may deduct mileage to travel to those ministries and lodging & meals while out-of-town, overnight to conduct their ministries. However, "itinerant" status ministers do not qualify for these deductions.

Ministers employed by a single ministry even if it requires significant travel and overnight lodging do not qualify for these deductions.

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