December 18, 2009

Missions Trip Income (long-term but less than one year)

Question:

A couple plans to move overseas to work with a mission organization on temporary assignment (less than one year). The church managing their support intends to issue Form 1099-MISC reporting their earnings.

How do they report the income for tax purposes? Do they owe federal and state income taxes and self-employment (SE) taxes? Can they deduct business expenses (such as computer, camera, etc. used for the mission trip)?

They believe that they will be out of the US for a long enough period to qualify for Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.

Answer:

There are many facts and circumstances that must be considered in this case, but many of the rules to interpret their implications are covered in IRS Publication 463. Questions to be answered include the following:

1. What is the couple's "tax home"?
2. Is the assignment temporary or indefinite?
3. Is the trip primarily for "business" or personal reasons?

If the couples' support is only enough to cover travel costs, then the support is nontaxable. Any additional costs they incur for ministry purposes may be eligible for deduction as a charitable contribution.

On the other, as may be the case here, support is expected to exceed these costs and to augment their living expenses while serving on the missions trip. They should read the above Publication and point their preparer to consider their unique facts and circumstances.

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