December 08, 2010

Health Reimbursement Arrangements for Pastors With No Taxable Compensation

Question:

Three pastors of a congregation receive a housing allowance and no actual wage. Can a Health Reimbursement Arrangement be made available to a pastor who's only compensation is a housing allowance?

Answer:

A minister whose compensation is designated 100% as housing allowance is still considered an employee eligible for all statutory fringe benefits that other workers enjoy.

Question:

It is understood that HRAs cannot be taken through voluntary salary reductions. May a church have an agreement with a pastor that he receives a monthly HRA that, if unused, is designated as a housing allowance instead?

Answer:

Since an HRA must be 100% funded by employer contributions, it is not considered taxable compensation. The plan may be established to permit unused amounts to roll over into a subsequent year. However, to distribute amounts contrary to the design of HRAs places the whole arrangement in non-compliance. IRS Publication 969 makes this quite clear:

"If any distribution is, or can be, made for other than the reimbursement of qualified medical expenses, any distribution (including reimbursement of qualified medical expenses) made in the current tax year is included in gross income. For example, if an unused reimbursement is payable to you in cash at the end of the year, or upon termination of your employment, any distribution from the HRA is included in your income. This also applies if any unused amount upon your death is payable in cash to your beneficiary or estate, or if the HRA provides an option for you to transfer any unused reimbursement at the end of the year to a retirement plan."

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