July 27, 2011

Love Gifts to Volunteer Pastor

Question:

A pastor is "volunteering" at a church. It's not ready to permanently hire him but wishes to "help him with his financial situation for $600 per month." Can the church classify the payments as "love gifts"? Will the church be subject to gift tax?

Answer:

Whether the pastor is an employee (receives Form W-2 from the church) or an independent contractor (receives Form 1099-MISC) is a matter of the facts and circumstances of his ministry at the church. The following link can be followed for a review of these factors as spelled out in a 2009 posting:

Church Worker: Employee or Independent Contractor

Love gifts are taxable income reportable on either Form W-2 or Form 1099-MISC depending on the minister's status. Gift tax is irrelevant since it relates to pre-inheritance distributions from an individual's taxable estate.

Whether he is treated as an employee or not may carry little difference in this temporary situation with a low amount of compensation. In either case, a licensed or ordained minister is responsible for his own self-employment (SE) and income tax. He is exempt from any tax withholdings. The church may consider designating all or a portion of his pay as housing allowance--generally this saves him income tax, but not SE tax. Other options may also be available and are discussed at length in entries to this blog.

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