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Mission Agency Basics--Getting Off on the Right Foot

Question 1:

A new nonprofit missions agency is being established and preparing to send its first missionary. Identical to established agencies, the missionaries will receive support from churches and individual donors who rely on the fiduciary and ministry accountability role of the agency. What is the responsibility of the nonprofit in withholding taxes for its missionaries?

Answer 1:

It's a delight to hear of the establishment of new mission agencies ready to contribute to the spread of the gospel. While there are many issues to tackle, let's review a couple that readers of this blog might expect to hear from a CPA.

1. Other than itinerant ministers, virtually all licensed or ordained ministers are classified as dual status. This means that they're employees in every respect, except for purposes of social security and Medicare tax obligations. For purposes of these two taxes, they are considered self-employed and responsible for their own tax determined on IRS Form 1040, Schedule SE. Because they are employees, the mission agency may establish employee benefits that independent contractors (self-employed) miss out on. Withholding is optional for these ministerial employees. The agency does not and cannot withhold and match the 7.65% FICA tax of most employees. However, at the election of its missionaries many agencies withhold federal and state income taxes to facilitate the timely payment of their taxes. Previous blog entries discuss a lot more about these issues so I encourage readers to use the Search window above to explore specifics.

2. As the mission agency establishes its corporate status and Board of Directors, it should carefully study the requirements to gain recognition from the IRS as a tax-exempt organization. Most founders will need professional help with this process including the 28-page IRS Form 1023--Application for Recognition of Exemption.

Question 2:

Are grants considered taxable or nontaxable income for nonprofits?

Answer 2:

Grants are nontaxable to the recipient mission agency that has received a Determination Letter from the IRS as the result of its Form 1023 application. Further, granting agencies will likely expect confirmation that the mission agency has been granted tax-exempt status.

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