September 22, 2011

Accountant's New Church Checklist

There are a lot of church planting websites with ideas and services offered to church planters. But what list might an accountant provide for a new church to consider?

Initial Budget

Prepare a budget forecasting both outside support and initial giving by the families expected to charter the new church. Determine the pastoral compensation level that the new congregation can realistically provide. Project costs for meeting facilities (secure a lease). Use church planting resources to develop proper strategies for initial communication and outreach; project the costs to implement the strategies and adjust based on the realities of financial resources.

Organization

Establish a constitution and by-laws. Incorporate with counsel of an attorney familiar with laws for tax-exempt organizations in the state.

Pastor Compensation

Work with the pastor to establish a wise compensation and benefits package. Consider establishing a professional expense reimbursement plan, either using an “advances” or a “reimbursement” arrangement. Determine health insurance and medical care benefits, including the possible use of a major medical policy combined with a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA). Consider retirement funding, typically either contributing to his Internal Revenue Code 403(b) plan or providing funds for the pastor to fund his own Roth or traditional IRA. Designate a portion of cash compensation as a housing allowance. Determine remaining cash compensation. Determine whether the pastor desires to elect optional income tax withholding, especially if he has a large amount of Self-Employment tax to pay (tax law does not permit churches to withhold and match the 7.65% FICA tax that most U.S. employees are subject to). Assign responsibility for government reporting including quarterly (Form 941), if necessary, and annual employment filings (Forms W-2, 944, 1099-MISC and state, if necessary).

Financial Procedures
Adopt a process for establishing the church budget (projecting revenues, compensation planning and communication, categorizing expenses by activity or functional, establishing a contingency fund). Establish policies and procedures for 1) offering counts, 2) disbursements / purchasing, 3) bookkeeping (fund accounting for general and designed gifts), 4) missions and other special funding methods, 5) financial reporting (determine frequency, recipients, and contents — balance sheet (modified cash basis of accounting), statement of receipts and disbursements (modified cash basis of accounting), and other schedules (e.g. mortgage schedule, designated funds activity), 6) internal auditing, 7) maintenance of donor records (Answer: who will record donations? what software, if any, will be used? what reports will be provided to donors?), 8) benevolence, and 9) records retention (church minutes, financial documents). Determine qualifications for church volunteers who oversee bookkeeping records. Purchase and implement accounting software; establish chart of accounts consistent with church budget determinations.

Insurance

Determine need and pursue quotes for liability, auto (if necessary), workers' compensation (employee and subcontractors), and professional liability (counseling).

Miscellaneous
Pursue sales tax exemption certificate from the state government. Discuss philosophy of church leadership regarding use of debt for church capital expenditures.

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