May 01, 2012

Church Reimbursing for Personal Expenses of Missionary


A church has a member who goes on a missionary trip every year. The church wishes to support him by paying for housing and travel expenses. What would be the best way to handle this so the donations are tax deductible to donors? Can the church member who is the missionary donate to the fund? Will this be income to the missionary?


According to the Tax Code section 170(c)(1), the term “charitable contribution” refers to a donation to a church or other organization with the intent of the church having sole priority over the funds.

A church member may designate a specific contribution to an individual, but will not receive a deduction for it. Richard Hammar states “According to Revenue Ruling 62-113 a deduction will be allowable where it is established that a gift is intended by a donor for the use of the organization.” The IRS is concerned with “who has the say” over the money. If donors designate funds to a church and tell it specifically how to use the money, they are forfeiting their deductions. If a donor designates funds to a church and allows the church to decide how to use them, then it is deductible. The church is off to a great start by creating a fund because it shows that it has control and discretion over the funds. One way to contribute is to have a special offering for the missionary, but it is also acceptable for the members to designate their checks to the church controlled fund.

According to section 61 of the Internal Revenue Code, “Gross income includes all income from whatever source derived unless excluded by law.” A missionary is performing service for the church. If the missionary is reimbursed or directly paid by the church for personal, non-business expenses, then the church is compensating him for personal expenses that are includable in gross income for Federal tax purposes. Any business expenses that the church reimburses will not be gross income to the missionary.

Rather than contributing to the church fund, the missionary who is able to use his own funds, in part, to pay for mission activities should do so directly. To the extent that these costs relate to allowable business expenses, he can reduce his taxable income accordingly.

The church should reference other postings to this blog to assess whether the missionary is an employee (issue Form W-2 at year-end) or an independent contractor (Form 1099-MISC).

The members of my Federal Taxation I class at Maranatha Baptist Bible College in Watertown, Wisconsin have taken on the challenge of study and research to answer posted questions. Jonathan Panlilio of San Diego, California gets credit for this one.

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