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Form 944 or 941 Filing for Churches

Question: 

A new church filed for an employer identification number (EIN) recently. It received notification from the IRS about the EIN, stating that the church must file Form 944 by the following January deadline. The church has no non-ministerial staff members. Since income tax withholding is elective by ministers and none of the pastors has elected to request non-mandatory withholding is the church required to file Form 944 annually?

Also, a quarterly Form 941 (rather than an annual Form 944) is required of some employers. Which IRS form, if any, should be filed?

Answer:

According to IRS Section 1402(c) and 3121(c), ministers are not subject to mandatory income tax withholding. Unless one or more ministerial employees request non-mandatory withholding, church employers with only ministerial employees do not need to file Form 941 or Form 944. 
The IRS Ministers Audit Technique Guide explains in further detail a minister's treatments for social security, Medicare tax, Federal Insurance Compensation Act taxes, and income tax withholding. 

Form 941 or 944 must be filed when non-ministerial employees are compensated or ministers request withholding.

When can a church file the annual Form 944 rather than filing Form 941 each quarter?
  • The IRS may permit the annual filing of Form 944 for employers who have less than $1,000 of withholding taxes to report during the year (only if granted permission by the IRS through correspondence). Once the employer has more than $1,000 to report, the employer must file the quarterly Form 941.
  • Regardless, if the church has non-ministerial employees or has non-mandatory withholding from its minister(s) it must file either Form 941 or, if approved, Form 944.
Here is an excerpt from the Instructions for Form 944: 

Who Must File Form 944?

In general, if the IRS has notified you to file Form 944, you must file Form 944 instead of Forms 941, 941-SS, or 941-PR to report the following amounts.
  • Wages you have paid 
  • Tips your employees have received 
  • Federal income tax you withheld 
  • Both the employer's and the employee's share of social security and Medicare taxes 
  • Additional Medicare Tax withheld from employees 
  • Current year's adjustments to social security and Medicare taxes for fractions of cents, sick pay, tips, and group-term life insurance. 

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