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Deductions for Uncompensated Minister

Question:

An unpaid, ordained minister works with his local church pastor. He participates in several ministerial duties. His main out of pocket expense is transportation to and from these duties. He also purchases reference books and software. He receives no income from the church nor does he receive mileage reimbursement.

Does he have a choice in deducting for the best tax result--either claiming a charitable contribution on Schedule A for his miles driven in performing volunteer duties, or claiming a miscellaneous deduction on Schedule A via Form 2106 (at a more generous IRS standard mileage rate available for employee business expenses)?

Answer:

Since he is not an employee he cannot claim employee business expenses. He must use the appropriate charitable rate.

However, all is not bad news. A minister employee cannot deduct mileage from his home to his church office (it is considered personal commuting). However, volunteers can deduct mileage from home to the church and to any other destination to perform charitable activities. Of course, if the sole purpose of the trip to church is to attend services this is considered personal, not charitable, use of one's vehicle. But the minister, in the above case, appears to be performing substantial ministry activity as a volunteer.

His out-of-pocket expenses for consumable materials are also charitable contributions.

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