FALL 2015 – Travel Tips for Volunteers

Ripon Mission Group 2005

Many of you have teams from your church traveling on mission trips or other church sponsored projects this time of year. Clergy, church staff, and/or laity may have travel expenses that will help lower their taxes next year. Here are a few tips on travel while giving your services to your church:

  • Qualified Charity – In order to deduct your costs, volunteer work must be for a qualified charity. Churches are automatically a qualified charity.
  • Out of Pocket expenses – Some costs you pay to give your services may be deductible, including the cost of travel. The costs must be necessary while you are away from home giving your services, and must be unreimbursed, directly connected with the services, expenses you had only because of the services you gave, and not personal, family, or living expenses.
  • Genuine and Substantial Duty – Volunteer services must be real and substantial throughout the trip. You cannot deduct expenses if you only have nominal duties or no duties for significant parts of the trip.
  • Value of Time or Service – You can’t deduct the value of your services that you give, including income lost while you work as an unpaid volunteer.
  • Deductible Travel Expenses – These include air, rail or bus transportation, car expenses, lodging costs, cost of meals, taxi or other transportation to/from airport or station.
  • Nondeductible Travel – You can’t deduct your costs if a significant part of the trip involves recreation or a vocation.
Clergy and Church Staff may be able to deduct unreimbursed, eligible travel expenses as an employee job expense, whereas the cost of meals must be kept separate from the cost of other travel expense.

Maintain good records. Encourage your volunteers to keep copies of bills and receipts, mileage logs, or other pertinent information.

Reminder! Third quarter estimated tax payments are due on Tuesday, September 15. If you prefer to make payment by check, be sure to include the pre-printed payment voucher #3 with your check. Alternatively, you can make your payment online at www.irs.gov using the IRS Direct Pay tool, or the EFTPS tax payment system.

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Tax News – Summer 2015



2nd Quarter estimated tax payments are due on Monday, June 15.

Identity theft and fraudulent tax return filings continue to be in the news, at least the news that comes my way as a tax professional. The most recent incident affected 104,000 tax filers who had tax information stolen. The hackers were able to obtain enough information from social media, like Facebook, and social security numbers obtained from elsewhere, to request and receive tax return transcripts from the IRS. The transcripts provided the rest of the information needed to file fraudulent returns for refunds. The IRS has shuttered the online transcript tool, and taken other security measures. Some steps you can take to protect yourself:

  • File your tax return as early as possible
  • Guard your Social Security number. Never use it in email, give it over the phone, or provide it through a linked URL unless you are certain the link is safe. The IRS will never contact you through email, only through snail mail.
  • Be cautious of putting too much personal information on social media
  • Monitor your credit through one or all of the three national credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion)

If you ever become a victim of tax identity theft, you can apply for a special identity protection ID number, to thwart the filing of any more phony returns under your SSN.


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Symbols of Christmas

Symbols of Christmas

4TH Quarter Estimated Tax Payments are due January 15, 2015

2014 Gifts to Charity must be postmarked or made online by 12/31/14. Gifts charged to a bank or financial institution credit card are counted on the date they are charged. Gifts charged on a retail store credit card are counted when they are paid. If you own stock, consider making a gift by transfer of stock instead of cash. You can avoid capital gains tax, and get a charitable giving deduction on Sch A.
Contribute to a Traditional or Roth IRA – up to a maximum of $5,500 ($6,500 if you are age 50 or older) for 2014. If you are already covered by a church or work retirement plan, your contribution may be limited once AGI reaches a certain amount. If you think you may be in this category, you may wish to make your 2014 contribution after I finish your return and your AGI is determined . You have until April 15, 2015 to make your 2014 contribution.
Contribute first to your Church Sponsored Retirement Plan through salary deferral (pre-tax contributions), since up to 100% of retirement distributions from this type of plan can be tax sheltered by clergy housing costs in retirement. Now is the time to get your salary reduction agreement in place for 2015.
Take required minimum distributions from your retirement plan or traditional IRA if you are at least 70 1/2. You normally must take the RMD by Dec. 31, 2014, or by April 1, 2015 if you turned 70 1/2 in 2014. You are not required to take RMD from a Roth IRA. Failure to take the RMD can result in a 50% excise tax – OUCH!
Contribute your RMD – On the evening of Dec. 16, 2014, Congress passed legislation renewing the charitable IRA rollover, also called a qualified charitable distribution (QCD), for tax year 2014 only. The charitable IRA rollover allows donors age 70 1/2 or older to transfer, subject to certain restrictions, up to $100,000 directly from their IRA account to qualifying charities, excluding their gift from taxable income and counting it toward their required minimum distribution not already withdrawn.



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Christian familyOn November 13, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the decision of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin in the case Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) v. Lew. The Court of Appeals remanded the case to the District Court with instructions to dismiss the case for lack of standing.

The District Court had ruled that the tax exclusion of cash housing allowance for clergy under Section 107(2) of the Internal Revenue Code (Code) is unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause, although the District Court also held that the FFRF did not have standing to challenge the exclusion of in-kind housing (parsonage) under Section 107(1) of the Code.

In today’s ruling, the Court of Appeals stated that the FFRF had not asked the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to exclude the housing allowance that its directors received from taxation. Importantly, because the challenge was resolved on standing grounds, the Court of Appeals noted in its opinion: “We therefore do not reach the issue of the constitutionality of the parsonage exemption.”

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Tax News You Can Use – Fall 2014

October Be reminded that 3rd Quarter Estimated Tax payments are due Friday, September 15.

If you have had a significant change in income due to retirement or a move, it may be necessary to make adjustments in your estimated payments for the remainder of 2014.

The IRS has ramped up its efforts to fight tax identity theft and tax fraud. Here are some tips to help you avoid problems:

  • Several of my clients had their returns rejected for efile in 2013 because the EIN on their W-2 did not match the name of the employer in the IRS database. This typically happened with the smaller churches. My suspicion is that, as a fraud prevention measure, the IRS no longer accepts any EIN which is a duplicate. Encourage your treasurer to use only an ORIGINAL EIN on your W-2.
  • File early. If your Social Security number happens to get stolen, an identity thief could file a fraudulent return for an early refund, using your name and SSN. Your return will be rejected as a duplicate when you later file.
  • Scam phone calls continue. The caller pretends to be with the IRS and either demands money, or may say you have a refund due and ask you for personal information. Remember, the IRS will NEVER call you about taxes without first mailing you an official notice. The IRS will never ask for card numbers over the phone or threaten to have you arrested for not paying. Report any incidents to www.tigta.gov .

If you, your spouse, or your dependents are headed back to school for higher education, you may be eligible for an education tax credit:

  • The American Opportunity Tax Credit applies for the first four years of higher education.
  • The Lifetime Learning Tax Credit is for those seeking education beyond the college years.

Specific rules apply. If you think you might be eligible, check out the IRS website at www.irs.gov.

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snow_christmas_022On Nov. 22, 2013, a federal district court judge in Wisconson struck down the ministerial housing allowance as an unconstitutional preference for religion. The exemption for the fair rental value of a parsonage provided by the church was not challenged in this particular case, and therefore the parsonage exclusion remains intact.

The take-away here is the ruling will not take effect until the conclusion of any appeals to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. An appeal by the IRS and Department of the Treasury could take up to a year to resolve.

A ruling by a federal district court judge in Wisconsin is not binding on other courts, and does not apply to ministers in other states. If the ruling is appealed and affirmed by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, it will apply to ministers in that circuit (Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin). It would become a national precedent binding on ministers in all states only if affirmed by the United States Supreme Court (an unlikely outcome). As a result, churches should continue to designate housing allowances for ministerial employees for 2014, and church pension plans should continue to designate housing allowances for retired ministers.

Clergy Tax Professionals will continue to keep you updated as this case proceeds through appeals and the ramifications of the outcome to clergy and churches.

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‘Tis the season for giving!

Symbols of Christmas

Symbols of Christmas

Many clergy are very generous givers, and the IRS often target clergy for audit because of the high level of donations. The IRS requires that you be able to substantiate your donations. Be sure you can stand up to audit by following these guidelines:

Cash donation (< $250) For each single donation, keep one of the following: cancelled check, receipt from the charity, or some other written record

Non-Cash property (< $250)  Keep a receipt from the charity showing the name of the charity, address/location, and description of the property donated

Cash or Non-Cash Property (> $250)  Keep a written acknowledgement from the charity showing the amount of the cash donation, or a description of the non-cash property, and a confirmation that you did not provide goods or services in consideration of the contributed property. If goods or services were provided, include a description and good faith estimate of the value of the goods or service provided.

Non-Cash Property ($500 to $5,000) Same rules as above apply, AND you must keep the following records: date and manner of your acquisition of the property (or completion of property if you created it); adjusted basis of the property; copy of Form 8283, Non-Cash Charitable Contributions, that you filed with your tax return.

Non-Cash Property (> $5000)  Add up all your non-cash contributions to all charities and see if the total exceeds $5,000. The same rules for non-cash property above apply AND you must get a qualified appraisal of all non-cash property donated. Complete the appraisal summary (Section B of IRS Form 8283) within 60 days of the contribution and before your filing deadline. The form must be signed by a qualified appraiser. Keep a copy of the appraisal and your tax return for your records.

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Tax News you can use – Fall 2013

San Francisco AGO & Northern CA 133


September 16, 2013 is the deadline for third quarter estimated tax payments.

2012 Individual Returns on Extension must be filed by October 15, 2013.

According to a recent Tax Court ruling (Rogers, TC Memo. 2013-177), pastors must formalize their housing allowance agreement with the church before any reimbursement payments are made by the church. The pastor was denied tax-free treatment of reimbursements for his mortgage payments and utility bills because there was no official agreement in place with his church.

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Tips for Planning Next Year’s Return

CIMG0074For most taxpayers, the tax deadline has passed. But planning for next year can start now. Being organized and planning ahead can save time and money in 2014. Here are a few things you can do now to make next April 15 easier.

1. Consider Federal tax withholding.  Federal law allows federal tax withholding on clergy compensation. Some small churches do not want to withhold tax and file quarterly payroll reports, but if your church able withhold tax for you, then consider taking the bite out of your end-of-year tax bill. Withholding tax on your paycheck will also lower your estimated tax payments. If you are already using withholding, now is a good time to review your amounts. Call me for a review or go on www.irs.gov to use the IRS Withholding Calculator to complete a new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate.

2. Make estimated tax payments. Clergy compensation is subject to self-employment tax and making quarterly estimated payments is the method to pay in that tax throughout the year. Failing to make estimated payments, or underpaying estimated tax is likely to result in a penalty. Plan your budget to allow payments to be sent in on April 15, June 15, Sept 15 and Jan 15. Send in your payments with Form 1040-ES. You’ll be glad you did when it comes to the bottom line of next year’s return!

2. Store your return in a safe place.  Put your 2012 tax return and supporting documents somewhere safe. If you need to refer to your return in the future, you’ll know where to find it. For example, you may need a copy of your return when applying for a home loan or financial aid. You can also use it as a helpful guide for next year’s return.

3. Organize your records.  Establish one location where everyone in your household can put tax-related records during the year. This will avoid a scramble for misplaced mileage logs or charity receipts come tax time. Remember to keep good records of your housing or parsonage expenses for a maximum deduction for 2013.

5. Consider itemizing deductions.  If you usually claim a standard deduction, you may be able to reduce your taxes if you itemize deductions instead. If your itemized deductions typically fall just below your standard deduction, you can ‘bundle’ your deductions. For example, an early or extra mortgage payment or property tax payment, or a planned donation to your church or favorite charity could equal some tax savings.

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Tax Identity Theft Alert

I continue to read alerts from the IRS and professional tax preparer publications that identity theft of tax returns is a big problem and growing exponentially. What happens is that a thief will steal names and SSNs, along with other public information on individuals, prepare a fraudulent tax return with a large refund amount, and file it very early in the season. When the taxpayer later files their return, it is rejected on the basis that it has already been processed!
The IRS is attempting to fight this problem by issuing special tax ID numbers to folks whose identities they think may be compromised. The IRS is also attempting to provide relief to victims, but the process, as you will not be surprised to learn, is very slow. If you are interested to read more about the problem, and how to protect yourself, click on the link below:


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