Two most commonly overlooked items on a minister’s W-2

It’s January, so administrators everywhere are scrambling to prepare Form W-2 for employees. For ministers, there are two items that can be easily overlooked as income: love offerings and allowances that are not housing-related.  So, before you issue your pastor’s Form W-2, ask questions about these items:

Love offerings – What is the amount of monetary gifts given directly to the pastor from church members and attendees? Was the pastor given tangible gifts, such as airline tickets, vacation home usage, property such as a car, televisions or computers? If yes, the value of the gift is considered taxable income.

Allowances – The housing allowance is tax-free. Read about the rules of housing allowances to make sure that your church is in compliance. Other allowances are considered taxable income. Examples include car payment, maintenance and gasoline, utility bills, cell phone, insurance and gifts purchased for others.

Failure to report allowances as income can result in a 200% fine on the allowance amount, (an excess benefit transaction) plus penalties and interest. And, board members who approved the allowance are subject to personal fines of up to $10,000.

The taxable allowance can be partially offset with a reimbursement policy that documents church-only usage of the item, such as a car and related costs. Such an accountable reimbursement policy requires strict documentation, but can benefit the pastor with non-taxable reimbursements. This reimbursement policy is not retroactive, so such a policy may need to be put in place for expenses going forward, but the allowances need to be reported as income for the previous tax year(s).