Details on Parsonage and Clergy Taxes

11Working for religious institutions is a service to God, but to protect the interests of ministers and rabbi, it is wise to be familiar with financial and tax guidance provided by the state in which your institution operates.

Most clergy including cantors, rabbi, priests and religious officers working in religious institutions have the right to get a waiver on some portion of their income. Usually home rent, furnishing and maintenance of the home are excluded from income tax and this is referred to as parsonage.

Due to the special tax waiver afforded to them, clergy, ministers, cantors and rabbis have a special standing in taxation laws. The law regards them as employees of the religious institutions they serve and thereby they must have income tax withholding and a W-2 form issued to them. However, for all purposes of Medicare and Social Security, clergy, ministers, cantors and rabbis are considered to be self-employed. This is a unique position which requires clergy to pay double taxes.

Sometimes clergy, rabbis or cantors are not provided accommodation by the religious institutions they are affiliated with. Under these circumstances, the parsonage amounts to the rent, annual upkeep of the home, furnishings and utilities. Some of the items that are included in parsonage include insurance, rent, remodeling expenses, furnishings, repairs, pots and pans, audio and video devices, computers, linen, cleaning supplies, electrical appliances and lawn mowers. If the church or religious institution is providing accommodation, then the parsonage is calculated as the market value of the home, yard, furnishings and other utilities. It is important to note that parsonage is not unlimited. The clergy is entitled to the lesser of these evaluations:

The real amount spent on the home, furnishings and other utilities the fair rental value with furnishings and utilities of the house or, the amount that is designated officially by the institution as parsonage.

Theoretically, 100 percent of a minister’s salary can be deemed as parsonage when limitations on the parsonage are being maintained. When couples are deemed dual ministers and are active members of their institutions, the parsonage is combined and cannot exceed the limitations discussed above. Sometimes, a minister or a rabbi holds multiple positions in many institutions which allow a parsonage but as per the rules, there is no double counting and the total parsonage that is awarded cannot go beyond the stated limitation.

Contrary to popular belief, parsonage is not an automatic perk but has to be awarded by the religious institution or the employing organization. Usually houses of worship such as churches and synagogues are automatically granted tax exemption status by the IRS even if they are not registered charities. The minister should ensure that the organization is validated to award parsonage and should ensure that once the parsonage is awarded, it is officially documented in the minutes of the board of directors or in the institution’s records. This practice is necessary to provide proof the event of an audit. It is best to reevaluate the parsonage annually. If you are looking for more information on clergy taxes, seek the advice of a CPA who specializes in clergy taxes.