IRS Tax Help for Pastors

One of our goals here at Money Wise Pastor is to offer easy-to-understand tax help for pastors, because clergy taxes can be extremely challenging due to special IRS tax issues that apply to American pastors.

The IRS Considers Pastors Both Employees and Self-Employed

Pastors, ministers, and other members of the clergy are in a unique position when it comes to paying taxes to the U.S. government, which considers them employees for the purposes of paying federal income tax but self-employed for purposes of the Social Security tax. Because of this, pastors pay self-employment tax instead of the social security tax that traditional employees and employers pay. For more info, please read Are Pastors Self-Employed or Church Employees?

Ministers are Exempt from Income Tax Withholding

Pastors are exempt from income tax withholding and are not obligated to have federal taxes withheld from their paychecks. Pastors may voluntarily choose to ask their church to withhold their taxes by completing a W-4 form requesting that a certain amount be withheld. Otherwise, pastors are required make quarterly payments like self-employed people do.

The Clergy Housing Allowance Exemption Reduces a Pastor’s Taxable Income

Pastors are able to reduce their taxable income by taking advantage of the clergy housing allowance exemption as declared by their church board.

The housing allowance exemption allows pastors to exclude from their taxable income the lesser of the…

  1. Housing allowance declared by the board.
  2. Fair rental value of their home.
  3. Actual housing expenses incurred by the pastor in that year.

Pastors Can Opt-Out of Social Security

Pastors in their first two years of ministry may opt-out of the social security program if they file IRS Form 4361 (and get it approved by the IRS) which states that they are conscientiously opposed to the social security program based on religious principle.

Once Form 4361 is approved, the pastor would not be eligible to receive any form of social security benefits (including disability and death benefits to surviving spouse), Medicare, FEMA disaster assistance, Pell Grants for education, food stamps, or other social welfare assistance.

Where Do Pastors Turn for Tax Help?

Tax Help for PastorsBecause of the special tax treatment for clergy, many American pastors seek the services of a professional tax preparer to take advantage of all the benefits that are allowed and to avoid paying any more tax than is necessary.

Others, like myself, rely on time-tested clergy tax guides like the Zondervan Minister’s Tax Guide or Worth’s Income Tax Guide for Ministers.

In future posts, I’ll explain each of these special clergy tax issues more in-depth here at Money Wise Pastor, and will do my best to offer pertinent tax help for other pastors.

In the mean time, if you’re a pastor, please tell me…what is your biggest clergy tax question?  Share your question in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer it in a future article.

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About the author

Rich Rich writes on personal finance from a pastor's perspective here at Money Wise Pastor. He loves In-N-Out Burger (and has the t-shirts to prove it), urban living, homeschooling, Gungor concerts, helping people succeed in life and work, camping, dreaming with his wife, and equipping his five children to become financially faithful and free. Find him on Twitter and Facebook.


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