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Not For Profit/Exempt Organizations Blog

Parsonage: Are Clerics Employees or Self-Employed?

Posted in Articles, IRS Filings, Religious Organizations

Parsonage is a seemingly innocuous five line tax benefit in the Code.  This “innocent” provision of the Code, Section 107, appears to have befuddled many ministers and their professional advisors, however.

About 90 years ago, Congress promulgated an exclusion from income for the rental value of the housing provided to a “minister of the gospel,” which includes priests, rabbis, imams and any other duly ordained, commissioned or licensed member of the clergy.  Alternatively, the minister can exclude the rental allowance paid as part of compensation, to the extent actually used as rent or other costs of home ownership.  Since 2002, the allowance is capped at fair rental value, including furnishings and appurtenances (such as a garage), plus the cost of utilities.

While there are IRS publications that explain the tax nuances of parsonage (e.g., Publication 517 and The Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations), the unusual tax treatment of ministers can still be very confusing.

Ministers are effectively dual status employees.  Simply put, a minister is an employee for all tax purposes except for withholding and social security tax purposes, where he or she is treated like a self-employed person.  

The following are some of the highlights of this unique status for the employer and the minister:

1. An employer need not withhold any taxes from a minister’s compensation.      

     

2. There is no withholding of FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) taxes from a minister’s compensation.  This includes the parsonage portion and the non-parsonage portion.

3. A minister must pay SECA(Self-Employment Contributions Act) taxes on the entire compensation, including the parsonage payment.  For example, if the minister receives $50,000 of compensation and half of that amount ($25,000) is designated as parsonage, SECA taxes must be paid on the entire $50,000.

4. A minister must pay quarterly estimated taxes to cover income tax and SECA tax liability, unless he or she entered into a voluntary withholding agreement with the employers.

5. The IRS takes the position in Rev. Rul. 68-507 that if the employer pays the employer portion of FICA on behalf of a minister, that amount is treated as additional taxable income to the minister for both income and self-employment tax purposes.

6. The minister is given a Form W-2.  There is no need to set forth the parsonage amount on the W-2, but the IRS writes that you may include the parsonage allowance in Box 14.  Including this amount is probably a good idea.

For more information about parsonage and the treatment of unique tax benefits accorded ministers, please see the IRS Minister Audit Technique Guide.