Compliance with the Tax Laws

Churches tend to have only one motivation for staying in compliance with the tax laws.  And that is staying out of trouble.  Churches practice compliance with the Internal Revenue Code primarily to avoid unnecessary penalties and interest, protect their tax-exempt status and stay out of the news. 

The prevailing attitude is “We do these things because we have to; the government is making us.”  Most church’s see no benefit in compliance other than staying in the government’s good graces.  The resulting tendency is many do just enough to get by.  But, by having this attitude they are missing another very good reason why compliance is helpful.  Key: Being serious about government compliance also provides another level of fraud resistance.

Knowing where many of these laws came from makes the same point.  Our governments aren’t really very proactive.  Contrary to popular opinion, they don’t dream up rules and laws just to be belligerent, they are more reactionary.  Many of the rules churches must comply with were implemented in reaction to some type of bad practices or abuse of existing regulations.  A very good example is the charitable contribution substantiation rules.  One of the reasons for their coming into existence was the tendency of some people to deduct tuition payments to the church school as contributions.  Also, “accountable reimbursement plans” are the result of abusive employee business expense deductions during the 1980s.  Although it may come off sounding harsh, the fact is both of these practices, mischaracterizing payments as contributions and inflating expense reports, are forms of fraud the government wishes to eliminate.

The purpose of strong IRS compliance is not simply to stay out of trouble. Key: Doing what the government asks will also close down some favorite targets of individuals committed to stealing from the church. 

A fraud resistant church should take steps to be in compliance with IRS regulations regarding:

  • Ministerial taxation
  • Personnel benefits
  • Business expense reimbursements
  • Credit card use
  • Benevolence
  • Contribution substantiation.

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