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Stewardship and Generosity: A Biblical Approach to Personal Finance

In a world where personal finance advice is plentiful but often lacks depth, the timeless wisdom found in Biblical principles can provide illumination and foundation. The concepts of stewardship and generosity are central to understanding how to manage our finances in a way that honors God and reflects His character. Let's explore these core biblical themes, offering a holistic approach to faith-based personal finance. Understanding Biblical Stewardship At the heart of biblical stewardship is recognizing that God entrusts us with everything we have. Genesis 2:15 teaches us that from the beginning, mankind was placed in the garden "to work it and take care of it," highlighting our role as caretakers of God's creation. Similarly, 1 Peter 4:10 calls us to "use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms." This stewardship extends beyond mere financial resources to include our time, talents, and even our environment. Stewardship is about managing these resources wisely and understanding that we are accountable to God for our choices. It challenges us to make decisions that are not solely based on personal gain but also consider the well-being of others and the glory of God. The [...]

March 11, 2024|Categories: Financial Advising|

Understanding the Tax Changes from 2023 to 2024: What Families Need to Know

Download Our Tax Cheat Sheet Now! (No Email Needed) As we enter the new year, families must stay informed about the latest tax changes. The transition from 2023 to 2024 brings several adjustments to tax brackets, retirement contributions, and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) that can impact your financial planning. In this blog post, we will delve into these changes to help you confidently navigate your family's financial landscape. Tax Bracket Adjustments The IRS often adjusts tax brackets to account for inflation. For 2024, we will see increases in the income thresholds for each tax bracket. This means you might fall into a different bracket than last year, potentially affecting your tax rate. Understanding where your income sits within these brackets is important to estimate your tax liability accurately. For 2023 the lowest tax bracket for a married filer went up to $22,000 but in 2024 it will go up to $23,200. The tax rate of 10% will not change. The next bracket, 12% will go from $22,001 to $89,450 in 2023 to $23,201 to $94,300. To see the full 2024 tax tables download the PDF document linked above. Retirement Contribution Changes Retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s and IRAs [...]

December 6, 2023|Categories: Financial Advising|

Recent Changes and Legal Challenges in the Minister’s Housing Allowance

Welcome to the tenth and final article in our comprehensive series on the Minister's Housing Allowance. As we continue to navigate the intricate world of clergy finance, it's crucial to stay informed about recent changes and legal challenges that have impacted or may impact, the housing allowance. Understanding these developments is essential for ministers to adapt to changes and plan accordingly. Keeping Up with Recent Changes Staying abreast of recent legislative and policy changes is essential in the ever-evolving landscape of tax laws and religious compensation. Here are some key areas where recent developments have occurred: Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) Implications: While the TCJA made significant changes to the tax code, the minister's housing allowance was largely preserved. However, it's essential to understand how broader tax reforms might indirectly affect ministers. Adjustments in Standard Deduction and Itemizing: Changes in standard deductions and the itemizing process can impact ministers, especially those working secular jobs or having additional income sources. Notable Legal Challenges The housing allowance has faced legal challenges, mainly centered around its constitutionality and the perceived breach of the separation of church and state. Here are some important cases: Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) Cases: Over the past few years, the [...]

October 23, 2023|Categories: Financial Advising|

Navigating Audit and Scrutiny in the Minister’s Housing Allowance

Welcome to the ninth installment of our series on the Minister's Housing Allowance. After covering various topics from eligibility to retirement planning, this article addresses a vital aspect often overlooked until it's too late: audit and scrutiny. Understanding how to prepare for and navigate potential IRS audits is essential for any minister claiming a housing allowance. Why Audits Occur Audits can be triggered by various factors, from random selection to red flags in tax filings. For ministers, common triggers include: Discrepancies in reported income and expenses. Excessive housing allowance claims. Inconsistent documentation. Preparing for Potential Audits Preparation is key to successfully navigating an audit. Here are the steps ministers can take: Detailed Record-Keeping: Maintain meticulous records of all housing-related expenses. This includes receipts, bills, bank statements, and documentation of the housing allowance designation by the church. Understanding IRS Guidelines: Familiarize yourself with IRS Publication 517, which covers the rules for clergy. Knowing these guidelines can help ensure compliance and ease the audit process. Consistent Reporting: Ensure all tax filings are consistent with the housing allowance claimed and backed by adequate documentation. During an Audit If audited, there are several key points to remember: Stay Calm and Organized: Approach the audit calmly and methodically. Provide the [...]

October 16, 2023|Categories: Financial Advising|

Retirement Planning: Roth vs. Traditional Contributions for Ministers

For ministers still in active service, understanding the nuances between Roth and traditional contributions is a significant aspect of retirement planning, particularly in the context of the housing allowance. Each type of contribution has its benefits and implications, and the choice between them can significantly impact your financial situation in retirement. Traditional Contributions and the Housing Allowance Traditional retirement contributions, typically pre-tax, reduce your taxable income in the year they are made. This can be a strategic way for ministers to manage current tax liabilities, especially if you're in a higher tax bracket during your working years. However, it's important to remember: Withdrawals from traditional retirement accounts during retirement are taxed as ordinary income. For retired ministers, the portion of these withdrawals designated as a housing allowance can be excluded from taxable income, offering a tax-efficient way to cover housing expenses in retirement. Being able to withdraw from your 403(b)(9) as housing allowance means you have a rare opportunity to have "double tax-free" money. By "double tax-free," I mean the funds can go into your retirement plan tax-deferred and come out tax-free as a housing allowance.  In short, you will never pay income tax on the portion of your money [...]

October 9, 2023|Categories: Financial Advising|

Navigating the Housing Allowance for Retired (or Future Retiered) Ministers

Welcome to the eighth article in our enlightening series on the Minister's Housing Allowance. So far, we've covered various aspects pertinent to active ministers. In this piece, we will explore how the housing allowance applies during retirement, a phase that brings its own set of rules and considerations. If you are still employed, please do not skip this article. There are some compelling tax strategies that you should know about. Often, following advice that works great for the general public will cause you to pay more taxes than you should. While our next article will break down how retired ministers' housing allowance creates financial planning issues no one else deals with, this article will lay the groundwork for understanding why everyday financial advice may be bad for you. Eligibility in Retirement Retired ministers may continue to receive a housing allowance on portions of their retirement distributions from funds designated for this purpose. This unique provision reflects the ongoing recognition of a minister's lifelong service. However, it's crucial to understand how this works: Designation Before Retirement: To qualify for the housing allowance, retirement distributions must be from funds designated as a housing allowance by the church or organization before the minister retired. [...]

October 2, 2023|Categories: Financial Advising|

Common Mistakes and Misconceptions About the Minister’s Housing Allowance

Welcome to the seventh article in our comprehensive series on the Minister's Housing Allowance. So far, we've covered various topics, from eligibility to tax implications. In this article, we'll address some common mistakes and misconceptions about the housing allowance, helping ministers avoid pitfalls and better manage this critical aspect of their compensation. Mistake #1: Not Designating the Housing Allowance in Advance One of the most prevalent mistakes is failing to designate the housing allowance before paying it. The IRS requires the church or religious organization to establish the housing allowance before payment. Retroactive designations are not recognized. Mistake #2: Overestimating Housing Expenses Ministers can mistakenly designate an excessively high housing allowance without a realistic estimation of their annual housing costs. Remember, the allowable exclusion from income tax can only be the lesser of the actual expenses incurred, the designated amount, or the fair rental value of the home, plus furnishings and utilities.  Mistake #3: Poor Record Keeping Detailed record-keeping of housing expenses is crucial. Without proper documentation, it becomes challenging to justify the allowance amount if audited by the IRS. Ministers should keep receipts, bills, and detailed records of all housing-related expenses. Misconception #1: The Housing Allowance Covers All Expenses [...]

September 25, 2023|Categories: Financial Advising|

Parsonage vs. Housing Allowance: Understanding the Distinctions

Welcome to the sixth installment of our series on the Minister's Housing Allowance and related topics. As we venture further into the unique financial landscape ministers navigate, it's essential to understand the distinctions and implications of residing in a parsonage compared to receiving a housing allowance. Both options come with their sets of benefits, drawbacks, and tax implications. Let's break down these components for a clearer understanding. Definition of a Parsonage A parsonage, also commonly referred to as a manse or rectory, is a residence the church or religious organization provides for its minister. It's a property owned or rented by the church and is given to the minister as part of their compensation package for the services rendered to the congregation. Benefits and Drawbacks of Each Parsonage: Benefits: Stability: Ministers don't have to worry about fluctuations in the housing market or arranging for housing. No Direct Housing Costs: Ministers aren't directly responsible for mortgage payments, property taxes, or rent. Maintenance: Major maintenance or repair costs are typically handled by the church. Drawbacks: Less Autonomy: Ministers might have less freedom to choose their residence's location, type, or specifics. Equity: Unlike homeownership, residing in a parsonage doesn't build equity over time. Potential for Frequent Moves: Relocation might [...]

September 18, 2023|Categories: Financial Advising|

Understanding the Tax Implications of the Minister’s Housing Allowance

Welcome to the fifth installment of our deep dive into the Minister's Housing Allowance. Our preceding articles explored this vital provision's origins, calculations, eligible expenses, and designation processes. Today, we'll turn our attention to one of the most crucial areas: the tax implications of the housing allowance. Navigating taxes can be challenging, but understanding how the housing allowance interacts with the IRS guidelines is imperative for ministers to maximize benefits and ensure compliance. Income Tax vs. Self-Employment Tax While you can exclude housing allowance from gross income for income tax purposes, it's essential to note that this doesn't apply to self-employment taxes. For the latter: Even if they are considered employees by their churches, ministers are usually regarded as self-employed by the IRS for Social Security and Medicare purposes. Although exempt from federal income tax, the housing allowance is still subject to self-employment tax unless the minister has an exemption (like the Social Security exemption for specific religious objections). Reporting the Housing Allowance on Tax Returns When it's time to file federal income tax returns: You report housing allowance as an exclusion, not a deduction. On Form 1040, the minister's gross income will include the housing allowance. However, a separate [...]

September 11, 2023|Categories: Financial Advising|

Designating the Minister’s Housing Allowance: A Step-by-Step Guide

Designating a housing allowance is essential for churches and religious organizations, ensuring ministers benefit from this exceptional provision in the U.S. tax code. Proper designation empowers ministers and ensures that the church complies with IRS regulations. Let's look at how to designate ministers' housing allowance properly. Key Dates and Processes Annual Designation: You must designate a housing allowance in advance. Typically, this is done at the end of the previous year, but it can be done at any time.   Updating Designation: If you need to update your designation in the middle of a year, you can, but there is a catch. The revised amount is only valid from the date of the update forward.  Board or Committee Meeting: The church's governing body, such as the board of trustees or finance committee, must make the designation. An official meeting should be scheduled for this purpose, and documentation of the allowance is required. Documentation: The decision made during the meeting must be recorded in the official minutes or a resolution form. This ensures there's tangible proof of the designated amount. Automatic Renewal: You may have the housing allowance carried over every year as long as it is documented in the resolution that the allowance is for all [...]

September 4, 2023|Categories: Financial Advising|
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