Art of Being Cheap: Church Credit Cards

The phrase “cheap accountant” seems redundant. With me, nearly everything is a cost-benefit analysis. If we’re deciding on a getting a cat: Cost = price of adoption, litter & food, vet bills, yowling and vomiting in the middle of the night (the cat…not me); Benefit = occasionally pet, something to kick. That’s just how my mind works. The hardest part has been shifting from immediate costs and benefits to also including the long-term costs and benefits.

When it comes to Church Credit Cards, I do the same thing:

  • COSTS: Rare late fee or financing charge; Employees more likely to overspend; Needing reimbursement for the occasional personal purchase; Stress of collecting receipts from problem employees
  • BENEFIT: Makes work easier for responsible employees; Possibly receive cash back rewards; Cut fewer checks by paying one credit card bill vs multiple reimbursements

The costs and benefits appear fairly even. Costs are rare and, if an employee has issues turning in receipts, just take away their church credit card, right? This is where I have often screwed up in the church world and offer my form of “grace.” My form of grace is more like a Get Out of Jail Free card…at least when it comes to misbehaving employees. This is not grace. This is shifting the pain from the one misbehaving to everyone else…especially the accountant. My advice, get rid of church credit cards. It’ll be cheaper in the long run. If you absolutely need a card, get a church debit card which only your most responsible employee (singular) uses. Everyone else can either go through the responsible employee or get reimbursed. And if they use their own credit card, then they get all the cash back rewards!

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Finance: Adopting Financial Policies

The Bible says that the Law and the Ten Commandments were like a tutor or guardian. They helped keep us out of trouble and helped us live well. Financial Policies are similar. If you don’t set the rules for how the church manages money, everyone will setup their own rules. Everyone that touches money or keeps financial records will just do what they think is best. Often this is going to work out fine…until it doesn’t.

No matter the size of church you have, you need to decide, and put it in writing, the following:

  • How we care for donation? Do you count money right away after the service or do you lock it up? What about all those donations dropped off at the office or received through the mail? How should it counted?
  • How do we approve expenses? If the treasurer gets a bill, how does the treasurer know if it’s okay to pay or not? Also problems come up around payroll and church credit cards.

Those are the main things to think through although there are some other things most churches will need to consider as well. I have some templates below.

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How should my church count the offering?

I hope and believe that most churches have this down pat. They are a fine tuned machine for getting money from the offering plate to the counters to the bank. But, if you are unsure or if you are starting a new church, this will be a good reminder. Here’s the keys:

  • Never do it alone: Anytime there is unsecured and uncounted money, it should never be handled alone. At least two people are bringing the offering to a safe location. At least two people are counting it. At least two people are making sure it’s locked up after counting.
  • Make a report: The counters should have a report of the amount deposited for the treasurer that they sign off on as well as a report of who gave what for the financial secretary.
  • Double check: In the counting process, make sure everything is counted twice. When the deposit doesn’t agree with the count, that erodes so much trust and puts people in compromising situations.

Check out the video below:

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