Being a church treasurer is not a job for wimps. The church is working in the world of faith, but try cutting a check that is backed by faith instead of dollars. Try telling the IRS that the mistake on the tax forms is okay because of faith. Treasurers are the ones in middle trying to advance the work of faith without getting in trouble with the law.
Getting the pastor setup correctly in payroll is a big victory. Most payroll software wasn’t designed with pastors in mind. They were an afterthought so that’s why it’s sometimes tricky. Here’s the big things that often cause issues:
What to do with the Housing Exclusion? The housing exclusion is the part of the pastor’s salary that is designated for housing to reduce taxable income. You usually need to break this out.
Example: Salary of $45,000 with $5,000 housing exclusion: Enter $40,000 for salary and $5,000 Clergy Housing (Cash)
What to do with Tax Withholding? Pastors are employees for IRS purposes but self-employed for Social Security purposes. That means you SHALL NOT withhold for Social Security and Medicare. It’s optional to withhold for income tax.
There is usually a check box or button to make the pastor exempt from Social Security and Medicare. Find that and click it.
Ask the pastor if they want income tax withheld and how much they want withheld per paycheck. They should fill out the W-4 to confirm this by writing “EXEMPT” in Step 1.c…even though that’s not an option. Then enter the amount to withhold per paycheck in Step 4.c.
Disclaimer: This is general tax advice so don’t sue me. I had almost forgotten about the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) until I got a call from Bismarck McCabe UMC. They were on top of things and knew more than I did. The only question we still have is if clergy are covered.
Long story short, FFCRA gave employees an extra 80 hours of sick leave (or proportional if part-time) if they or a member of their family was directly affected by COVID. This is different than being affected by the shutdowns. You can see more about this in the links below. To help pay for this sick leave, you can claim a payroll tax credit! This is good news for churches that already file a quarterly Form 941.
Here’s what makes this credit so good:
Dollar for Dollar: You get reimbursed 100% for this sick leave in most cases. This includes health insurance costs.
Includes Health Insurance Costs: While few lay employees receive health benefits from the church, that portion can also be applied to the credit.
Refundable: This credit is refundable. A lot of our churches don’t pay in much for payroll taxes so it’s nice to know that, when the credit is larger than the taxes, you’ll get a check back.
One of my pet peeves: old accounts cluttering up my financial reports. As the ministry or business operations evolve, this is naturally reflected in the chart of accounts. The problem is when you don’t know how to clean it up. I walk you through cleaning up old accounts through merging them.
I just ran across one of my pet peeves…the duplicate vendor. Whenever I run across one, it makes me feel like I’m being careless and sloppy. How could this happen. Just accept it that duplicate vendors happen and now let’s fix it.
I’m sure other church software systems have their own way of fixing this. Some you are forced to to just inactivate the vendor you don’t want. With QuickBooks, the fix is not at all intuitive…which is kind of ironic. You have to name the duplicates the exact same thing.
One of the things I take pride in is keeping accurate accounting records and reporting anything that’s out of the ordinary. Something that undermines this is when I accidentally post something to a past period that I’ve already reported on. Unexplained transactions posted in the past makes you look like you’re playing fast and loose with the books.
I don’t know if this is a change in accounting philosophy, but it seems like newer accounting systems assume that closing the books is optional. For QuickBooks Online, you need to dig around in the Account Settings…which I’ll show you in the video. I’ll also show you how to void a check in a closed period…which is needlessly complicated.
Finishing up my 30-day free trial of QuickBooks Online. This is the last tip I wanted to throw out. If you’re not using Sub-Accounts in QuickBooks, your reporting is lacking. The only way I know how to get robust reporting for a church is to use Sub-Accounts. Sub-Accounts let you better organize your accounts. They let you show detailed or summarized reports. They let you easily setup custom reports for specific ministries.
I’m still working in my 30-day free trial of Non-Profit QuickBooks Online. One of the first challenges I’ve helped churches work through is how you handle all those church funds. I’ve seen two good solutions: 1)Track it all in the Equity section or 2)Track it in Equity AND Other Income. I show you this in the video below.
As an after thought, I wonder if it would work to set them up in the Liability section? Would this be better? It might help the church leaders see the obligation related to holding these funds.