IRS Tax Deductions for Church Work

by Herb Kirchhoff

    If you perform unpaid work for your church, you may be able to deduct some out-of-pocket expenses you incur because of your volunteer church work. To be deductible, your expenses must be unreimbursed, directly connected to your unpaid church work and incurred only because you performed the unpaid church work. You must itemize your tax deductions on Schedule A in order to claim a deduction for your church work. You claim your deductible expenses as a charitable donation.

    Local Travel

    You can deduct your out-of-pocket expenses for local travel while performing volunteer church work. You can deduct your direct expenses of operating your automobile such as the gas and oil consumed while driving for your church work. Alternatively, you can simply deduct 14 cents per mile for your trips. You also can deduct parking and toll charges paid while doing church work regardless of whether you use actual expenses or mileage for your car expenses.

    Out-of-Town Trips

    If you must travel to an out-of-town location and stay overnight to perform your unpaid church work, you may be able to deduct your unreimbursed costs for transportation, meals and lodging. For example, if you attend a church convention as an official delegate who has genuine, substantial duties in representing your congregation, your unreimbursed out-of-pocket expenses are deductible. But if you attend the convention simply as a church member without any real duties as an official chosen representative, your expenses can’t be deducted. If your trip is mainly for personal reasons and church work is merely incidental, you can’t deduct any expenses.

    Church Deacons

    If you are a deacon of your church, or a candidate for ordination as a deacon, you can deduct the out-of-pocket expenses you incur because you are a deacon or in training to be a deacon. Deductible expenses include costs of diaconate vestments and books, and travel costs while carrying out the duties of a deacon. If your unpaid church duties require you to wear a uniform that’s not suitable for everyday wear, such as a being a uniformed volunteer aide at a church-owned non-profit nursing home or hospital, you can deduct the cost of the uniform and its upkeep.

    Non-deductible Costs

    You can’t deduct the value of your time spent performing unpaid work for your church. If you took time off from your job to perform volunteer church work, you can’t deduct the value of the lost income. You also can’t deduct personal or family expenses, such as babysitting costs, you incurred because of your volunteer church work. You can’t deduct expenses for which you received reimbursement from the church. If your expenses exceeded the reimbursement, you can deduct the excess amount. You can’t deduct meals consumed while performing unpaid church work that doesn’t involve an overnight stay. You can’t deduct the travel, meals and other expenses you paid for another person who performed volunteer church work.

    Substantiating Expenses

    If you paid more than $250 in out-of-pocket expenses while performing volunteer church work, you need a written letter from the church acknowledging your expenses as a donation to the church. This typically involves submitting a list of expenses with copies of receipts to the appropriate church official and requesting an acknowledgement letter. Also, keep a record of the time, date, place and church activity associated with each expense, with supporting evidence such as receipts and/or mileage logs.

    Photo Credits

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    About the Author

    Herbert Kirchhoff has over 35 years experience as a newspaper and newsletter reporter, writer and editor, with 27 of those years spent on telecommunications industry policy issues. Kirchhoff has a B.A. in journalism from Rider University in New Jersey and has been published in the "Trenton (N.J.) Times" and in "Communications Daily" and State Telephone Regulation Report, Washington, D.C.

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