Housing Allowances

Ministry organizations often give housing allowances as part of their compensation for ministerial services. Housing allowances may help pay ministers for expenses related to their apartments, their own houses, or church parsonages. These allowances are exempt from federal income tax, as long as the church designates them properly in advance.

To correctly make a designation, ministry leaders must enter the amount of the housing allowance into a document indicating official action, such as the minister’s employment contract, the church budget, or the board’s meeting minutes. This designation must be made before the allowance is paid, if the allowance is to be exempt from federal income tax. A good practice is to set the designation in November or December for the following year, or to specify that the designation applies until further notice.

If none of a minister’s salary has been officially designated as housing allowance, then the minister’s full salary should be included in gross income, according to the IRS Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations.

The amount of the housing allowance that is exempt from federal income tax is the lowest of these three options:

  • The total housing allowance, as designated by the church
  • Actual housing expenses (including mortgage payments, utilities, insurance, improvements, furnishings, etc.)
  • The fair rental value of the home (furnished, including utilities)

If the housing allowance is not the lowest total of the three, the minister must report the excess allowance as taxable income.

Housing allowances are not exempt from Social Security tax. Therefore, ministers need to enter their total income from ministerial services on their self-employment tax form (Form 1040, Schedule SE), including the sum of their salary and housing allowance.

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