Church Contributions under IRS Scrutiny in Western Pa
Napsha, Joe, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The days of dropping dollars into the collection basket at your church and then writing it off as a tax donation are over.
While some of the faithful believe the amount of money they give is between them and God, the government wants proof that the house of worship got all the donations taxpayers claim as a deduction on their returns. Personal checkbook registers or diaries are no longer good enough for the Internal Revenue Service.
"I don't know whether people are aware of it," the Rev. Gene R. Stuckey Sr., pastor at Zion's Lutheran Church in Greensburg, said of the changes in the IRS rules for charitable deductions that took effect this year.
Those regulations require a taxpayer to have a statement from a nonprofit organization listing the amounts the taxpayer gave to legitimately take a charitable deduction on his or her taxes, starting with the 2007 return next year. That's a change from the past, when the IRS would take a taxpayer's word for donations, up to a maximum of $250 or about $5 a week.
The change would be relevant only to those taxpayers who file a tax return that itemizes deductions, said David Stewart, an IRS spokesman in Philadelphia. Of the 5.81 million tax returns filed in Pennsylvania, 1.64 million show itemized deductions for charitable contributions for the 2004 tax year, according to IRS statistics.
Stuckey does not believe the change will alter how parishioners give to the church. Generally, religious officials contacted said cash donations haven't declined so far this year as the Easter and Passover holidays approach.
"Our people give because this is what they do in response to God's will," Stuckey said. "Most people are not doing it for a tax deduction."
The change in regulations follows a tightening of rules that took effect in August, when clothing and household items donated to charities after Aug. 17 had to be in good condition count toward a deduction. Regulations require those goods to be assigned a value, which could be determined by checking the sale price of similar items, Stewart said. Items valued at more than $500 have to be appraised.
Churches and synagogues typically give donors a statement as proof of their donations.
Most parishioners already use Zion's Lutheran's envelope system, although there are times when the church knows who has donated cash and gives them a statement of those contributions, Stuckey said.
Rodef Shalom Congregation in Pittsburgh's Oakland section does not get much in cash donations, probably less than 5 percent of contributions, said Douglas Collins, the synagogue's controller. …