When an accountant can write easy-to-understand prose about tax issues for non-accountants, you’ve stumbled upon a phenomenon. Maybe even a miracle.
The work that Dan Busby & Friends have invested in this annually updated publication deserves the gratitude of ministers like this reviewer who simply want to get it right when tax time rolls around. Since good intentions do not register on the IRS’ seismograph,getting it right is all that matters. As a long-time purchaser of the annual Zondervan Minister’s Tax & Financial Guide, my educated guess is that far fewer ministers are having unwanted conversations with the IRS than would be the case if this book did not exist.
The 2016 edition provides an introduction, a word on recent developments in tax law, a line-by-line approach to IRS Form 1040, and then seven nicely subsectioned and bullet-pointed chapters under the following titles:
‘ Taxes for Ministers
‘ Compensation Planning
‘ The Pay Package
‘ Housing Exclusion
‘ Business Expenses
‘ Retirement and Social Security
‘ Paying Your Taxes
Two sample tax returns follow and illustrate the principles the work has explained.
The chapter titles signal that this is more than a ‘how-to-file-your-taxes’ guide. Planning that will eliminate problems before they occur if undertaken by the minister and his employer comprise the bulk of the book’s handily formatted 182 pages. I find that the highly-subtitled and bullet-pointed approach, with ample white space in the margins for note-taking, makes the book accessible both as a read-through and as a reference work. The tone is pitched to a reader who is generally unfamiliar with accounting and tax law but able to follow careful instruction in order to learn and do.
Each chapter is followed by a page of ‘Integrity Points’ where ethical judgement is required in order to go beyond the letter of IRS regulation and satisfy its spirit. The authors’ attitude towards the much-feared IRS is respectful but not reverential. They are happy to point out areas where the IRS could, if it chose to do so, provide more helpful guidance to tax-paying ministers.
There exist publications that approach tax planning for ministers at a more complex level. This one, at entry level, will be sufficient for most ministers. Churches or other religious employers may want their finance committees or equivalent to have a more robust guide on hand, while making this volume available to the minister himself or herself.