Can You Claim Church Tithes on Income Tax?

by LD Withaar ; Updated August 10, 2018

The difference between a tithe and an offering is that tithing is giving 10 percent of your income to the church. In fact, tithe means a tenth. An offering is a gift given beyond the 10 percent tithe. An offering may be money, clothing, food or anything else that you think would be helpful to your church.

Tips

  • You can take a tax deduction for tithes or donations to your church but you have to itemize your deductions to get it.

Church Tithes Are Tax Deductible

Church tithes are tax deductible. However, to deduct them, you must itemize on Form 1040 and Schedule A. You cannot itemize, and therefore cannot claim tithes or church donations, on Forms 1040 by itself or on Forms 1040A or 1040EZ. If you’re going the itemizing route, you must also have documentation of your donations.

If You’re Looking for Exceptions

Unfortunately, there are no exceptions to having to itemize to claim a deduction for church tithes. And it only makes sense to itemize your deductions if they total more than the standard deduction that everyone gets.

Other common deductions you could historically take are mortgage interest, property taxes, state income tax, medical expenses (if you meet a certain threshold) and losses from damage or theft that your insurance company did not cover. However, 2018 tax reforms have changed or limited many of these deductions while simultaneously raising standard deduction amounts. Because of this, it’s anticipated that, beginning with the 2018 tax year, fewer people than ever will be itemizing.

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For Your 2018 Filing

The new tax laws combine the standard deduction and personal exemption into one big standard deduction for the 2018 tax year. It's $12,000 for single filers, $24,000 for joint filers and $18,000 for single heads of household.

For Your 2017 Filing

For the 2017 tax year, filing in 2018, the standard deduction for a single taxpayer is $6,350, up $50 from the year before. If you’re married and filing jointly your standard deduction is $9,350. You’re also entitled to one personal exemption of $4,050 for yourself, your spouse if you’re filing jointly and for each of your dependents.

Document Your Itemized Church Donations

If you’re going to itemize, you must have documentation of all donations including church donations. This is true even if you’re just putting a few bucks in the collection plate every Sunday. The kind of documentation required depends on the size and type of your donation. For donations under $250, you just need something that shows the name of the church, the date and amount of the donation. A canceled check will suffice. If you donate cash, you'll have to get a receipt from your church.

If you donate more than $250, you must have written documentation from your church that states the name of the church, the amount you donated, the date you made the donation and a statement that you received nothing in exchange for the donation, assuming that was the case. If you did receive goods or services in exchange for the donation, the dollar value of what you received must be included in the documentation. In this situation, you can only deduct the difference between what you received and what you gave.

You won’t have to show receipts or documentation to the IRS unless you’re audited. But it’s a lot easier to get it at the time you make the donation and hang on to it just in case. The IRS’s recommendation is that you keep records and receipts for three years from the date you filed your original return or two years from the date you paid the tax that was due, whichever is later.

About the Author

LeDona Withaar has over 20 years’ experience as a securities industry professional and financial manager. She has owned and operated her own business and done volunteer work in corporate development for non-profit organizations such as the Boston Symphony Orchestra. LeDona has an MBA from Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts and a BA from Mills College in Oakland, California. She is currently a teacher and horse rancher.

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