Charity & IRS Audits

I recently finished reading Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, which I may review later, but I thought there was an interesting anecdote in one of the last chapters, one of them relates a story of man he new that was audited by the IRS due to the amount of money he gave to the church. His point being, what if all Christians gave so much money that tax auditors had to give it a second look.

I thought, man, how much is this guy giving as a percent of his income that would make the IRS suspicious? I could imagine a situation where giving goes up dramatically in one year. Say someone started a new job with a bigger salary, or took a big promotion/made partner, or something along those lines. If you are living on the fixed budget, then you’d have more money to give. Just because you have a raise, doesn’t mean you mortgage or groceries go up.

This is actually what happened to Mrs. MMT and me. Last year(ish) we both took different positions (that were promotions) with new companies. You almost always get a bump in salary if you go to a new company or get a promotion, and we did both, the both of us, so it was kind of a double double raise. However out expenses didn’t move up in the same proportion as our income, obviously, so we were able to increase our giving rate. We also spent a little more on ourselves and dramatically increased our savings rate, but overall we felt like, when faced with the question, ‘what should we do with this nice bump in income the Lord has blessed us with?’ part of the answer has to be to give more, and not in the total amount.

Clearly, if you make $50K and your salary goes up 10% to $55K, if you are holding to a 10% giving, then your giving would go from $5K to $5.5K. But like I mentioned earlier, if you have a handle on the rest of your expenses, you should be able to give more than 10% to church and other charities. It is not like the tithe is a hard and fast rule. We, as Christians, are not bound to 10%, and we can give more. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9:7 – Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

We were more convicted of this during the summer when our pastor did two sermons (Part 1 & 2) on generosity as part of a large series on Money, Sex, and Power. It is also something I had been thinking about since we started our new jobs. We know we are ‘supposed’ to give 10% and we are supposed to save 15%. But if you have a large salary increase, what would it look like if you saved 25%, but still only gave 10%? That can’t be right, right? So, that is a point that the pastor was pointing out, what do your percentages look like. But, I digress too much, maybe I should make that into another post.

So, back to the present. I filled our taxes. I like using the H&R Block Tax Software. They have a cool feature that does an audit check for you and will tell you if something is really bad or just curious. Well, we were flagged. The system told us to double check out charitable deductions, because we had given a large amount. Of course, it wasn’t actually a large amount, just relative to income, it was a percentage they thought could raise interest for an audit.

I had just finished reading that book, so it made me interested. I’m imagining what it would look like to give 20-25% or more to the church, but I’m getting flagged for barley more than 10%. Why? Well, I looked into it. The average American only gives 3% of their adjusted gross income to charity. The most recent Pew study shows that 70.6% of American’s claim Christianity. So, if we all gave 10% and everyone else gave zero (which certainly isn’t the case, 1.9% claim Judaism, another .9% claim Islam, so there are a few more with the 10% guideline. Of course it would be ridiculous to think only religious people (or only these particular religions) give money to charity), then the average charitable giving of an American should be around 7%, not adjusting for things like income and religious affiliation, etc.

Maybe not surprisingly, the more money you make, the less you actually give. This article from Fool shows giving peaking at incomes of $50-75K with 6.8%, and then declines in every bracket until your income hits one million. Forbes breaks it down in even more specifically, take a look at your income and see how you compare. People start giving $3K once they make about $65K (notice, that is less than 5%), but don’t add that extra thousand to bring their total giving to $4K until they make almost twice that, at $125K (now we are closer to 3%). If you go from making $100K to $200K, you should be double your giving, instead you are going from $3.6K to $5.6K, at this point we are down to about 2.5%.

So, two things here, not only are we not giving more as a percentage as our income goes up, we are actually giving less, but we aren’t even giving close to 10%. No wonder it is a red flag that someone would give 10%. Imagine what it would look like if all Christians about a certain income gave 10%, and then as they made more that percentage increased? If we said from our abundance, we give even more back? What affect on society? Instead from more abundance, we become even less faithful. It is almost like we can only serve one master. It also frustrates me that so many Christians oppose certain types of welfare and government safety nets, claiming that charity should support people, not the government. While I don’t necessarily disagree, it is beyond hypocritical to claim that will not even giving 10% to your own church.

Anyway, this post became longer and less coherent than I intended. It was an interesting coincidence that I was challenged by this book with the example of the guy audited, only to then have my tax software tell me I needed to double check my own numbers, to then finding out Americans give so little as a percent of the income. Maybe I’ll break out some of these ideas in later post and try better next time.

2 thoughts on “Charity & IRS Audits

  1. Pingback: Christians and Money – Budgeting | Monday Morning Theologian

  2. Pingback: Christians and Money – Plenty | Monday Morning Theologian

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