Q&A: Tax Deductible Mission Trips
Can individuals who go on mission trips deduct their expenses?
Q&A: Tax Deductible Mission Trips

Q: For my church's short-term mission trips, participants give the church money for a special fund that's used to pay their trip expenses (airfare, lodging, and so on). Some participants believe the money they spend for a trip is tax deductible and should be listed on their contribution statements. A mission organization I contacted agrees with this thinking. My understanding, though, is that only funds for a ministry and not for an individual are deductible. Who is correct?

A: I will defer to the guidance I offer on charitable contributions and mission trips in chapter 8 of the 2014 Church & Clergy Tax Guide. Based on your description, I believe this scenario from the guide most closely resembles your situation:

Participants: Adults

Who pays travel expenses (transportation, lodging, meals): Church

Does the church receive designated contributions from participants or others? Yes, from participants, in the amount of their travel expenses paid by the church.

Tax consequences (assume that the trip was preauthorized by the church board or membership and furthers the church's exempt purpose):

  • Payments by participants to their church are deductible as charitable contributions if the trip involves "no significant element of personal pleasure, recreation, or vacation."
  • Participants' payments can be reported by the church treasurer on giving statements (if expenses are $250 or more, the church's receipt must comply with substantiation requirements described in this chapter).

For further details on how trips should be authorized, and how the IRS defines "personal pleasure, recreation, or vacation," I would encourage you to acquire a copy of the tax guide.

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This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."


Displaying 1–2 of 2 comments

Larry A. Cryer

June 03, 2014  1:43pm

If the church gives each adult going on a short term mission trip to another state, should the adults furnish receipts for the money spent? Also, if the amount advanced is not all spent should the individuals return the unspent money? If they do not (some are on payroll and some are not) do they get a 1099/have it added to their W2 at the end of the year?

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June 03, 2014  9:54am

Our questions have less to do with the charitable contribution credit issued for contributions by the participants themselves on a short-term mission trip, and more to do with contributions made by others to send a particular individual on a short-term mission trip. How should such contributions be viewed, and what is the appropriate tax treatment?

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