The Assignment of Income Doctrine
Tax Court ruling of special interest to church treasurers.

Ferguson v. Commissioner, 108 T.C. 244 (1997)

Background. Donors occasionally attempt to "assign" their right to receive income to a church, assuming that they are avoiding any receipt of taxable income.

$$ Example. Rev. T is senior pastor of First Church. He conducts a service at Second Church, and is offered compensation of $500. Rev. T refuses to accept any compensation, and asks the pastor of Second Church to put the $500 in the church's building fund. Rev. T, and the treasurer at Second Church, assume that there is no income to report. Unfortunately, they may be wrong.

The United States Supreme Court addressed this issue in a landmark ruling in 1940. Helvering v. Horst, 311 U.S. 112 (1940). The Horst case addressed the question of whether or not a father could avoid taxation on bond interest coupons that he transferred to his son prior to the maturity date. The Supreme Court ruled that the father had to pay tax on the interest income even though he assigned all of his interest in the income to his son. It observed: "The power to dispose of income is the equivalent of ownership of it. The exercise of that power to procure the payment of income to another is the enjoyment and hence the realization of the income by him who exercises it." The Supreme Court reached the same conclusion in two other landmark cases. Helvering v. Eubank, 311 U.S. 122 (1940), Lucas v. Earl, 281 U.S. 111 (1930).

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