Understand clearly that joining the ULC as a minister does not make one tax-exempt.
In fact, a minister as a self-employed individual, filing a Schedule C, pays a higher rate because he/she must pay all of the Social Security tax and Medicare tax, which is currently just over 17% – off the top!
There are NO TAX BENEFITS for just becoming a minister. There are tax benefits to individuals who are actually ministering in an active manner and can prove it. If you are not actively doing the services of a minister there is nothing coming to you by way of any benefits whatsoever.
A minister does not have to have a congregation to be entitled to the tax benefits accorded to ministers. Missionaries, itinerant ministers, evangelists, traveling lay ministers, and prophets may be entitled to the same tax advantages as any minister of a church or congregation anywhere else in the country. The Zondervan books explain this fully as well as the requirements that must be met for entitlement.
The best manner to decide whether you are starting a ministry or a church is to allow the IRS to decide the classification of the new organization and to file for evaluation by the Internal Revenue Service. In that manner there is nothing to fear about making errors and the organization would be acting appropriately and openly. You will find that the IRS will be helpful in informing which of areas need to be brought into compliance.
Modesto was wrong in the 70’s and 80’s when it challenged the IRS and fought against them. It took many years and a final $3.5 million dollar settlement by the Modesto church to bring the IRS matters to a final conclusion. Information about out past is available openly at our ULC case law website.
Ordination is entitlement to officiate marriages in the fifty states, except Virginia and some counties in Pennsylvania.
Ordination has nothing to do with taxation. All ministers must follow the tax code and there is no provision in the law for ministers to be income tax-exempt. Sometimes individuals send letters or call asking how to get out of Social Security. I am not a tax advisor, and I stress to these individuals that nothing could be more wrong. The Social Security program is more of a benefit than people know. They think it only helps in old age, which is not true. If you are disabled or fall ill it financially assists you until you are well again, and if you die it may pay benefits to your spouse and/or children.
When you consider the cost of insurance on the open market for that protection – both retirement and disability – you are getting a great bargain with Social Security. People who do not understand the system often want to get out of it thinking they could do better on their own. If they have not done better now, they cannot expect to do better with more money. The best predictor of the future is the past, and if someone has not “made it” in the past there is little expectation of making it in the future. The Social Security program is special and of great benefit, and ministers should remain in it. If a minister is a member of a denomination which has its own retirement program there may be some merit to considering opting out of Social Security, however there is a time limit after ordination which governs when it may be applied for.
Congregations as new organizations – Ministries or Churches, may set their own policies and practices within the law. (One example provided: immunization waivers.)
Ministers with or without congregations should understand that the Mother Church does not get involved in issues such as “vaccinations,” which is a common issue. All such issues are local issues. The Universal Life Church Ministries will not issue directives allowing individuals or children to not be vaccinated as a religious belief. Many times by letter or phone this issue approaches us.
Local congregations, being sovereign, do have that right, but they do not have a right to compel others to do their will or be at increased risk of contagion. If individuals have a congregation, that organization can issue its own directive. We are not aware of any such home church issuing a successful directive against the immunization of either children or adults.
A minister without a congregation is entitled to the benefits under the law if he/she is actively ministering as an “itinerant minister,” who is like an evangelist. You need to understand that you don’t have to have a building or a flock, but you do need to be doing what you say you believe in and keep a record of it, and it be a source or potential source of income to the individual. If you really believe in any belief system regardless of what it is religiously speaking, your life will reflect it and you will not have any difficulty in providing proof.