5.   Ministers and Church Employees

Self-employed ministers and church employees who participate in 403(b) plans generally follow the same rules as other 403(b) plan participants.

This means that if you are a self-employed minister or a church employee, your MAC generally is the lesser of:

  • Your limit on annual additions, or

  • Your limit on elective deferrals.

For most ministers and church employees, the limit on annual additions is figured without any changes. This means that if you are a minister or church employee, your limit on annual additions generally is the lesser of:

  • $51,000 for 2013 and $52,000 for 2014, or

  • Your includible compensation for your most recent year of service.

Although, in general, the same limit applies, church employees can choose an alternative limit and there are changes in how church employees, foreign missionaries, and self-employed ministers figure includible compensation for the most recent year of service. This chapter will explain the alternative limit and the changes.

Who is a church employee?   A church employee is anyone who is an employee of a church or a convention or association of churches, including an employee of a tax-exempt organization controlled by or associated with a church or a convention or association of churches.

Alternative Limit for Church Employees

If you are a church employee, you can choose to use $10,000 a year as your limit on annual additions, even if your annual additions computed under the general rule is less.

Total contributions over your lifetime under this choice cannot be more than $40,000.

Changes to Includible Compensation for Most Recent Year of Service

There are two types of changes in determining includible compensation for the most recent year of service. They are:

  • Changes in how the includible compensation of foreign missionaries and self-employed ministers is figured, and

  • A change to the years that are counted when figuring the most recent year of service for church employees and self-employed ministers.

Changes to Includible Compensation

Includible compensation is figured differently for foreign missionaries and self-employed ministers.

Foreign missionary.   If you are a foreign missionary, your includible compensation includes foreign earned income that may otherwise be excludable from your gross income under section 911.

  If you are a foreign missionary, and your adjusted gross income is $17,000 or less, contributions to your 403(b) account will not be treated as exceeding the limit on annual additions if the contributions are not in excess of $3,000.

  You are a foreign missionary if you are either a layperson or a duly ordained, commissioned, or licensed minister of a church and you meet both of the following requirements.
  • You are an employee of a church or convention or association of churches.

  • You are performing services for the church outside the United States.

Self-employed minister.   If you are a self-employed minister, you are treated as an employee of a tax-exempt organization that is a qualified employer. Your includible compensation is your net earnings from your ministry minus the contributions made to the retirement plan on your behalf and the deductible portion of your self-employment tax.

Changes to Years of Service

Generally, only service with the employer who maintains your 403(b) account can be counted when figuring your limit on annual additions.

Church employees.   If you are a church employee, treat all of your years of service as an employee of a church or a convention or association of churches as years of service with one employer.

Self-employed minister.   If you are a self-employed minister, your years of service include full and part years during which you were self-employed.


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