Church Related Issues

Resources for pastors and their congregations.

Pastor's Car Exemption

In 1987, House Bill 1041 was passed to exempt from taxation vehicles owned by the church and used by the pastor or pastoral staff. Found in the ACTS OF ASSEMBLY [VA., 1987], Section 58.1-3617, it reads:

"Motor vehicles owned by churches and used predominantly for church purposes, are hereby classified as property used by its owner for religious purposes. For purposes of this section, property of a church, religious association or religious denomination owned in the name of a duly designated ecclesiastical officer or of a trustee shall be deemed owned by such church, association or denomination.”

This allows for some personal use of said vehicle while maintaining the tax exempt status.

Incorporation of Churches

Virginia is one of two states that do not require churches to incorporate (the other state is West Virginia, which probably did so because it used Virginia’s constitution as a basis for its own). In fact the Virginia Constitution originally forbad churches from incorporating. This principle came from the influence of Baptists in Virginia, who objected to state involvement in the church. They felt that having a state charter meant that the state would have some involvement in and control over the church. This was completely unacceptable to the Baptists. This situation lasted into the twentieth century when some ministries wanted to incorporate all of their various ministries under one umbrella entity.

In Virginia when a pastor or the deacons of a church sign legal documents for the church, they are signing on behalf of the church and not themselves personally. They are not personally liable for actions that the church takes. This is just as if the church was incorporated. For example if men in the church sign on behalf of the church to borrow one million dollars and the church defaults, these men are not responsible. The individual church members are not responsible. The church is responsible as an entity. The only way that the individuals who borrowed the money would be held responsible is if they took the action without the approval of the church. Therefore, you should be sure to take minutes in the business meeting to verify that the action was done with the approval of the church and on behalf of the church.    

If a church decides to incorporate, then it must pay to have incorporation papers drawn up and pay the yearly incorporation fee to the State Corporation Commission to maintain its incorporation status. The decision to incorporate or not to incorporate should be made by each individual church.

Sales and Use Tax Exemption for Churches & Form ST-13A

Requirements for Nonprofit Churches

Legislation passed in the 2004 Virginia General Assembly (House Bill 515 and Senate Bill 585) provides two options for nonprofit churches to request a retail sales and use tax exemption. Nonprofit churches may either continue to use the self-issued exemption certificate, Form ST-13A, or apply to the department for a tax-exempt number.

Option 1: Form ST-13A

Code of Virginia Section 58.1-609.10(16) allows nonprofit churches to use the self-issued exemption certificate Form ST-13A. Churches electing this option are entitled to the sales and use tax exemption available under the law as it existed on June 30, 2003. Title 23 of the Virginia Administrative Code (VAC) 10-210-310 provides an exemplary listing of taxable and exempt purchases for nonprofit churches. Over the years the exemption has been expanded to include: church bulletins, programs, newspapers, and newsletters distributed outside the church, gifts distributed outside the church, baptistries, food, disposable serving items, cleaning supplies, and teaching materials used in the operation of a camp or conference center that are used in carrying out the work of the church. The 2006 the General Assembly further expanded this exemption to include tangible personal property used for recording and reproduction services. This would include video recording equipment, microphones, and players. Beginning July 1, 2007, churches may purchase tangible personal property used in caring for or maintaining property owned by the church, including, but not limited to: mowing equipment and building materials. The church may not contract with a person or entity to have building materials installed in the public church buildings used in carrying out the work of the church and its related ministries. This would also include, but is not limited to: worship services, administrative rooms, kindergarten, elementary, and secondary schools.

Option 2: Tax-Exempt Number

Code of Virginia Section 58.1-609.11 provides a broader exemption to nonprofit organizations and churches seeking a sales and use tax exemption. All exemption criteria under Code of Virginia 58.1-609.11 must be met to qualify.