How you pay your homeschool teachers could affect the property tax exemption for your host church

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Several homeschool leaders have recently learned that the way that their homeschool groups are compensating the teachers (parents paying teachers directly) jeopardizes the property tax exemption of their host churches.

The problem

Some state laws limit churches renting their building for business purposes to only a few days a year.
One homeschool program was arranging for teachers to conduct classes for homeschooled children each week for about 30 weeks of the year. Each teacher was paid by the parents, so each teacher was essentially a business owner. That meant the church exceeded the state-set limit on business activities.

This situation can put a church’s property tax exemption in jeopardy. It is likely the church would no longer wish to host a homeschool organization. If churches cease hosting homeschool programs, it could mean the end of many homeschool programs hosted in churches.

What can a homeschool group do?

I read about these state laws and the church’s limits on business activities. The reason co-op classes jeopardize a church’s property tax exemption is because the class teacher was a business and exceeded the state limit on days a church can host for-profit businesses in its building.

 

I recommended that homeschool organizations in this situation begin collecting the money from the parents and pay the teachers as employees (or independent contractors) hired by the homeschool group. Many homeschool organizations are 501(c)(3) educational nonprofits. The state laws usually allows a church to rent space to a nonprofit if they have a charitable, educational, or religious purpose with no loss of property tax exemption.

 

It’s more work for the board to negotiate the payments and for the treasurer to prepare the checks and give 1099MISC or W-2 forms to the teachers, but it keeps the homeschool program running and the church keeps its property tax exemption.

 

Can this happen to my homeschool group?

So here are some issues for all homeschool leaders who conduct classes in churches to consider:

  • Be aware of the limits on business activities conducted by churches in your state’s property tax exemption laws. Begin by googling “YOUR STATE nonprofit property tax exemption” or “YOUR STATE church property tax exemption.” The rules vary by state and so far only a few states limit business activities in a church.
  • Talk to your host church about this issue. Ask what they know about limits on business activity for churches in your state.
  • If your state’s property tax laws limit your host church, consider changing how your teachers are paid, so that the church is not renting space for business activities to for-profit businesses (i.e., individual teachers).
  • Be sure your activities are in line with the religious and charitable purposes of your host church.

Note that this affects churches’ property tax exemption, not their income tax exemption at the federal or state levels.

I’ll keep an eye on this issue and keep you informed. Sign up for my email list (top right corner) to be notified of future blog posts on this issue.

Carol Topp, CPA

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Opening another branch of a homeschool co-op

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I am in the process of organizing a co-op. We are actually going through another established co-op and establishing a north branch of the existing co-op. They are already a 501(c)(3) and carry liability insurance so we would be under them. We would be the same program but in our location. However, we would need to raise most of our own funds. Do you see any issues or possible issues with this set-up?

How would we go about keeping our money appointed to the correct branch?
I appreciate any help!
Corrinn

 

Corrinn,

I think your set up sounds great. It’s like a store with two locations. You could set up two separate checking accounts, both using the same EIN (Employer Id Number) from the original (parent) group. Your checking account could say “HOMESCHOOL CO-OP NORTH BRANCH”

Accounting Software

As for accounting software you might consider an online program such as Quickbook Online which lets you set up multiple “locations” or “departments.” I’ve been recommending WaveApps.com (it’s free) but I’m not sure if they can set up multiple locations/departments like you want. Of course you could set up separate Wave accounts since you’ll probably have separate checking accounts.

Transparency

I recommend that the Treasurer of parent organization be a check signer on your checking account and be given access to your bank account and accounting software (that’s why online accounting software would be helpful). You need to be open and transparent to the parent group.

Joint IRS Returns

At the end of your fiscal year all your income and expenses will need to be reported to the parent group so it can be added to their income and expenses on the IRS Annual Form 990 Information Return.

Good luck!

Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com

Tracking payments to homeschool co-op teachers

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If teachers are paid directly how does the homeschool co-op know about who has paid in order to keep track of payments?

 

It’s very common got homeschool co-ops and tutorial programs to ask parents to pay the teachers directly and not pay through the co-op or homeschool tutorial. This eliminates payroll paperwork and lessens the income and financial transactions flowing through the homeschool organization (and this makes life easier on your treasurer!).

Your homeschool co-op doesn’t need to keep track of which families paid the teachers. It’s the teachers job to get payments from the families.

The teachers are independent contractors and therefore are supposed to bear the burden of the risk of not getting paid. Your co-op should not carry this risk.

The IRS definition of an independent contractor says “Having the possibility of incurring a loss indicates that the worker is an independent contractor.”

Source: https://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Financial-Control

I hope that helps,

Carol Topp, CPA

Are homeschool co-op tuition discounts taxable income? Probably!

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Carol,

I see a lot of schools (homeschooling co-ops, private schools, etc) that offer tuition discounts or reduction for parent volunteer hours. If a parent volunteers to teach a  class a few hours a week and receives a tuition reduction for this commitment, is this considered taxable income for the parent?

I have also read this:

“IRS has broadly interpreted a worker’s “compensation” to also include the amount of free or reduced tuition that is given to a parent in consideration for his or her service to the school or church. A worker is no longer considered to be “volunteering” if he or she receives something of value “in kind” for his or her service. In the situation of a working parent whose child is enrolled in the school, it is the student’s waived tuition amount normally charged to nonworking parents that will constitute the worker’s taxable wage amount.”

I would love any follow up information you have about this. Thanks again!

Joanna R.

 

Dear Joanna,

I read the quote you provided with a lot of interest. I did a little research and came across IRS Publication 3079 which, although its title is “Tax Exempt Organizations and Gaming,” had a helpful section titled, “Volunteer Labor”

It stated something I didn’t want to read,

“Compensation is interpreted broadly. A worker who obtains goods or services at a reduced price in return for his services may be considered to be compensated.”

 

When the IRS says “compensated,” they mean taxable income. Ugh! That could mean that hard working volunteers in a homeschool organization, who get a discount on tuition, could have to report and pay taxes on this “compensation.”

But, as with all IRS documents, I kept reading Publication 3079 and found this:

On the other hand, a worker who receives merely insignificant monetary or non-monetary benefits is considered a volunteer, not a compensated worker.
Determining whether a benefit is insignificant requires consideration not only of the value of the benefit but also:
•The quantity and quality of the work performed;
•The cost to the organization of providing the benefit; and
•The connection between the benefit received and the performance of services.
(emphasis added)

 

So, if a co-op gives an insignificant monetary benefit to its volunteers, it is not taxable income. The IRS does not define insignificant, but here ares two examples that might help:

Insignificant benefits to a volunteer
A volunteer teacher was given a $50 discount off her $250 tuition for teaching a class. She put in a minimum of 30 hours preparing and teaching this semester-long class. That’s is an hourly rate of less than $2/hour. That seems pretty insignificant to me! It cost nothing for the co-op to offer this benefit. The co-op offered this discount as an incentive to increase volunteerism and it was not payment for services.

Significant benefits are taxable income
Another co-op gave their director several thousands of dollars in gift cards to grocery stores and Target, gave her children free tuition worth $1,500,  waived all field trip fees, theater ticket fees and registration fees amounting to hundreds more in benefits. These were NOT insignificant and were compensation for her services. The co-op thought that by giving gift cards and reduced tuition they could avoid payroll taxes and the paperwork of hiring and paying their director as an employee. They were wrong! The director should be treated as an employee. She should report all these benefits as taxable compensation.

Conclusion
Homeschool leaders should determine if the benefits of reduced tuition of fees they are giving to volunteers are insignificant. Look to the IRS guidelines in IRS Publication 3079 listed above. If the benefits are significant and are compensation for services, then it needs to be reported as taxable income to the worker/volunteer.

I can help you determine if your fee waivers or discounts are “insignificant.” Just contact me.

My ebook Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization can help you determine the paperwork and reporting for workers.

Carol Topp, CPA

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Can homeschool teachers be allowed to keep extra money as a donation?

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Dear Carol,

I have purchased and am reading your ebook Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization. Thank you for making this available!

We are a co-operative, so all are teachers are basically volunteers. I do, however, collect on their behalf an estimated class contribution to help them cover costs related to teaching: curriculum, printing handouts and lesson plans, consumables used in class etc. This amount is determined by the teacher, usually $5-10 up to $50 per semester depending on the class. These funds are collected and then dispersed to the instructor at the beginning of the semester. We don’t require receipts or an accounting to be submitted. Any remaining funds are considered a “donation” to the teacher to recognize their time and effort in preparing and teaching the class. Teachers are not required refund monies back to the families.

Most of us feel that this structure is reasonable. However, one member is questioning. Does our policy seem acceptable from a legal position?

Thank you, in advance, for taking the time to answer my questions.

God bless your service,
Rose

Rose,

Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad the book was helpful. It’s been updated since you read it and has grown from a 20 page ebook, to a 130-page paperback.

This statement bothers me greatly, “We don’t require receipts or an accounting to be submitted. Any remaining funds are considered a “donation” to the teacher to recognize their time and effort in preparing and teaching the class.”

When you do not request receipts, you are running what the IRS calls an “non-accountable” plan for reimbursements.

The remaining funds that you let your teachers keep is not a donation, it is a payment for services and is taxable income that needs to be reported to the IRS. Actually, the full amount you give to the teachers is taxable income under a non-accountable plan.

I have written a few blog posts on the topic of paying volunteers, requesting receipts for reimbursements, etc. Please read these:

No receipts for expenses can get you in trouble
and
Should my homeschool co-op be giving any tax forms to our teachers?

In my book Money Management in a Homeschool Organization I discuss how to properly set up an accountable reimbursement plan (Chapter 7).

I hope you will change your practices (i.e set up an accountable plan for reimbursements and start requiring receipts) so that your teachers do not have to report their payments as taxable income.

You may also find my updated version of Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization helpful.

Carol Topp, CPA

 


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Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization-2nd edition

$9.95 paperback
130 pages
Copyright 2017
ISBN 978-0-9909579-3-5

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Converting from a homeschool support group to a full service nonprofit organizaton

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Lots of homeschool support groups find themselves evolving into bigger organizations than their founders imagined. They grew from being small monthly support groups to larger organizations offering field trips, co-op classes, graduation ceremonies, clubs, and other activities.

For example, TACHE (Tyler Area Home Educators) in Tyler, Texas began in the 1980s as a small support group for homeschool families. They grew to over 400 families and now manage an annual budget of nearly $20,000 and offer a plethora of educational activities.

They wisely decided to incorporate as a nonprofit corporation in 2009. But, unfortunately, TACHE did not apply for 501(c)(3) tax exempt status at that time.

In September 2013 TACHE  decided it was time to apply for tax exempt status as a 501(c)(3) educational organization and contacted me. Because TACHE waited more than 27 months after their date of formation (in 2009) to apply for 501(c)(3) status, we had to explain TACHE’s history to IRS and give an explanation why they did not apply earlier.

I helped TACHE apply for 501(c)(3) status in February 2014 and after about 7 months of waiting, the IRS granted 501(c)(3) status.

But TACHE wasn’t finished with the IRS just yet. TACHE failed to file their Form 990-N Annual Information Return with the IRS for three consecutive years and had their tax exempt status automatically revoked. We were concerned that there would be a period of time when TACHE would have to file and pay income tax. There were a few phone calls and letters to the IRS, but finally the IRS reinstated TACHE’s tax exempt status and agreed that they did not owe any back taxes.

The process is does not always take that long, but here are a few lessons learned.

  • Don’t delay! Apply for 501(c)(3) tax exempt status within 27 months (or sooner) from your date of formation (usually the date of incorporation in your state as a nonprofit corporation)
  • File the Form 990-N every year. This is required for support groups as well as homeschool co-ops. If you fail to file the Form 990-N, the IRS will automatically revoke your tax exempt status.
  • Get help when you need it. My fees are reasonable and I focus on helping homeschool organizations.  Contact me.
  • Be patient. Although the IRS has cleared a lot of their backlog, it still took 11 months for the IRS to reinstate TACHE’s tax exempt status.
  • Learn all you can about tax exempt status for your homeschool group. My book, The IRS and Your Homeschool Organization, is a good start.

Congratulations to TACHE! It was along process, but it’s finished and TACHE can continue to serve homeschool families in Texas for many years to come.

Carol Topp, CPA


I will be recuperating from surgery and will be unavailable to answer your emails from November 15, 2015 until January 2016. Until then, here’s how you can get help.


More tips on running a homeschool co-op (podcast)

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Carol Topp, CPA the author of Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out  covers more tips to starting a homeschool co-op in her podcast.

Listen to the podcast

Carol answers questions from homeschool leaders including:

  • insurance
  • background checks
  • tax exempt status from the IRS
  • required annual reporting to the IRS
  • the need for bylaws and policies

Listen to Part 1 of this podcast.

For more information on starting and running a homeschool co-op visit Carol’s website HomeschoolCPA.com

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Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out has helped more than 1,000 readers run their homeschool co-ops. Get your copy here.

Carol has more podcasts for homeschool leaders. See the list of topics.

Homeschool groups ripe for embezzlement

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From the Columbus (OH) Dispatch comes this warning:

Small nonprofits ripe for embezzlement

They’re often diligent, caring workers, and yet tempted by seemingly easy cash.

Working on the inside, thieves can hit school groups, athletic leagues and churches, especially when they’re surrounded by trusting colleagues and loose security.

And according to one expert, because of the disgrace and embarrassment that the crime brings an organization, their transgressions often are not reported.

The median loss to fraud for religious, charitable and social-service organizations was $106,000 last year, according to an annual survey by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. “We estimate that organizations lose about 7% of their net worth to fraud each year,” said Scott Patterson, the association’s spokesman.

“There are so many people doing the good work that nobody steps back to say, ‘Should we begin looking at ourselves. We’ve grown. We better put some checks and balances in,'” said Gary Zeune, a fraud expert whose speakers bureau, “The Pros and Cons,” travels the country. “The only people who can steal you blind are those you trust and who don’t have controls.”

Smaller organizations, such as school parent-teacher organizations, are often vulnerable because neighbors and friends are reluctant to offend by suggesting that dishonesty is possible.

“This is typically mothers stealing from their own kids,” Shaw said. “The kids are the shills out there selling cookie dough or doing the walk-a-thon, and the mothers are stealing it.

“If the board is too embarrassed to have checks or balances, they need to have a new board,” she added. “But if you’re an honest person, you shouldn’t be insulted by having a second set of eyes.”

It’s so sad to hear about embezzlement taking place in homeschool groups, but I know from homeschool leaders that it can and does happen!

How can you prevent embezzlement?

Money Mgmt Homeschool

Read Money Management in a Homeschool Organization: A Guide for Treasurers. It  has a helpful list of policies and procedures for your group’s treasurer and your entire board.

Keeping you safe,

Carol Topp, CPA

Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out (podcast)

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In her most recent podcast  Carol Topp, CPA, the author of Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out, covers tips to starting a homeschool co-op.

Listen to the podcast

Carol covers the 4 W’s and 2 Cs that leaders need to answer in launching a new co-op:

What, Where, When, Who, and Cost and Curriculum

 

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Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out has helped more than 1,000 readers run their homeschool co-ops. Get your copy here.

Carol has more podcast episodes for homeschool leaders. View the topic list.

Preparing Strong Independent Contractor Agreements

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From Veneable.com, a website with articles focusing on nonprofit law, comes this excellent list of items to have in an agreement with an independent contractor.

Many homeschool organizations hire independent contractors to teach a class or offer a service, so having a good, strong IC agreement is important.

I included a sample independent contractor agreement in my book Money Management in a Homeschool Organization. I might need to tweak it and include some of these provisions.

I hope you find this list helpful.

Preparing Strong Independent Contractor Agreements

“Must-haves”:
–Written agreement signed by both parties
–Clearly defined scope of work
–Worker decides how the work is to be performed
–Require invoicing and, if practicable, fixed-fee-type payments
–Clearly defined and, if practicable, limited termination rights
–Clear statement of independent contractor status and ineligibility for benefits

“Like-to-haves”:

–Limited training or instruction required
–Worker decides when and where work is to be performed or works off-site
–Worker provides own tools, equipment, staff
–Worker has freedom to contract with others for his or her services
–Compensation should not resemble a salary
–Termination only for nonperformance/breach of contract
–Avoid circumstances where contractor position is identical to those of W-2 employees

Source: https://www.venable.com/files/Event/624c3096-6e46-4d2c-8fdc-a674c30ad5f0/Presentation/EventAttachment/48ae10be-17a8-426b-af57-5124c79aab61/Focus_on_Nonprofit_Employee_Misclassification_slides-06-16-15.pdf

Carol Topp, CPA