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DrewHanley
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I have looked into this question and, as I understand it from looking at the laws and talking to CPAs, a church does not need 501(c)(3) status to enjoy all the benefits of being a 501(c)(3). Obtaining official 501(c)(3) status is seen as a governmental seal of approval that assures donors that their contributions are tax exempt. Practically speaking, as long as a church is keeping good records and legitimately abiding by the rules for churches & non-profit tax-exempt entities, donors should not need to worry about the government challenging the church's status as a tax-exempt entity. The government is pretty good about leaving churches alone. No matter what a church's official status, donors still need to get and retain year-end contribution statements from the church for gifts in excess of $249. To open a bank account, a church will need to file for an Federal Employer Identification Number (IRS Form SS-4). There is a box to check saying that the entity is a church. The bank will provide some paperwork that will need to be filled out. Here is a great link covering these administrative questions and more: http://www.ncbaptist.org/fileadmin/ncbaptist.org_graphics/Resources/Videos/Church_Planting/cp-robert-simons.html
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Aug 1, 2011