IRS Ups Tax Rates for Ministry-Owned Aircraft
The IRS’s recent tax changes impact personal flights on aircraft owned by churches and ministries, including those of televangelists
The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently issued an updated bulletin governing “fringe benefits” under the income tax code, which values non-commercial flights on employer-owned aircraft. As noted by the Trinity Foundation, a Texas-based watchdog group that reported on the bulletin this week, the ruling impacts personal flights via aircraft owned by ministries and churches.
Televangelists are key end-users here. However, they rarely disclose their use of private jets in their Form 990s. In fact, many televangelist-led churches don’t file Form 990s at all. Churches are an exception to Form 990 reporting, but some file them anyway for transparency. Without a Form 990, the fringe benefit would be disclosed on church leaders’ 1040 individual income tax returns, per Trinity Foundation’s writeup.
The new ruling specifies a $52.35 terminal charge for flights made between Jan. 1 and June 30 of this year. That’s an $8.17 jump from the $44.18 charge in the last IRS bulletin, effective June 1 through Dec. 31, 2022. The mileage rates also increased: $.28 per mile for up to 500 miles (previously $.24), $.21 for 501 to 1,500 miles (up from $.18), and $.20 for over 1,500 miles (up from $.17).
As in previous rulings, flight values are based on the Standard Industry Fare Level formula, which multiplies the cents-per-mile rate and adds the relevant terminal charge. Both factors are calculated and reviewed semi-annually by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Televangelist Lifestyles in Focus
Pastor Planes, a Trinity Foundation project that started nearly two years ago to track televangelist flights using public data sources, reports its findings daily on Twitter. MinistryWatch recently teamed up with Trinity to launch a monthly list synthesizing this information. The last edition showed pastors and ministry leaders made 371.5 flights in March, up from 323.5 in February.
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To give readers an idea of just how often televangelist jets travel, consider this sample: Over the last three weeks (from April 13 to May 4, as of this writing), frequent fliers include Jerry Savelle Ministries (11 flights total), Jesse Duplantis Ministries (also 11), Mark Barclay’s Living Word International (eight domestic flights), Kenneth Copeland’s Eagle Mountain International Church (six domestic), and Trinity Broadcasting Network or TBN (also six).
The latter is the only organization in this mix that submits Form 990s to the IRS every year. TBN’s latest available filing (2020) checks the boxes for first-class or charter travel, with an accompanying note: “Affiliate owned aircraft is used by officers, directors, and production staff for business travel as needed.”
Aid organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse also make several trips per week—perhaps unsurprising given the nature of its activities. Liberty University is another regular flier, using a Cessna 680 for its latest trips.
These flights aren’t cheap. Jerry Savelle Ministries owns a Dassault Falcon 50, which costs $6,207 per hour to operate, according to the Aircraft Cost Calculator. Jesse Duplantis Ministries’ Dassault Falcon 900 racks up $6,868 an hour. Creflo Dollar’s World Heir (totaling four flights over the last three weeks) flies a Gulfstream GIV, amounting to $7,948 hourly.
Main photo: The Dassault Falcon 900 is one of many private jet models owned by prominent televangelist ministries. Photo source: Dassault Aviation