Mission Finances, part 3

September 5, 2011 | 37 comments
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(Note: this is the fourth part of a several-part series. You can read previous installments here, here, and here.)

Quick review: prior to November 1990, missionaries and their families paid the actual cost of their missions. Moreover, parents would send money directly to their sons and daughters, with no intermediation from the Church. In May 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Davis v. United States that such payments were not tax-deductible, notwithstanding language in the Internal Revenue Code that contributions made “to or for the use of” the Church would be deductible. In November 1990, the Church announced that, going forward, it was equalizing the costs of missions; all (U.S. and Canadian, at least) missionaries would pay a set monthly amount into the Church’s mission fund; the Church would then disperse to missionaries the amount of money they needed. While there’s no indication that the decision in Davis caused the Church to change its policy, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Davis decision at least affected the timing of the change.[fn1]

The Church’s Amicus Brief: The Church was not a party to the Davis litigation. It did, however, have an interest in the outcome. As such, it filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court.[fn2] The Church’s overall position is that “[n]on-deductibility [of the payments made by parents to their missionary children] would force the Church to choose between preserving the beneficial characteristics of its present program and sacrificing Church objectives to qualify the program for tax deductibility of its members.”[fn3] I’ll list below what the Church considered the beneficial characteristics of these unmediated payments, followed, in some cases, by my thoughts.

  • Tradition.
  • Family Connection to Service Builds Faith.
  • Keeps Missionaries Frugal.
  • Helps Avoid Tax and Visa Problems in Foreign Countries. The Church points out that, in order to get a visa, missionaries needed to demonstrate that they were sponsored by donated funds from home (so that they wouldn’t create a welfare burden in the country they went to) and that they would not be employed (and thus not compete for jobs in their mission country). I don’t know how the Church has resolved these visa issues.[fn4] I have actually been interested for some time about why the payments from the Missionary Fund to U.S. missionaries isn’t taxable income to them. I mean, we claim to be uncompensated volunteers when we’re missionaries, but ultimately, we pay money into a fund (and presumably get a tax deduction for it, at least if we’re U.S. taxpayers and we itemize), and the fund pays us money. That feels like income, at least for tax purposes. But the I.R.S. said, in Rev. Rul. 62-113,[fn5] that amounts paid from the fund to volunteer missionaries to reimburse them for certain qualified living and traveling expenses, incurred while serving the church, are not included in the missionaries’ gross income, and are therefore not taxable. (That provides a reason separate from the sacred funds argument for the discouragement missionaries receive from spending their money on things that aren’t mission-related: they may be taxable on such expenditures.)
  • Reduces Administrative Burdens and Costs. We’ve clearly gotten over this (as we have the rest of the objections); I’m sure computerization has helped. But there always is some cost to administering an additional fund; there has to be some real effort required to figure out how many missions, how many missionaries, what their costs are, etc.
  • Responds to Change in Location or Needs. Remember, mission cost didn’t just vary from mission to mission: it varied from area to area. The Church argued that a missionary’s weekly letter home allowed her family to know about changed financial needs faster than either local members or the Church itself could find out. How had my mission handled the change? Every month, every missionary got R$120 (IIRC). The mission paid our rent directly to our landlord, and the assumption seemed to be that rent was the only really variable cost. And it worked, at least in my mission.

A couple other interesting ideas coming out of the Church’s brief: the Church argues that, notwithstanding the potential abuses that could result from deducting payments made directly to one’s missionary child, there was no evidence that any abuse had actually occurred. In fact, the Church argued that its “policies and procedures—particularly those resting on the Church’s objective to keep missionary expenses as low as possible—are an effective safeguard against abuse.”

Also, even before 1990, the Church had a centralized missionary fund. While parents sent money directly to their children, other members who wanted to support mission work could donate to the fund, which would then distribute that money to missionaries who could not by themselves or with their family support their missions. The Church argued that the tax treatment of people who sent money directly to missionaries and those who sent it to the fund should be the same.[fn6] It’s not fair, the Church essentially argues, that one set of donors can deduct their donations, while a second set cannot.

Ultimately, as we all know, the Court found against the deductibility of direct payments to missionaries, and the Church decided to establish the central fund and the equalized cost. As people, we’re often resistant to change, and I suspect that the Church’s amicus brief reflects such resistance, at least to some extent. And ultimately, I think the change has been a good thing—it makes saving for a mission easier and more predictable, and it means the expense of a mission fairer between members. But nostalgia can also be grounded in something real. The Church claimed that, if it was forced to switch from missionaries and their families paying the actual cost of their missions to funding missions through a central fund, something would be lost. So, now that we’ve had the current system of funding missions for almost 21 years, what do you think: did we lose something? And, if so, what?

[fn1] I want to point out that, even if the Church changed its policy entirely as a result of the Davis case, that doesn’t reflect at all on the Church’s truth-claims. I can’t think of a single argument that direct payment of mission expenses is doctrinally required; this seems the clearest example of a Church policy that both can and should change in reaction to changing legal regimes.

[fn2] An amicus brief is a a document provided to the court by a non-party to litigation. Usually the non-party has some sort of interest in the outcome, and tries to provide additional information to influence the court’s ultimate decision.

[fn3] If I could, I’d link to the brief, but I can’t find any free database of Supreme Court briefs that goes back earlier than 1999. If you have access to LEXIS or Westlaw, you can, of course, read the brief yourself.

[fn4] Or maybe it hasn’t—my MTC group was the last one for a year to get into Brazil without visa-waiting, and, when I was teaching at the MTC, Brazilian-bound missionaries again ran into visa problems. I have no idea what the impediment to visas was, but the fear of visa problems was/is undoubtedly a very real issue.

[fn5] Sorry, again, there’s no free link I can provide.

[fn6] This seems to be the one tax policy argument the Church makes: the idea that similarly-situated taxpayers should pay a similar amount of tax is called “horizontal equity,” and is pretty foundational in the design of a fair income tax.

37 Responses to Mission Finances, part 3

  1. Jax on September 5, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    Thanks for the info Sam. I’ve really enjoyed the information, most of which I was completely aware of.

  2. Kevin Barney on September 5, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    I personally benefited from the old system. I had two areas where I stayed in members’ basements gratis, so my expenses were extremely low during those months. Did I tell my parents to send me less money? Would any 19-year old do such a thing? No, I spent the extra money on books.

    But I’m glad the Church changed its policy. If I had been sent to England, say, it would have been a huge hardship on my family. I like the equalization policy.

  3. Jax on September 5, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    Sorry…that should read “completely UNaware of…”

  4. rbc on September 5, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    Very entertaining and informative series. Our son entered the MTC last week and I have a financial question I’m pretty sure savvy T&S readers have some good answers for. Our son earned enough to pay for his entire mission with a few extra thousand for when he returns. Wile he thinks he is paying for his mission himself, my wife and I wil pay and have his money waiting for him (and tuition) when he returns. Any suggestions on where to park 10K for two years to maximize returns and earn a bit more money? Thanks in advance and, again, a great series of posts on a very practical topic.

  5. Jonovitch on September 5, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    RBC, I hope to be able to do the same for my kid(s).

    I’d put the money in a 2-year CD, since it’s for a definite term and a safe bet to return a guaranteed amount. I like ingdirect.com a lot, but you could search bankrate.com for the best rates.

    Of course, nothing’s going to return a spectacular rate these days, but a CD will be better than just leaving it in his savings account.

  6. Yav on September 5, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    RBC:

    Buy $10k worth of uncirculated silver rounds (apmex.com is a great place to start). Put that in some hiding spot and forget about them. Pull it out in 2 years, cash in what is needed and you’d be surprised by the results. That’s what I’d do.

    Sam:

    Separate question that your post got me thinking on. Since the inception of the restoration, missionaries have always been “called” on a mission (i.e. someone directs a call for that person to go to that place). As you pointed out, prior to 1990 that created certain financial hardships. Now that it’s equalized the hardships have largely been reduced, but it ignores the question of “calling”. Has there ever been a time where missionaries called themselves somewhere? For example, instead of having a leader tell the member to put in his papers in order to be told where to go, why not tell the member it’s time to serve… pray and find out where.

    I’m sure there’s some reticence to this idea if implemented (but that’s not what I’m advocating), and certainly some logistical issues, but I think there’s an immense value to having someone spend time fasting and praying to be shown where to go as opposed to fasting and praying to come to agreement on where you’re told to go…

  7. Jax on September 5, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    I’m with Yav on the silver rounds … or just find a local coin shop, I’ve always like dealing with them more than online stores. If your in Utah, then try Rust Coins in Provo. Owner is fantastic to work with and is very truthful. Rounds are nice, but junk silver (circulated dimes, quarters, 1/2 dollars, dollars) appreciates in the same way, same percentages, so just look for something that your son would like to own when he gets home.

  8. Yav on September 5, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    RBC:

    Sorry for the tangent, but his comment got me thinking. If you’d have bought $10k worth of silver coins on Sept 1, 2009, that same $10k would be worth nearly $29k today, 2 full years later. Quite a bit better than sticking it in some CD…

  9. Jonathan Green on September 5, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    Sam, great post again, and to continue the threadjack:

    Investing in a volatile commodity like silver with a term of just 2 years is a bad, bad idea. You might turn that $10,000 into $20,000…or into $4,000. Someone who’s 63 and would like to retire at 65 does not put all their markers on the silver market, or anywhere else that’s exposed to significant risk.

  10. Sam Brunson on September 5, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    Thanks everybody; I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the series.

    rbc, that’s really generous. I’m generally with Jonathan, with the caveat that your investment decisions should take into account your risk tolerance, goals, and time horizon. But, instead of taking advice from random internet persons, I recommend checking out some of these books (and, for that matter, listening to Marketplace Money) for advice on investing and saving.

    All: I love rbc’s question, and I love talking about investments. And I’d love to hear what all of you think about that, too. But, if I can make a request: if you want to give investment advice, could you also address the substance of the post? I’m really curious about benefits and detriments that I’ve missed in thinking about the different ways that missionaries have paid for their missions. Thanks!

  11. Julie M. Smith on September 5, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    Here’s my investment advice: never, ever take investment advice from random commenters on a blog.

  12. Tim on September 5, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    Even the most well-known (and often most useless) financial advice, sell high and buy low, would warn against investing in something that’s skyrocketed in the last couple years. Remember, a few years ago real estate was seen as a great place to put your money–and then the bubble burst. And gold and silver have seen pretty ridiculous gains lately.

    Definitely glad the church changed the way they operate mission funding–I’m fairly certain my rent alone was more than $350-400, and food and transportation were also fairly major costs. I’m glad the church didn’t get its way.

    By the way, are all amicus briefs available on Lexis? I know the church wrote one for Employment Division v. Smith, a major First Amendment case, and I’ve always wanted to read it…

  13. sterileabraham on September 5, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    I’ve got virtually my entire portfolio in baptism futures, though I have hedged it with short-sells on a couple missionaries.

    If Elder Calhoun in Bratislava baptizes three people this year, I stand to make a 600% profit.

    Better yet, if Elder Murdock in Santo Domingo breaks his knee in a bike wreck and gets sent home, I’ll make $10,000.

    And I’ve really been kicking myself about betting on a bear attack instead of a lion attack sending a missionary home from Guatemala.
    http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/52205586-78/oakey-guatemala-lions-arm.html.csp

  14. Richie on September 5, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    Thanks for the post. Interesting to read about the evolution of mission finances.

    I’m curious if missionaries 21+ years ago could indicate anywhere on their mission application what their ability to pay was (i.e. I’m poor, please send me somewhere cheap, or vice versa).

    I’m also curious why senior couples were left out of the standardization of mission finances (just 3-4 years ago, my parents had to fill out all sorts of financial information as part of their mission papers and their ability to pay played a large role in where they ultimately served) and why now it appears that soon, senior couples will be brought into that standardization.

  15. CJ on September 6, 2011 at 12:04 am

    It’s hard for me to say if we’ve lost something. I really like the benefits of the current system though. It’s predicable for families saving for missions so they know how much they should expect to save for the mission.

    Also, it seems to be pretty equitable. All missionaries (and their families) pay the same amount. This has the added benefit of making it less likely (rather perceived or otherwise) that missionaries are sent to a specific missions based on their family’s financial situtation (i.e. an Elder from a wealthier family being sent to France or Japan rather than South America).

    RBC: As someone who is pretty risk averse I would suggest investing somewhere with minimal risk like a CD. I think your son will be thrilled to have some money available to him once he gets back. Perhaps he can decide if he wants to invest else where when he gets back.

  16. jks on September 6, 2011 at 12:38 am

    I find it odd to secretly pay for your son’s mission. If you want to pay for it, why did you make him earn all the money? Didn’t it take him a long time? But you thought it would be “good for him” to pay for it himself…..yet you are going to pull the rug out and say “just kidding” you didn’t pay for your mission, we did? So you didn’t really sacrifice as much as you thought you did……
    Of course, also if you have more than one son, you can’t use this secret system for the younger one.
    Is it because you want him to have money when he returns so that he can pay for college expenses? Why not simply offer to pay for college expenses when he returns? He might actually start feeling stressed when it is time to come home because he won’t know that he has enough money to pay for college. Isn’t that a little mean?
    I’m no fan of surprise birthday parties either (at least the kind where everyone ignores the birthday all day long and then does something at the end). How does giving them a two hour party at the end of the day make up for making them feel bad for the first 16 hours of their birthday?
    So here your son is on a mission and he thinks you were completely uninterested in helping him out to go on a mission. I don’t know how much of a “sacrifice” it is for you to pay for his mission, but maybe it would make him feel good to know that his family is contributing.
    I don’t know. I have never gone on a mission.
    I do think there is much benefit from paying for something oneself, but I also think it is extremely hard to earn enough for an entire mission and college. I have four children, so I can’t really keep something I do with the oldest from the younger kids.
    What if your son does something stupid with the money when he comes back. Do you have an agenda for the money? Or will it really be his to blow on a motorcycle or a trip back to marry some girl he baptized or whatever he chooses? If your intention is for him to have the money to buy a car and pay tuition, perhaps you are better off giving him the money “this is for a car” or “this is for tuition.”
    It could very well be a wonderful, wonderful surprise when your son gets home. Perhaps it just isn’t my style. I’m now feeling like a bad, critical person for saying all this. But I can’t be the only one who isn’t into this surprise sort of thing, who likes to be upfront and direct about stuff….

  17. jks on September 6, 2011 at 12:43 am

    Pros of the old system
    It was a blessing for less wealthy parents or missionaries to be able to pay the full cost of a mission when it was only $25/month to go to Peru in 1989.
    When a missionary needed money he could write home and ask. With the new system, my brother wasn’t allowed ask his parents for more to even though he really struggled and the mission didn’t really give him enough for necessities.

  18. Alison Moore Smith on September 6, 2011 at 5:02 am

    Sam, very interesting stuff and well documented. Kudos on the series.

  19. Chadwick on September 6, 2011 at 5:26 am

    RBC: Consider a 529 plan, if the monies truly are earmarked for college. And consider what Julie said.

    Sam: I agree with Rev. Rul. 62-113. Consider the following. A missionaries works, pays tax, and saves all the money he can for a mission. Upon entering the field, he gives the money to the church, who gives it back to him. If this is income, he has been double taxed! Somebody call the Tea Party! Seems fair to me to not call this income, even for the IRS.

    With regards to visas, what can you do? I don’t think this change in policy has helped with that matter. We had a 13-month drought here in India for anything but native missionaires that recently ended. But my visa to come here also took an extra six months longer than it was supposed to. Chalk it up to a lot of government agencies being lazy (and we thought ours was bad). It affects everyone, and the church gets caught in the mix. I really doubt the delay is ever logical, as I think word has gotten out that Mormon missionaries are self-sufficient and are not out to steal jobs in third world countries.

    That, and it often gets political. Because the US requires visas for all travelers, regardless of reason for visit, a lot of other countries are slow in processing our paperwork as well, in an effort to make a political statement. Or so I’m told, and my visa delay certainly strengthens that case, as I had company approval to come here and am not a known (or unknown, for that matter) terrorist. The tangled web of international relations even snares the church from time to time.

  20. Peter LLC on September 6, 2011 at 7:42 am

    With regards to visas, what can you do?

    Exactly. Visa requirements vary from country to country and over time based on a host of political, economic and [fill in the blank] considerations.

    As you note, sometimes the reasons fall into the category of “tit for tat.” The US will impose a new burden on citizens from a certain country for reasons known only to the innermost circle of the bureaucracy and in response the affected country will target Americans with chicanery of its own. The requirement for medical clearances certifying that the applicant is free of rare diseases is an old favorite.

  21. Sheldon Miller on September 6, 2011 at 8:39 am

    I find it interesting that the monthly amount we pay for supporting a missionary has remained so constant over the 20 years the program has been in place. The increase has been less the 7% since 1990. Inflation has been much more than that. I can only conclude that an ever increasing amount of what it costs to support a missionary is not coming from that missionary’s savings or from his family. It would be interesting to know where it is coming from? Tithing? General Missionary fund?

    Sheldon

  22. rbc on September 6, 2011 at 9:38 am

    Thanks for the financial advice. Sorry to derail an otherwise interesting conversation.

    re: 16 I’m not going to bother answering all of your questions, silly or otherwise except to say we did not force our son to earn the money for his mission. It was a goal he set and he earned the money in a single summer by working very hard and selling a car he bought-with his own money-two summers ago. (He has a very well paying summer job for a kid in HS, but he works hard and puts in long hours.)
    He blew the money he made the previous two summers on a car and skiing in the winter.

    The 12-14K he will have waiting for him (depending on investments) as a “surprise” will put a small dent in his tuition of approx 200K over 4 yrs at USC (Southern Cal). What would really help is for the higher education bubble to pop in the next 2 years; although, I don’t see schools like USC deflating too much.

    Call my wife and I selfish, but we want the blessings that come from paying for a mission all to ourselves! j/k. Our son will need all the money he can scrape together for college. A mission is spectacularly cheap by comparison. Really, your questions are, with all due respect, kind of silly and almost mean spirited. Sorry you can’t enjoy someone trying to do something nice and unexpecetd for someone else.

    Again, fascinating series of posts. I don’t have much to add to the OP. I served under the old system in a foreign country. The exchange rates varied and some months my family benefited and other months it was an added expense. I overlapped by a year with a younger brother and we are from a solidly middle-class military family, but the added expenses of two missions under uncertain financial conditions did not stop my family from buying a new car and going on vacations while me and my brother were out.

    I don’t see that anything was lost in switching to the current system. I like the predictability of the current system and have absolutely no compunction about the fact that at the current rate and based on where my son will be serving I will be subsidizing another missionary somewhere else in the world. In fact, I think that is part of the genius of the current system. Call me a socialist. j/k.

  23. Romney / Hunstman 2012 on September 6, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    RBC:

    Two words: Tahitian Noni

    Buy $10,000 worth (that will be about 5 pallets), and store them in your garage.

    Sell the Tahitian Noni to your neighbors during your son’s mission and watch the residual income pile up as they sell it to their neighbors. You will build a pyramid network underneath you that will bring in a never-ending stream of income.

    Your son won’t need to go to college because you’ll have so much money.

  24. Sam Brunson on September 6, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    Tim,
    I checked—LEXIS and Westlaw both have amicus briefs for Employment Division. I didn’t see one from the LDS church, though.

  25. rbc on September 6, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    Sorry, I’m not familiar with Tahitian Noni or any other kind of noni for that matter. I’m as east coast kind of Mormon. In fact, I tapped into my son’s mission fund to pick up 4 tickets to the Phil-Braves game tonight. Great seats and small crowd b/c of the rain. Too bad Brother Halladay isn’t pitching. After tonight I will have a couple hundred less dollars to invest somewhere else besides Tahitian Noni.

  26. Tim on September 6, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    Sam,

    Thanks for checking.

  27. mike on September 6, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    I had an idea on the question of creative (and not illegal) ways to fund our missionary work.

    Since the US federal government is well on its way to paying for everything else, why not figure out how to get them to finance Mormon missionaries? Impossible you say? What if our missionary department got together with the US Peace Corps and worked out some kind of arrangement? Ezra Taft Benson and Sargent Shriver might be rolling in their graves, but I think this could work.

    Benefits:
    Government pays and gives an extra $7,500 stipend for transition after mission.
    Student loans deferred or cancelled in some cases.
    Easy way to end unproductive door-to-door tactics in exchange for doing actual service.
    Multiple options for service (agriculture, business development, environment protection, drinking water and sewer development, health education especially HIV/STD prevention, youth, women and community development, etc.)
    Vacation of 6-7 weeks, travel permitted.
    Elimination of military style hierarchy (DLs, ZLs ,APs, etc.) and associated pride/unrighteous dominion.
    Higher value on resume outside of LDS circles.
    All foreign missions and some say in where you are assigned.
    No transfers, serve in same area, build stronger relationships.

    The major disadvantages might include a lower baptism rate. But if you believe it is 99% the Lord and 1% the missionary, this should not be much of a drop in the long haul. Control would partially be taken from mission presidents and given to individuals.

    You might think the Peace Corps are a bunch of pot smoking hippies. But there are only 15 to 20,000 serving at any given time. We could easily double that number and still have missionaries left over to do more traditional states side missions. Members in foreign countries could serve in the US. The Peace Corps would take on a Mormon flavor and the hippies would be in the minority. Many would convert if we treated them decently. We might become known as the church whose youth actually serve in undeniably meaningful ways. Instead of the church with obnoxious salesmen on bikes, who (mostly) gave up taking extra wives, has one good choir and football team (sometimes).

    Just a thought from left field.

  28. Jonovitch on September 6, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    I just wanted to second Sam Brunson’s suggestion to listen to Marketplace Money. Taught me everything I know, and I still listen to it all these years later. Great show.

    I was also curious why senior-couple missionaries’ monthly amount wasn’t consolidated, and when that might change. My parents went to Germany a few years ago, and now my aunt and uncle are in Africa. I’m pretty sure they’re not paying the same as my parents did (and unfortunately I’m pretty sure they could be paying a lot more than my parents did). Of course on the other hand, my parents requested to go to a German mission.

    Anyone have some more insight about the history/future of senior-couple missionaries’ financing?

  29. Sam Brunson on September 6, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    Jonovitch, interesting question. If I have some time, I’ll see what I can find out about senior couple missionary financing. As for the future, the Church just (as of three months ago) announced that it was capping the housing expenses senior couples would have to pay. It looks like they’ll still have to cover the actual cost of food and other expenses, but won’t need to pay more than $1,400 a month in rent. So that’s not quite standardized, but it is an intermediate step.

  30. Mark B. on September 7, 2011 at 9:22 am

    One minor point: you say that before November 1990 “parents would send money directly to their sons and daughters, with no intermediation from the Church.” That’s not exactly true.

    When I served in Japan in 1973-75, my parents sent a check each month to the mission (whether that was at an office in Salt Lake City or in Kobe, I don’t know), the funds were converted into Yen and then deposited into my account at Mitsui Bank. The church (or the mission–again, I don’t know the details) had an agreement with the bank to make good any check that was returned unpaid, so we had immediate access to the funds and didn’t have to wait six weeks to make a withdrawal. (One missionary in my first area received a US$ check from his father, deposited it in his account and had to wait that long before they finally cleaned up the mess and gave him access to the funds.)

    It seems that the administrative costs of handling those payments were likely higher than the costs of running the current program–especially since the current program would enjoy some economies of scale.

    All rent and utilities in our mission were paid through a “Mission Housing Fund” which was funded through a deduction from the amounts deposited in our individual accounts.

    One other note–regarding missionary’s “income.” The forms used to apply for a U.S. “religious worker” visa refer to the relationship between church and the minister or missionary as “employment” and describe the payments made as “compensation.” The church thus makes statements in its visa petitions for foreign missionaries serving in the U.S. that, on the surface at least, are inconsistent with the position missionaries take regarding taxability of the payments made to them.

  31. Sam Brunson on September 7, 2011 at 10:02 am

    Interesting, Mark. Thanks. The impression I got from the lawsuit was that parents sent money directly to their missionary children, though a six-week wait for access to those funds would be tough. Do you know if most missions functioned like yours, or was that unique to Japan (or your mission president or something)? That does seem expensive, if it was replicated throughout the world. On the other hand, doing it in one or two places—especially if a missionary is taking care of it—doesn’t seem so expensive.

    And interesting about the visa application. Though that seems inconsistent with the revenue ruling, I’m entirely sure the two documents were developed completely independently of one another. That said, the visa statement provides one more reason that, but for the revenue ruling, I wouldn’t want to argue that missionaries’ receipt of funds from the Church missionary fund isn’t taxable income, however it may feel to them. And, because of the scope of the revenue ruling, I really, really wouldn’t want a missionary to spend those funds on anything that wasn’t a necessary mission expense.

    (That’s not to say that missionaries should never, ever buy souvenirs. I don’t know the Church’s current policy on it, but, absent some prohibition, it doesn’t seem like a totally horrible thing to do. I just mean that those souvenirs should clearly come out of money the missionary brought or that people sent directly to the missionary as gifts.)

  32. Ardis E. Parshall on September 7, 2011 at 10:25 am

    I don’t know what the visa application papers said, but in 1982-83 France, when we were supposed to register our addresses with the police in every town where we were assigned, our documents said something like “supported by funds from the United States,” not with anything that suggested employment or income.

    Missionary funds did not go through the mission home in any way in that time and place. We went to a bank early every month, one where the Church had established some sort of relationship, wrote a personal check on our own bank at home, and immediately received cash at whatever the current exchange rate was, and went on our merry ways. There must at some point been some missionary who bounced a check; I don’t know how that was handled.

    Rent was all that was equalized; we paid 600 francs cash to the district leader each month (I don’t know whether he deposited it in some Church account or sent it on to the mission office). Rents were paid, leases negotiated, all that kind of thing, by the mission office.

    Because our money was handled through our personal bank accounts, there must have been a hundred different ways in which the funds were deposited and handled. I had full access at all times during my mission to every penny of the money I had saved for my mission, supplemented at times by deposits from my parents, grandmother, and ward members. It didn’t occur to me until this very moment that I could have used all the money in my account to go on a wild spending spree my first month in France. Possibly some missionaries would have done exactly that — and I hope their parents knew them well enough to deposit only one month’s allotment into their accounts at a time!

    It was having access to my own funds that even permitted me to live when I was transferred every month or two of my mission — without access to next month’s money, I sometimes wouldn’t have been able to buy a train ticket, ship my bike, and buy a new bus pass for a late-month transfer. As it was, I could dip into next month’s money for transportation, then go without basic stuff the next month to make up for it. (I was really trying not to go over budget, mostly to avoid the wrath of my mission president, so sometimes I would use bar soap instead of buying shampoo, and once I went two months wearing a broken-down pair of shoes — the heels were hollow and one had collapsed like a broken tooth, but I couldn’t replace it. Yet I had access to my funds. Hmmm. Will have to think about the meaning of all that.)

    Anyway, that’s how it was handled in France and Switzerland 30 years ago.

  33. Sam Brunson on September 7, 2011 at 10:38 am

    Thanks Ardis! I love hearing the personal experiences with mission finances; that actually makes others’ missions more tangible to me, especially when I hear details that differ so much from my (1995-1997) mission experience.

  34. TStevens on September 7, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    The church equalized the mission costs about 3 months after I got home from my England mission. It ran about $1000 a month back then. If memory serves right the change wasn’t universal at first. American missionaries were put on the plan for several months before the church made it for everyone.
    Anyways my parents paid the money in their ward and the ward clerk then cut a check to the mission home. The senior missionary who worked in the mission home then made a deposit into my bank account. If your money didn’t arrive you could be sol, or if the senior missionary made a mistake. Once I got my money and the money of another elder who had the same last name as me; it was a tight couple of days for him. As for daily expenses we paid for everything ourselves directly out of our accounts, from rent to BOMs.
    The one advantage I had was my home ward Bishop was a VP at a major English bank and once when things got extremely tight it took one quick call home and 30 minutes later I went to a local branch of the bank and had a small envelope of cash waiting for me – very nice.

  35. Brian on September 7, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    I would also find it very interesting to know the varying amounts paid by missionaries from different countries serving in the same mission. My mission to Mexico cost $350/month. The native Mexican missionaries paid roughly a tenth of that ($30-60 per month, depending on who you asked.

  36. Ardis E. Parshall on September 7, 2011 at 7:36 pm

    One other twist to my mission financing that I just recalled (I’ve spent nearly 30 years trying to forget my mission, and these days things come back in weird snatches) — I spent more on transportation as a missionary than I spent on everything else combined. Missionaries for many years previous must not have reported their actual living expenses accurately, because the amount we were told to have on hand, and which we were repeatedly told not to exceed, was grossly inadequate even for the very frugal, even without my heavy transportation expenses. I was dead broke by the last couple of months with no option but to ask for more help from my family, who couldn’t really afford it, and a last transfer at such a long distance that I needed to buy a plane ticket instead of riding the train.

    One of Mitterand’s policies for dealing with the French economic situation was to make it illegal for French citizens to take more than a certain amount of money with them when they traveled overseas. I don’t know what the amount was, but it must have been inadequate for extended travel. A young woman in the ward where I was ending my mission had been saving for years to make an extended tour of the United States, and she would have to severely curtail her travel plans because of the economic rules.

    Without spelling anything out, without acknowledging that we were probably doing something illegal, or at least that if I had failed in my part it would have left the French sister cheated and possibly embittered toward the Church, she came to me one day and said she would like to support me for the rest of my mission. She had a peculiar, expectant look on her face — it must have matched mine when I told her I would be grateful for her contribution, because I was in some difficulty. “And I expect to start working again just as soon as I get home. Would you allow me to treat you then to a long vacation when you come to the U.S.?”

    So that’s what we did. She gave me her travel savings, which enabled me to finish my mission and even to buy a few souvenirs on the last day; she called on me when she came to the U.S. later that summer, and I turned over to her my first couple of months’ salary. I don’t even want to know how many laws, civil or ecclesiastical, that we broke; both of us benefited, and as far as I can tell no one else was harmed.(Thank you, Annie-Claude.)

  37. Alain on September 9, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    I served in France like Ardis but my service bisected the two regimes of mission finances almost exactly. From November 1989 to November 1990 I went the to BNP each month and wrote out a check for $700 and that was what I lived on for the month including rent. I’m not sure what the rent costs were but we paid that out to our DL or ZLs who took it to the mission office on their monthly runs.

    When the change happened in November 1990 my parents then paid the standard $400 to the Church and we received something in the range of 1700 francs in cash from the ZLs on a monthly basis (it was 5 to 6 francs to the dollar at the time). What I do recall was that I suddenly had more cash on hand to spend than I previously had when I was pulling the check and paying out rent to the ZLs. It probably didn’t hurt that the dollar bottomed (for the trend during my two years there) against the franc in October 1990 and jumped to $1/6FF over the next 6 months. So I’m not sure whether I was really getting more money out of the Church allowance or the dollar was simply going further.

    We were expected to keep enough cash on hand for emergency transfers (something in the range of 400 FF) and to replenish it if necessary. I always had a credit card in my wallet that my Father told me to only use in the event of emergency needs and I recall it was only used once when I had two transfers within 6 weeks of each other along with a trip up to the mission office in Brussels when I was serving down in Mulhouse (practically the most expensive ticket in the mission).

    Ardis, nothing changed with regards to transportation if you were living in a bus ville since trains were the primary mode of getting to Zone Conferences each month and monthly bus or metro passes were required. Fortunately for me most of my mission was spent in biking villes so my body and my wallet benefited.