Current Legal Issues

IRS Church Tax Inquiries and Examinations


Subtitle F - Procedure and Administration


Subchapter A - Examination and Inspection


§ 7611. Restrictions on church tax inquiries and examinations

(a)   Restrictions on inquiries

(1)   In general

The Secretary may begin a church tax inquiry only if—

(A)   the reasonable belief requirements of paragraph (2),and

(B)  the notice requirements of paragraph (3), have beenmet.

(2)   Reasonable belief requirements

Therequirementsofthisparagrapharemetwithrespecttoanychurchtaxinquiryifanappropriate high-level Treasury official reasonably believes (on the basis of facts and circumstancesrecorded in writing) that thechurch—

(A)   maynotbeexempt,byreasonofitsstatusasachurch,fromtaxundersection501(a),or

(B)   maybecarryingonanunrelatedtradeorbusiness(withinthemeaningofsection513)or otherwise engaged in activities subject to taxation under thistitle.

(3)   Inquiry notice requirements

(A)   In general

The requirements of this paragraph are met with respect to any church tax inquiry if, before beginning such inquiry, the Secretary provides written notice to the church of the beginning of such inquiry.

(B)  Contents of inquiry notice

The notice required by this paragraph shall include—

(i)    an explanationof—

(I)    the concerns which gave rise to such inquiry,and

(II)    the general subject matter of such inquiry,and

(ii)    a general explanation of theapplicable—

(I)      administrative and constitutional provisions with respect to such inquiry (including the right to a conference with the Secretary before any examination of church records),and

(II)   provisionsofthistitlewhichauthorizesuchinquiry,orwhichmaybeotherwise involved in suchinquiry.

(b)   Restrictions on examinations

(1)    In general

The Secretary may begin a church tax examination only if the requirements of paragraph (2) have been met and such examination may be made only—

(A)    in the case of church records, to the extent necessary to determine the liability for, and the amount of, any tax imposedby this title,and

(B)     in the case of religious activities, to the extent necessary to determine whether an organization claiming to be a church is a church for anyperiod.

(2)    Notice of examination; opportunity for conference

The requirements of this paragraph are met with respect to any church tax examination if—




(A)         at least 15 daysbefore the beginning of such examination, the Secretary provides the notice described in paragraph (3) to both the church and the appropriate regional counsel of the Internal Revenue Service,and

(B)        the church has a reasonable time to participate in a conference described in paragraph (3)(A)(iii), but only if the church requests such a conference before the beginning of the examination.

(3)   Contents of examination notice, et cetera

(A)   In general

The notice described in this paragraph is a written notice which includes—

(i)   a copy of the church tax inquiry notice provided to the church under subsection(a),

(ii)     adescription of the church records and activitieswhich the Secretary seeks to examine,

(iii)     an offer to have a conference between the church and the Secretary in order to discuss, and attempt to resolve, concerns relating to such examination,and

(iv)    a copy of all documents which were collected or prepared by the Internal Revenue Service for use in such examination and the disclosure of which is required by the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C.552).

(B)  Earliest day examination notice may be provided

The examination notice described in subparagraph (A) shall not be provided to the church before the 15th day after the date on which the church tax inquiry notice was provided to the church under subsection (a).

(C)   Opinion of regional counsel with respect to examination

Any regional counsel of the Internal Revenue Service who receives an examination notice under paragraph (1) may, within 15 days after such notice is provided, submit to theregional commissioner for the region an advisory objection to theexamination.

(4)   Examination of records and activities not specified in notice

Withinthecourseofachurchtaxexaminationwhich(atthetimetheexaminationbegins)meetsthe requirementsofparagraphs(1)and(2),theSecretarymayexamineanychurchrecordsorreligious activitieswhichwerenotspecifiedintheexaminationnoticetotheextentsuchexaminationmeets the requirement of subparagraph (A) or (B) of paragraph (1) (whicheverapplies).

(c)   Limitation on period of inquiries and examinations

(1)    Inquiries and examinations must be completed within 2 years

(A)    In general

The Secretary shall complete any church tax status inquiry or examination (and make a   final determination with respect thereto) not later than the date which is 2 years after the examination noticedate.

(B)  Inquiries not followed by examinations

Inthecaseofachurchtaxinquirywithrespecttowhichthereisnoexaminationnoticeunder subsection(b),theSecretaryshallcompletesuchinquiry(andmakeafinaldeterminationwith respect thereto) not later than the date which is 90 days after the inquiry noticedate.

(2)    Suspension of 2-year period

Therunningofthe2-yearperioddescribedinparagraph(1)(A)andthe90-dayperiodinparagraph (1)(B) shall besuspended—

(A)    for any period duringwhich—

(i)    ajudicial proceedingbrought by the church against the Secretary with respect to the church tax inquiry or examination is pending or beingappealed,



(ii)    a judicial proceeding brought by the Secretary against the church (or any official thereof) to compel compliance with any reasonable request of the Secretary in a church tax examination for examination of church records or religious activities is pending or being appealed,or

(iii)     the Secretary is unable to take actions with respect to the church tax inquiry or examinationbyreasonofanorderissuedinanyjudicialproceedingbroughtundersection 7609,

(B)    for any period in excess of 20 days (but not in excess of 6 months) in which the church or its agents fail to complywith any reasonable request of the Secretary for church records  or other information,or

(C)    for any period mutually agreed upon by the Secretary and thechurch.

(d)   Limitations on revocation of tax-exempt status, etc.

(1)   In general

The Secretary may—

(A)   determine that an organization is not a churchwhich—

(i)    is exempt from taxation by reason of section 501 (a),or

(ii)   is described in section 170 (c),or

(B)  (i)  send a notice of deficiency of any tax involved in a church tax examination,or

(ii) in the case of any tax with respect to which subchapter B of chapter 63 (relating to deficiency procedures) does not apply, assess any underpayment of such tax involved in a church tax examination,

onlyiftheappropriateregionalcounseloftheInternalRevenueServicedeterminesinwriting thattherehasbeensubstantialcompliancewiththerequirementsofthissectionandapproves in writing of such revocation, notice of deficiency, orassessment.

(2)   Limitations on period of assessment

(A)    Revocation of tax-exempt status

(i)    3-year statuteof limitationsgenerally

In the case of any church tax examination with respect to the revocation of tax-exempt status under section 501 (a), any tax imposed by chapter 1 (other than section 511) may be assessed, or a proceeding in court for collection of such tax may be begun without assessment,onlyforthe3mostrecenttaxableyearsendingbeforetheexaminationnotice date.

(ii)    6-year statute of limitations where tax-exempt statusrevoked

If an organization is not a church exempt from tax under section 501 (a) for any of the   3 taxable years described in clause (i), clause (i) shall be applied by substituting “6most recent taxable years” for “3 most recent taxableyears”.

(B)  Unrelated business tax

In the case of any church tax examination with respect to the tax imposed by section 511 (relatingtounrelatedbusinessincome),suchtaxmaybeassessed,oraproceedingincourtfor the collection of such tax may be begun without assessment, only with respect to the 6 most recent taxable years ending before the examination noticedate.

(C)   Exception where shorter statute of limitations otherwise applicable

Subparagraphs(A)and(B)shallnotbeconstruedtoincreasetheperiodotherwiseapplicable under subchapter A of chapter 66 (relating to limitations on assessment andcollection).

(e)    Information not collected in substantial compliance with procedures to stay summons proceeding



(1)   In general

If there has not been substantial compliance with—

(A)    the notice requirements of subsection (a) or(b),

(B)   the conference requirement described in subsection (b)(3)(A)(iii),or

(C)    the approval requirement of subsection (d)(1) (ifapplicable),

withrespecttoanychurchtaxinquiryorexamination,anyproceedingtocompelcompliancewith anysummonswithrespecttosuchinquiryorexaminationshallbestayeduntilthecourtfindsthat all practicable steps to correct the noncompliance have been taken. The period applicable under paragraph (1) or subsection (c) shall not be suspended during the period of any stay under the precedingsentence.

(2)   Remedy to be exclusive

Nosuitmaybemaintained,andnodefensemayberaisedinanyproceeding(otherthanasprovided in paragraph (1)), by reason of any noncompliance by the Secretary with the requirements of this section.

(f)    Limitations on additional inquiries and examinations

(1)   In general

If any church tax inquiry or examination with respect to any church is completed and does not result in—

(A)    a revocation, notice of deficiency, or assessment described in subsection (d)(1),or

(B)    a request by the Secretary for any significant change in the operational practices of the church (including the adequacy of accountingpractices),

no other church tax inquiry or examination may begin with respect to such church during the applicable5-yearperiodunlesssuchinquiryorexaminationisapprovedinwritingbytheSecretary or does not involve the same or similar issues involved in the preceding inquiry or examination. For purposes of the preceding sentence, an inquiry or examination shall be treated as completed not later than the expiration of the applicable period under paragraph (1) of subsection(c).

(2)   Applicable 5-year period

For purposes of paragraph (1), the term “applicable 5-year period” means the 5-year period beginningonthedatethenoticetakenintoaccountforpurposesofsubsection(c)(1)wasprovided. For purposes of the preceding sentence, the rules of subsection (c)(2) shallapply.

(g)   Treatment of final report of revenue agent

Any final report of an agent of the Internal Revenue Service shall be treated as a determination of the Secretaryunderparagraph(1)ofsection7428(a),andanychurchreceivingsuchareportshallbetreated forpurposesofsections7428and7430ashavingexhaustedtheadministrativeremediesavailabletoit.

(h)    Definitions

For purposes of this section—

(1)   Church

The term “church” includes—

(A)    any organization claiming to be a church,and

(B)   any convention or association ofchurches.

(2)   Church tax inquiry

Theterm“churchtaxinquiry”meansanyinquirytoachurch(otherthananexamination)toserve as a basis for determining whether achurch—

(A)  is exempt from tax under section 501 (a) by reason of its status as a church,or



(B)    is carrying on an unrelated trade or business (within the meaning of section 513) or otherwise engaged in activities which may be subject to taxation under thistitle.

(3)   Church tax examination

Theterm“churchtaxexamination”meansanyexaminationforpurposesofmakingadetermination described in paragraph (2)of—

(A)    church records at the request of the Internal Revenue Service,or

(B)   the religious activities of anychurch.

(4)   Church records

(A)    In general

The term “church records” means all corporate and financial records regularly kept by a church, including corporate minute books and lists of members and contributors.

(B)   Exception

Such term shall not include records acquired—

(i)    pursuant to a summons to which section 7609 applies,or

(ii)    from any governmentalagency.

(5)   Inquiry notice date

The term “inquiry notice date” means the date the notice with respect to a church tax inquiry is provided under subsection (a).

(6)   Examination notice date

The term “examination notice date” means the date the notice with respect to a church tax examination is provided under subsection (b) to the church.

(7)   Appropriate high-level Treasury official

The term “appropriate high-level Treasury official” means the Secretary of the Treasury or any delegate of the Secretary whose rank is no lower than that of a principal Internal Revenue officer for an internal revenue region.

(i)   Section not to apply to criminal investigations, etc.

This section shall not apply to—

(1)   any criminalinvestigation,

(2)    any inquiry or examination relating to the tax liability of any person other than achurch,

(3)   anyassessmentundersection6851(relatingtoterminationassessmentsofincometax),section 6852 (relating to termination assessments in case of flagrant political expenditures of section 501 (c)(3) organizations), or section 6861 (relating to jeopardy assessments of income taxes,etc.),

(4)   any willful attempt to defeat or evade any tax imposed by this title,or

(5)    any knowing failure to file a return of tax imposed by thistitle.

(Added Pub. L. 98–369, div. A, title X, § 1033(a), July 18, 1984, 98 Stat. 1034; amended Pub. L. 99–514, title XVIII, § 1899A(61), (62), Oct. 22, 1986, 100 Stat. 2962; Pub. L. 100–203, title X, § 10713(b)(2)(G),

Dec. 22, 1987, 101 Stat. 1330–470; Pub. L. 100–647, title I, § 1018(u)(49), Nov. 10, 1988, 102 Stat.

3593; Pub. L. 101–239, title VII, § 7822(d)(1), Dec. 19, 1989, 103 Stat. 2425; Pub. L. 104–188, title I,

§ 1704(t)(59), Aug. 20, 1996, 110 Stat. 1890; Pub. L. 105–206, title I, § 1102(e)(3), July 22, 1998, 112

Stat. 705.)


Prior Provisions

A prior section 7611 was renumbered section 7613 of this title.




1998—Subsec.(f)(1).Pub.L.105–206substituted“Secretary”for“AssistantCommissionerforEmployeePlansand Exempt Organizations of the Internal Revenue Service” in concludingprovisions.

1996—Subsec. (h)(7). Pub. L. 104–188 substituted “appropriate” for “approporiate” in text. 

1989—Subsec. (i)(3). Pub. L. 101–239 made technical correction to directory language of Pub. L. 100–203, see 1987 Amendment note below. 

1988—Subsec. (i)(5). Pub. L. 100–647 substituted “this title” for “the title”.

1987—Subsec. (i)(3). Pub. L. 100–203, as amended by Pub. L. 101–239, substituted “, section 6852 (relating to terminationassessmentsincaseofflagrantpoliticalexpendituresofsection501(c)(3)organizations),orsection6861 (relating to jeopardy assessments of income taxes, etc.),” for “or section 6861 (relating to jeopardy assessments of income taxes,etc.),”.

1986—Subsec. (a)(1)(B). Pub. L. 99–514, § 1899A(62), reenacted subpar. (B) without change.

Subsec.(i).Pub.L.99–514,§1899A(61),redesignatedpars.(A)to(E)as(1)to(5),inpar.(3),substituted“etc.)”for “etc)”, and in par. (5), substituted “the title” for “thetitle”.


Effective Date of 1989 Amendment

AmendmentbyPub.L.101–239effectiveasifincludedintheprovisionoftheRevenueActof1987,Pub.L.100–203, title X, to which such amendment relates, see section 7823 of Pub. L. 101–239, set out as a note under section 26    of thistitle.


Effective Date of 1988 Amendment

Amendment by Pub. L. 100–647 effective, except as otherwise provided, as if included in the provision of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, Pub. L. 99–514, to which such amendment relates, see section 1019(a) of Pub. L. 100–647, set out as a note under section 1 of this title.


Effective Date

Section 1033(d) of Pub. L. 98–369 provided that: “The amendments made by this section [enacting this section and amending sections 7428 and 7605 of this title] shall apply with respect to inquiries and examinations beginning after December 31, 1984.”


Plan Amendments Not Required Until January  1, 1989

For provisions directing that if any amendments made by subtitle A or subtitle C of title XI [§§ 1101–1147 and 1171–1177] or title XVIII [§§ 1800–1899A] of Pub. L. 99–514 require an amendment to any plan, such plan amendment shall not be required to be made before the first plan year beginning on or after Jan. 1, 1989, see section 1140 of Pub. L. 99–514, as amended, set out as a note under section 401 of this title.