Monday, December 24, 2012

Church Credit Cards

I think church-issued credit cards are unnecessary except in special situations (more on that later). I really am against the issuing of church credit cards and here's why:
  • they lead to more work by a staff person, usually an administrative assistant to manage all the cards and track the receipts
  • they lead to expense since some staff will buy things more quickly than if they were using their own card
  • they lead to abuse by some staff (dealing with that is a personnel committee matter not a finance committee issue)
  • they are seen as a right and status symbol when they are neither
Here are my recommendations regarding church credit cards:
  • Staff should use their own personal credit cards when making purchases for the church. Then, the staff person should turn in a receipt and get reimbursed for that expense just like he or she would for mileage or any other purchase. This incentivizes the staff person to get the receipt and turn in the receipt in a timely manner. This addresses the single biggest issue regarding church credit cards - staff members who do not turn in receipts when asked for them and that causes problems for the church's Finance Office.
    • A way for staff to deal with this in a positive manner for them is to get a card with rewards points and then use that card only for church purchases. Write on the card "church use only" so you don't get confused. When the bill comes in, turn in the statement and all the receipts requesting that the check be made payable to the credit card company (not to the staff person). At the end of the year, the staff person earns points which he or she can keep.
  • A church may want to have ONLY ONE church card in the office and that is for use by the administrative assistant when he or she is buying things online (from or an airline ticket or paying a conference fee). This card should not be used by one of the ministers - they can use their own card - and the invoice must immediately be sent to the church's Finance Office as soon as it is received by email.
There is one and only one exception that I can think of and it is not very good. If a staff person needs a credit card for church work but cannot get one because his or her own credit is poor, then the church can intervene and get one. But, there is a big, huge red flag - if that person's credit is that poor, there is a reason for that and do you really want someone with bad credit handling a church credit card? Think twice about that.

I know church credit cards can be positive. In the past two years I've gotten three (3) iPads for church staff using rewards points. But I also know that when you get credit cards, someone on staff will spend hours reconciling all the receipts to the card statements and entering the payment data. That is a lot of extra time that could be used more productively elsewhere in the church.

So, if you ignore my advice and do get church credit cards, you need to have a contract with the cardholders. This contract needs to be authorized and approved by the church's Finance Committee, signed by the staff person, and placed in the employee's personnel file in the Finance Office. This contract should have a "three strikes" provision: if someone with a church-issued card does not turn in his or her paperwork in a timely fashion (when requested by the Finance Office), then after the third event the card will be revoked for a specific time period (usually 3 or 6 months, sometimes indefinitely until the person appears before the Finance Committee or even the Personnel Committee).

The bottom line for me is about being good stewards of the church's resources. A credit card is a privilege, not a right and staff people need to earn it, not expect it.

Lead On!

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