So How Much Do The Leaders Of The Mormon Church REALLY Make?

What The Mormon Church Doesn't Disclose, But What You Deserve To Know

A quick and dirty analysis, by Scott Bidstrup

"On July 3, 2015, Boyd K. Packer, an apostle in the Mormon church, and one of its authors of many church books, died. When he died, he was living in a luxurious home, situated on a leafy 10-acre estate, in a toney neighborhood of Willow Creek in Heber Valley. Here was a man who was born into poverty and grew up in lower middle class circumstances. Except for the first six months after he graduated from BYU, he never lived a day in his adult life that he wasn't getting paychecks from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The source of the wealth that enabled him to live on such a lovely estate is an interesting story. And it's typical."
        --my commentary about General Authority wealth on Facebook forums

In Ex-mormon forums on Facebook and Reddit and elsewhere, the question of the compensation received by the General Authorities is frequently raised. The Mormon church makes a big deal about the fact that its clergy is unpaid, top to bottom, and while in theory that may be true, it's also an obvious fact that many of them live in considerable luxury, most in large and well-appointed homes in toney neighborhoods, a lot of them with vacation homes and in some cases, several of them. Many are seen around Salt Lake City in the back seats of armoured cars being driven around by chauffeurs.

From time to time historically, the hierarchy has in fact been paid. At times lavishly. During the Brigham Young era through the end of the 19th century, local bishops had free access to the Bishop Storehouse stores and were entitled to take what they needed for their own use - and many did so - freely. Additionally, through most of the 19th Century, local bishops were authorized to retain 10% of tithing receipts for themselves (this to incentivize tithing collection, which at the time, payment was not required of members for temple access), and most did so. Additionally, General Authorities had free access to the tithing funds of the church and could (and often did) take freely from it. The result was that many General Authorities lived quite lavishly, as did the local bishops in many of the more wealthy areas.

Since many members of the church were living in poverty at the time, this caused a good deal of resentment, even open rebellion, and eventually led to reforms. After the forced liquidation of church-owned assets in the late 19th Century, at the end of the polygamy persecutions, the rampant nature of the looting of tithing funds when the church had been rendered otherwise penniless, led the president and the Quorum of the 12, to institute reforms, and to cease allowing the hierarchy to dip into the church funds and dip out a lavish lifestyle for themselves. So, for about a century, most of the brethren have been keeping their promise to remain uncompensated. At least publicly compensated.

Sort of.

The question often arises, then, regarding the sources for the wealth being displayed by the General Authorities of the Mormon Church. The church makes a big deal about the claim that its clergy is unpaid, and for nearly all of the low-level local clergy, that's been true in recent times. But that is not strictly true for the Mormon hierarchy above the local level. They are, in effect, paid, and paid handsomely. Here is an analysis of just how they get paid without it being said that they are paid clergy.

The principal forms of compensation takes three forms: a monthly "living allowance," access to an escrow account which pays off their debts, and salaries paid to the General Authorities as members of the board of directors of the for-profit corporations which the church owns. There are other, minor sources of compensation which will be discussed later.

The most widely known form of compensation, and the only one to which the church owns up to publicly, is a rather lavish "living allowance," paid monthly, from the church treasury and paid to all general authorities. It is universally the same amount, from the lowest payee (the Presiding Bishop) all the way to the top (the church president). It is currently (as of this writing of February, 2020) $120,000 per year, paid biweekly, and is subject to federal income tax withholding. The result is a check that varies by payee (depending on his personal tax deductions). The IRS treats this as ordinary wage income.

There are some upward adjustments to this. A leaked pay "living allowance" payroll stub from Henry B. Eyring dated 11/25/2000 to 12/8/2000, a two week period, showed a 3.5% "child allowance." What this was for is uncertain, as Eyring was not the parent of any minor child at that time - he was 67 when he received that paycheck. It also shows a "parsonage" allowance of $826.92. A not insubstantial amount for two weeks - that's equal to $1653 per month, and in the year 2000, that was substantial indeed for a month's rent in Salt Lake.

In addition to this, there is an "emeritus" benefit that is fully vested after 15 years service as a Seventy or above. Exactly what this entails is not known for certain, but is presumed to be a simple retirement pension.

The second source, of which most members are unaware, and which the recipients are required by signed agreement, to keep secret, is access to an escrow account, also drawn directly on church treasury funds. The amount of money in this escrow account is believed to be $1 million for most, but is at least $2 million for the president of the church. We know that the president of the church has access to more than $1 million, because the president of the church recently listed his house for sale. The listed sales price was $1.395 million - and when it was checked, the legal owner of the house was shown as "The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints, Russell M. Nelson, Trustee." The ostensible purpose of this fund is to help out apostles who are called to the Quorum while owing recurring debts (such as car loans and mortgages) that, with their "living allowance," they would not have the resources to pay, thus easing their transition into their new positions. The real reason is to keep the new apostle from publicly apostatizing, once he comes to understand (and that usually takes one to three years) that he's participating in an enormous religious fraud.

It is not known for certain which General Authorities qualify for this, but it is reasonably certain that all the apostles are in on it. It is not known whether or not members of the Quorum of the Seventies are, but I tend to think not - I haven't seen any evidence for that, and when the church recently released 10 members of the Seventies and 40 Area Seventies and replaced only five of them, that would have caused some evidence in the Salt Lake real estate market. But no evidence for that surfaced. It is known for certain that Area Seventies do not qualify for it.

The full details of how this escrow account works is not known for certain (and its very existence has been controversial), but is quite likely that it is typical of how the scheme is used to compensate executives of major 501(c)(3) charities. For most, an account is set up as soon as the recipient qualifies, and it offers to pay off any outstanding debt the recipient may currently owe that can be secured by an asset - real estate mortgages and auto loans are the typical. The escrow account pays off the debt, and in exchange for that, a lien (or title) to the asset is conveyed to the church, with the recipient shown on the lien or title as the trustee. Legally, the church owns the asset, with the apostle having a "trustee" interest in it - The trustee can sell freely, with the funds going back to the church if he does. The church then writes an interest-free and suspended "loan" for the value of the asset, secured by the lien or title. As long as the trustee remains in good graces, the "loan" is suspended and no payment on it is due. If the trustee dies, the lien or title is conveyed to the estate, and the debt is cancelled, and the "loan" is written off the church books. This form of compensation offers significant tax advantages both to the church and to the apostle.

If the trustee leaves the employ of the church, the "loan" becomes a real loan, and is immediately due and payable in full. If not paid, the asset is siezed and the occupant evicted. And now you know why you never, ever see an apostle have a faith crisis and voluntarily leave the church. He can't afford to. They'll always be "faithful" right to the bitter end on their death bed, whether they genuinely believe or not. It's either that or he and his family will be rendered homeless. After the life to which they've become accustomed, that humiliation would be a fate worse than death. So they'll surely remain "faithful." To the bitter end. Every time.

The third principal form of compensation, and easily the most lucrative (and how ideological discipline of the general authorities is maintained), takes the form of ordinary salaries paid to the general authority in compensation for his presence on the board of directors of one or more of the dozens of for-profit corporations which the church owns outright, and for which it can appoint boards of directors solely of its choosing. As with other forms of compensation listed above, the general authority recieving this compensation is required to be quiet about it.

There are known to be at least sixty of these corporations, but there are probably many more, and I've seen numbers running as high as 900, though I doubt that the number is actually that high. But there are certainly enough of these boards of directors, with enough board-member positions, to provide all the seats that the church needs to adequately compensate its hierarchy. Since the president of the church has control over these board seats, which board the general authority sits on, and how much he gets paid, is a decision of the church president. Because these are privately-held corporations, there is no legal requirement for the disclosure of executive compensation, including board members, and so the amounts of the salaries paid to general authorities for their board memberships is a big mystery.

But, because these are decision-making boards of directors, it is important for these general authorities to have some reasonable business acumen. This is why you rarely see a Seventy get appointed who doesn't have at least some business experience. And it's why business experience takes precedence over moral qualifications. An excellent example of this is Quentin L. Cook, recently appointed as an apostle after rising from his appointment as a Seventy in 1996. His principal qualification is that he was the CEO of Sutter Health, a hospital operator in northern California, which, not long before he was appointed a general authority, was involved in the private takeover of two public hospitals in the San Francisco Bay Area. The circumstances were so dodgy that a citizens' committee sued and succeeded in reversing the takeover of one of them, and failed in the other only because of a technicality in the law. But that dodgy situation didn't stop the brethren from making Cook a Seventy.

In 1996, the church made an announcement that, because of the growth of the church, that the brethren would be removed from the boards of directors of the church-owned corporations. The real reason for this announcement was the unfavorable publicity this practice was generating, particularly in the business press. They were very publicly asked by the First Presidency to resign from the boards on which they sat. But within eight months, once the pressure was off, they were quietly being reinstated, one at a time. There are several reasons for this practice, besides the obvious one of providing compensation to general authorities whose only other direct compensation is that relatively small "living allowance."

One of the principal reasons is that this is how the brethren are kept in line ideologically. Since the president of the church is also the titular president of most of the larger and more profitable of these corporations, he effectively controls who sits on which board of director of these various companies. If the apostle gets a bit rebellious and doesn't stay in line, he gets moved from the board directors of the Beneficial Financial Group Inc. and moved onto to the board directors of the Taylorsville Lawn Mower and Snow Blower Rentals Company, Inc., with a commensurate reduction in his income. So there's a strong incentive for the dear apostle to stay solidly in line with Dear Leader.

There are other forms of compensation as well, but none are anywhere near as lucrative as the three methods explained above.

Principal among these lesser forms of compensation are the fact that the general authority is allowed to register his children tuition-free at any of the church institutions of higher learning. Many a child of a GA has gotten an advanced degree at no cost to himself or his family. This does not include books or housing, but the exemption from tuition by itself is a substantial benefit. If you're a general authority with seven or eight children, this can be huge.

Another big source of income for many general authorities is the fact that Deseret Book pays them the typical, customary royalties on church books that they write. The brethren and their families receive access to a credit account at Deseret Book, and they can buy all the books they wish and the general authority's royalties are applied to the balance (though that is still taxable income), though any balance in excess of their royalties are still their responsibility. In one infamous case, Thomas S. Monson, as president, and his family is known to have run up a considerable balance, well beyond what his royalties were covering, and Deseret Book sent him a bill for the balance. That caused an explosion of anger, and a high level meeting with Deseret's chief legal counsel at six in the morning on a Sunday morning, after which Deseret Book sheepishly wrote off the balance.

Many members buy church books they never read, but they always buy them, as if it were some kind of ecclesiastical duty, especially new titles by their favorite apostles. And that means the accumulated royalty income can be substantial. When Boyd K. Packer died, probate documents revealed he had been paid royalties of $9636 by Deseret Book in just the previous six months. That these royalties can be substantial for a big "hit," should be made clear by the fact that "Marvelous Work And A Wonder" has sold more than a million copies since it was first published. Bruce R. McConkie's "Mormon Doctrine" was also a brisk seller from the time it was published in 1958 until it was discontinued in 2010 - having been in print for more than 60 years. This is why almost every apostle has at least one title earning him royalties and many have several. It makes them big money.

Finally, there are the usual business expenses for which the general authority is compensated. General authorities don't generally travel in coach with the publicans and sinners of the Great Unwashed. Seventies generally fly business class, and apostles fly first class when seats are available. Additionally, some of the church corporations own private aircraft fleets, and the general authorities often fly on them when they are available. General Authorities are entitled to use the Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card, and the rewards points they earn in doing so are available for their personal use.

It is well known that the church president and occasionally the apostles, when traveling on surface streets, travel in specially modified bullet-proofed automobiles driven by carefully trained chauffeurs - BMWs and Audis mostly. The church president routinely travels this way - his house was modified to remove the garage which he did not need, and turn it into an extra bedroom, though two "garage doors" remain on the outside - doubtless for appearances.

While mission presidents are not considered general authorities, they do deserve special mention, since there is a lot of speculation surrounding them. They are not paid a wage nor are they paid the "living allowance" received by the general authorities, and any mention of compensation by them while serving abroad is expressly forbidden (to prevent incurring income tax liabilities in the nation where they may be located). The mission president's handbook provides a specific list of expenses that may be incurred by mission presidents that are reimbursed by the church while they are officially in charge of their mission. They are required to keep receipts and file expense reports in the usual fashion.

Many of these expenses from which they may benefit (such as the lease on the mission home) are paid directly by the church. Others are paid by the mission president and are then reimbursed to him via a bank account set up at church headquarters, through which he has access via a debit card.

They include a one-time $750 allowance on arriving in the mission field for getting settled. Thereafter, reimbursement is provided for groceries, household supplies and services including dry cleaning, personal care supplies, such as toothpaste, shaving cream, etc., low cost meals dining out to accomodate family or mission business, incidental replacement as needed of clothing and bedding (mission presidents are required to bring initial clothing and bedding with them), modest amounts are reimbursed for family entertainment expenses, reimbursement up to $100 per month for life insurance. Mission presidents are reimbursed for international telephone service (Skype or Vonage), medical and dental expenses (except cosmetic surgery or 50% of orthodontics, and preexisting condition coverage must be pre-approved), vision care, school costs and fees for dependent children are reimbursed as well as up to $100 per month for their extracurricular activities, as is the support costs for the mission president's children serving missions (up to $2,000 mission preparation expenses are reimbursed), and a single, one-time round-trip cost for children under age 26 to visit the mission president while he is in the mission field.

The church reimburses university tuition for children of the mission president who are living with him (up to the equivalent of the tuition at BYU - students are required to meet certain enrollment standards to qualify for the reimbursement). If they choose instead, they may enroll tuition-free at BYU if they choose to go there. Books and living expenses for children attending college are not reimbursed unless they are living with the mission president.

The mission president is allowed the use of the mission home, of course, which is provided by the church for his use at no cost. He is responsible for ensuring the mission home is properly maintained, though that maintenance is paid for by the church, and the house is inspected once per year for its condition. Outside the U.S. and Canada, a part-time gardener is provided by the church for maintenance of the mission home grounds. A part time (up to 20 hours per week) housekeeper and cook is also provided (except in Brazil and the Philippines), but there are specific requirements that must be followed or their salaries will not be reimbursed. Under certain circumstances, other employees may be provided as needed (such as security personnel in some countries), but again, special procedures for hiring them are required, or the mission president will end up responsible for their salaries. Allowing missionaries to live in the home is strongly discouraged, though it is allowed under unusual circumstances. Missionaries are not permitted to babysit the mission president's children.

The mission president has access to a church-owned automobile assigned to his exclusive use, which the president's wife may also use. Additionally, she has access to mission automobiles as she may need them for personal chores or mission business, and children of the mission president living in the home who are qualified drivers may also use those automobiles, but only for assisting the president's wife with personal household chores as needed. Autos are maintained by the mission and insurance expenses are reimbursed. When traveling on mission business, travel expenses are reimbursed.

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