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What Is an Honorarium?

An honorarium may help prevent bribery.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 06 August 2014
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An honorarium is compensation provided to someone in exchange for a service where payments are not conventionally made or required. For tax purposes, the payment often must be declared and treated as income. An example of a common situation where an honorarium arises is a conference where someone makes a speech. Speakers at conferences are not conventionally paid, but it is traditional to offer compensation to someone, often including transport and housing, in exchange for that person's participation in a conference.

For certain services, setting or naming a price is considered in poor taste, and an honorarium is offered instead. There may also be settings where people cannot formally accept compensation for something, as the payment might violate laws, but can take an ex gratia payment like an honorarium. Legal restrictions are often placed on acceptance of payments by people in political office to prevent issues like bribery, and when these individuals are asked to speak at events, compensation cannot be provided in the form of a conventional payment.

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These payments can take a number of forms. Some people are simply offered cash for their services. Other payments may involve transport, food, housing, or other benefits. People can also be presented with objects of value as a form of compensation. In all cases, the honorarium is intended as a nod of respect to the person's social position and professional qualifications. While the person could offer services for free and may volunteer services without any expectation of compensation, the people benefiting from those services wish to express their thanks in a tangible way.

Conventions surrounding honorariums vary. Sometimes, people may be provided with information about such payments up front. In other cases, the payment is offered after the fact. In some cases, the payment may be given to the organization the person represents, rather than the person. This may be seen in cases like weddings, where people may donate money to the church rather than paying a religious officiant directly, depending on the established traditions of the wedding.

The tax implications of such payments vary. They may be considered taxable or nontaxable gifts or income, depending on the tax code. People who receive honorariums should consult an accountant to get advice on how to legally declare the payments. Tax authorities may allow people to accept a certain amount without declaring it, allowing people to take small payments without incurring tax liability.

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Discuss this Article

seag47
Post 4

My friend has an excellent speaking voice, and she also possesses a lot of charisma. So, her colleague asked her to host the yearly employee awards at her company.

She thought she would be doing it just for fun and free food at the event. She looked at it as something she was getting to do, not something she had to do. She enjoyed shopping for a dress to wear and planning her jokes.

So, she was happy to find a check on her desk the next morning that more than paid for the dress she bought to wear to the awards. It was a generous honorarium and an awesome surprise.

cloudel
Post 3

Honorariums are pleasant surprises when you are not expecting any kind of payment. I received an honorarium for singing at a wedding, and I didn't know I would be getting anything at all.

My friend had asked me to do it, so I agreed. We went to the same church, which is only ten minutes from my house. I didn't have to spend hardly anything to get there or to prepare.

After the wedding, my friend's mother gave me a check for $50. I thanked her profusely. I had no idea they thought my singing was worth that, so it felt good to receive this.

shell4life
Post 2

@Perdido – I agree that people should be more considerate of the person they hire to do their wedding. If he will be coming from out of town, $50 is far too low for a wedding honorarium.

I got my pastor from my home state twelve hours away to come to town and marry my husband and I. We got him a room and gave him more than enough money for food and gas. I told him to eat at a nice restaurant, because he deserved it.

When planning how much to give for an honorarium, always remember the word “honor” in the term. You want to honor someone for what they have done for you. Giving them too little is more like a slap in the face.

Perdido
Post 1

My pastor travels and speaks at church events and conferences quite a bit, but he doesn't charge a set price. He only accepts honorariums.

Sometimes this can be good for him, because he often gets more than he would have expected. However, at other times, he ends up having to pay more to get to a place than he receives.

When he speaks at events like revivals or retreats that last about a week, he receives free lodging, money for food and gas, and a cash gift after it's all over. This helps support his ministry.

However, if he travels out of town to do a wedding or preach for one night, sometimes the people don't give him enough to cover his expenses. Getting $50 to do a wedding could be great if it's just down the road from his house, but when he has to travel six hours each way to do it, that just isn't enough.

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