Click below to listen to Episode 54 – Tax Efficient Tithing Strategies

Tax Efficient Tithing Strategies

Learn about tax efficient ways that we can donate to charity given the current tax laws.

Bob and Mary Jo are joined by special guest and brother in Christ, John Madison, CPA. John is the owner and founder of Dayspring Financial Ministry, a biblical financial counseling and coaching ministry. Dayspring offers biblical, personal financial counseling and live workshops. Their counseling and teaching ministries are based on scriptural principles for financial stewardship.

In this episode, John explains the more tax efficient ways that we can donate to charity given the current tax laws. With recent changes to the tax code, this has become a little more challenging. John breaks this down to help us better understand the new laws on tax deductions, donor advised funds, and more.

GUESTS: John Madison, CPA of Dayspring Financial Ministry
HOSTED BY: Bob Barber, CWS®, CKA® and Mary Jo Lyons, CFP®, CKA®

Mentioned In This Episode

Christian Financial Advisors
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Bob Barber, CWS®, CKA®
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Mary Jo Lyons, CFP®, CKA®
Dayspring Financial Ministry
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John Madison, CPA
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Bob: Welcome to Christian Financial Perspectives, a weekly podcast where we talk about ways to integrate your faith with your finances. This is Bob Barber.

Mary Jo: And I’m Mary Jo Lyons.

Bob: Are you ready to learn how to apply biblical wisdom to everyday financial decisions?

Mary Jo: Join us as we look at integrating your faith with your finances. If it’s your first time listening, welcome to our podcast, and if you’re a returning listener, welcome back.

Bob: In scripture. We are called to give the emperor what belongs to him and give God what belongs to God. This is in regards to paying taxes from Mark 12:17. Today we have John Madison, CPA with us. John is the owner and founder of Dayspring Financial Ministry, a biblical financial counseling and coaching ministry. As a CPA and strong Christian, John is going to help us to understand today the more tax efficient ways we can donate to charity, given the current tax laws. With some recent changes to the tax code, this has become a little more challenging. Before we get into that, we want to welcome John to the show and learn more about his mission at Dayspring Financial Ministry.

Mary Jo: Welcome to the podcast, John. Thanks for joining us today. We’re glad to have you.

John: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with y’all.

Mary Jo: So John, in preparing for our show today, I read something that you wrote that really resonated with me. You said, “Our responsibility is to grow in our knowledge of him, cultivate our relationship with him in love and seek out his will in all areas of our lives. Then as we begin to consider our financial goals, the process will truly be another expression of worship as we seek his will, not our own.” I found that pretty powerful. Can you tell us a little bit about your walk and how you started your company, Dayspring Financial Ministry?

John: Sure. I’d be happy to. I wasn’t saved until I was 32 years old and up until that point in time, I really lived my life my way. I had a, at least on the outside looking in, a successful career and many of the things that, you know, society says that someone who is happy and successful would have, but I felt very empty inside and unfortunately I turned to alcohol to try to fill that void. And I spent a number of years in addiction with that. Then one day in August of 1998, God really revealed to me, it’s kind of a longer story, So I’ll just, I’ll leave it at that. That he really revealed to me that he was the thing that I was missing that alcohol would never be able to fill. And so I gave my life to him back now 21 years ago. And Amazingly, by his power, my addiction to alcohol was gone, and I’ve been sober now for 21 years. So I gave my life to him and my finances to him and trying to manage it his way instead of my own. A couple of years after that, I started my freelance accounting business, and God certainly blessed that business. And number of years later, 2015, I was able to retire from full time CPA work that when I was 49 and kind of struggled then. I didn’t do a very good job of planning what the next step was and kind of felt lost for a little bit of time as far as what did he want me to do. And a few years prior to moving out of part time work, I did start doing some personal financial coaching and it was really as a ministry. It wasn’t really a business per se. It was just something that I had some knowledge in and some interest in it and wanted to try to help folks with it and really felt once my schedule freed up a lot from my full time work that that’s what God was calling me to go and to do. And so to really teach, or hopefully teach, others how to manage money God’s way. And so I started Dayspring financial ministry to do that, which is just to teach biblical stewardship. I don’t sell investments or insurance products or anything like that. I enjoy the teaching process and that’s what I feel like he’s called me to do for the season on my life.

Bob: What an amazing testimony, John and I do want to say to our podcast listeners, if you have a testimony like that or maybe alcohol may have a grip on you right now and you want to know the Lord as your personal savior and you just want somebody to talk to you, feel free to give us a call anytime and we would love to talk to you about that personal relationship with Christ cause that’s really what we’re about here, isn’t it, John.

John: Amen and we’ll have my contact info at the end of our conversation. They can certainly feel free to call me about that as well. As much as I love talking about personal finance, I love talking about what the Lord has done for me and what he can do for them too.

Bob: Amen, that’s what it’s all about. Well, you know, we’re so grateful, John, that you’ve given your heart to the Lord and your life to the Lord in serving him in the financial area. And I know there’s a lot of resources available out there to help coach our brothers and sisters in Christ that may be struggling financially. They want to start investing for their future, but they’re just not there yet. Maybe they have excess consumer debt or experiencing other forms of financial distress in their lives. Is there a way you can help these individuals through your ministry?

John: Absolutely. One of the things that I do in addition to having talks like this is I do some one on one counseling with folks. They can be anywhere cause I just use telephones and emails and all that to be able to get together with them and, again, try to focus on what’s God’s plan, how does he tell all of us as believers to manage his resources, whether it’s a little or a lot. I think a lot of times the stress that people feel with money is rooted in not having a plan. They don’t really know what to do. And so my hope is that through Dayspring I can be a totally independent resource to help them determine what God’s plan is for them and to make that plan.

Mary Jo: You said something just there, “Stress comes from not having a plan.” I’m writing that down cause I think that is so true. What if the people that need your help, what if they’re strapped financially and can’t afford your services? Are there any ways you can accommodate them?

John: Absolutely. You know, when I started Dayspring I wanted to make sure, well firstly, you know I gave it all to God. It’s his to do what he wants to and I wanted to make sure that anyone who needed help and was ready to address their financial problems could get it even they didn’t have the ability to pay. And now I do volunteer my time to Dayspring. So the fees that are charged for typical one-on-one counseling are pretty low. But if someone doesn’t have the ability to even pay that, I’ll counsel them for free. That’s totally fine. I’ve mentioned my website address, it’s dayspringfm as in Dayspring Financial Ministry, so and if they go to the counseling page, there’s some details about, I call them scholarships for lack of a better term, some scholarships that are available. And I can either reduce the rate or eliminate it completely because I really want to be able to help folks.

Bob: So let me ask you, John, are you a not for profit organization?

John: As of right now, Dayspring is not officially a 501c3 and quite frankly, I’m getting started with Dayspring and as I’m sure y’all know, the administrative work that goes into a 501c3 is pretty heavy. And so really the way I’m looking at it is right now is it’s not officially one, but if God does decide to bless this ministry, I do want to move it to a 501c3 status. I’m just kind of seeing what he wants to do with it right now. And if he does bless it, then yes, I’d like to move to that status.

Mary Jo: Oh, that’d be awesome. Now you mentioned that your main thing is counseling and that you don’t sell any products. What about investment management? Is that something that you do for clients?

John: No, I don’t manage resources for folks. I manage my portfolio, and that’s the only one that I do. I really want to leave this strictly a teaching ministry. We’ll certainly go through investments and we can talk about what scripture says about the principles of investing and I can look at what options they have available. Let’s say it’s through their 401k or something along those lines, but actually all of the decisions, whether it’s investing or debt management or budgeting, whatever it may be, the decisions are always with the client. I want to be here just as a resource to kind of help point them in the right direction and let them make the decision that they feel God leading them to do.

Bob: I know we have some really great information. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to get John on Christian Financial Perspectives to share with our listeners about charitable giving and how charitable giving has changed with these new tax laws. You’re going to give us some ways that we can still maximize our kingdom impact even with these new tax cuts and jobs act that took effect. It really changed things around and how we potentially give to charity. But before we get to that, I’d like to look at the scripture again for some additional wisdom, and we started the show with Mark 12:17 where we are called to give the emperor what belongs to him and give God what belongs to God.

Mary Jo: And another passage that speaks to taxes is from Romans 13:1-7, “Obey rulers, obey the rulers who have authority over you. Only God can give authority to anyone and he puts these rulers in their places of power.” Then in verse 6 Jesus goes on to say, “You must also pay your taxes. The authorities are God’s servants and it’s their duty to care for these matters. Pay all you owe, whether it is taxes and fees or respect and honor.” So John, as a Christian and a CPA, you have what may be a unique perspective on taxes. Can you share your thoughts with our listeners?

John: Absolutely. As the scripture that you just read mentions, we are to render to all their due and that includes taxes to whom taxes are due. And so we’re required by scripture to pay the amount of tax as determined by the laws of our government, whether we like the tax rules or not, or whether we like the way that they spend the tax money or not. But structuring our financial affairs in such a way to minimize the amount of tax is actually endorsed by the government. There was a case before the Supreme Court of back in 1935, a ways back now, and they said in that decision that, I’m going to quote this to show what they’re saying, that the “legal right of a taxpayer to decrease the amount of what otherwise would be his or her taxes or altogether avoid them by means which the law permits cannot be doubted.” So what that tells me is structuring our affairs, our financial affairs, in a way that complies with the law, absolutely. But at the same time minimizes or even eliminates our tax liability is in fact the law of the land. So Christians can utilize the strategies we’re gonna talk about today to reduce their tax burden and still fully comply with what scripture has commanded us to do there in Romans 13:7. And honestly, I’d go as far as to say if we’re going to be the steward of God’s resources, he’s called us to be, I really think we have an obligation to pay the least amount legally in taxes that we can in order to leave more funds available that we can give to kingdom work.

Mary Jo: You know, John, I think we’d all agree that the government doesn’t do the best job in managing those resources so they’re better off in our hands.

Bob: I’ve heard some statistics, I think it is for every dollar you pay in taxes, only about 10% of it gets to where it’s needed. And when you give to a charity, a ministry, it flips, it’s about 90% gets where need needed. Let’s start off and review what is changed regarding the itemized deductions and the new tax laws.

John: Sure. By far the biggest change was the standard deduction amounts basically doubled, so under the old rules about a third of tax payers itemized and of course returns are still coming in on extension, but the estimate is that somewhere between 5% and 10% of folks are going to be itemizing under the new tax law and then they did eliminate some things that were previously deductible as some un-reimbursed business expenses, investment advisor fees, things like that. Charitable contributions are still deductible, but with only 5-10% of taxpayers itemizing going forward, a lot of folks are going to lose the tax benefits associated with their contribution.

Mary Jo: It always used to be that state, local, and income taxes on personal property and real estate were deductible. I think they called these the salt taxes. Does that still play into the standard deduction? Are they still deductible?

John: Well, they are still deductible if you itemize, but they are limited to $10,000 in total per year. So there are certainly a lot of areas, I don’t know the economics in your part of the country, but around here it’s not that . If you own a home and you have some income and you’re paying some taxes to easily hit that $10,000 cap and anything above that is just non-deductible.

Bob: What about medical expenses? Do these have a cap? Do these still factor into the itemized deductions?

John: Yeah, they still do. They’ve raised it to only the portion above. 10% of your adjusted gross income are deductible. And again, with so few people itemizing anyway, there really would be just a few, a very small number probably, of folks that will continue to be able to actually deduct medical expenses and realize some tax benefit from it.

Mary Jo: So we really wanted to focus in on the key strategies that can actually work given the new tax laws. And you mentioned to help givers maximize their charitable gifts in the most taxed advantaged way that you have 4 key strategies that really work. And those are to number 1, donate appreciated investments. Number 2, make use of a donor advised fund. 3, use qualified charitable distributions and 4 finally gifting at death. So I’m anxious to hear how those add up.

Bob: What can you share with our listeners about donating appreciated investments?

John: Sure. If you, if you donate an appreciated investments, that could be a stock or a mutual fund or some ETF shares, that you’ve held over a year, that’s a key component. It has to be over a year. You can deduct the market value of that donation, not what you actually paid for it, and you don’t have to claim that appreciation as taxable income.

Mary Jo: You know, I think that this one can get a little complicated and there are some logistics that take place behind the scenes. So can you walk us through how all of that works?

John: Sure, yeah. There’s definitely some leg work that will need to be done to do this strategy because you have to remember you’re actually donating the shares. You’re not selling the shares and donating the cash, so therefore the charity or the church that you’re giving it to has to have a way to receive those shares and then they sell them. And quite honestly, a lot of smaller charities and churches probably don’t have those types of accounts already. And imagine too, as well, suppose you wanted to make donations to several different organizations. You’d have to do a fair amount of work to make sure that each one of those organizations were able to receive those shares and sell it themselves.

Bob: John, the new rules on deductions are going to mean that most investors won’t have enough to take advantage of itemizing their deductions and will be held to just the standard deduction unless they get really creative. But one of those ways to get creative is to bunch or cluster those deductions in one year, so you may be able to itemize every other year, give or take. Can you talk about this and how a donor advised fund could help with that?

John: Absolutely. When you’re using a donor advised fund, you actually get the tax deduction when you contribute an asset or cash to the donor advised fund, not when the the investments or the dollars, leave the donor advised fund and go to the ultimate charity. So that means you can bunch up or collect up and donate several years worth of your giving into the donor advised fund in one tax year and probably be able to itemize that year. And then in subsequent year or years, you can take the new higher standard deduction so that the end result is that the total deductions that you’re allowed to take over a multi year period is actually higher, meaning you’ll pay less in taxes. And this is a strategy that my wife and I have used ourselves for a number of years.

Mary Jo: I think I get it now. The actual donor advised fund is a charity in itself. So, when you make that donation to the donor advised fund, you’re making the donation to a charity. And that way then it becomes a ride off that year, but you don’t have to distribute it all that same year. So it’s actually a 501c3 in and of itself. So what does that mean to our listeners?

John: You hit the nail on the head because they are a charity. That’s what makes that contribution that your listener makes into the donor advised fund. That’s what makes it deductible because they are in fact a charity themselves. But what’s unique about the donor advised fund is while you do lose ownership of the contribution, it is irrevocable, you cannot get it back. You do retain the right, though, to make grant requests where the donor advised fund will pass along all or a portion of what you’ve contributed to the charity of your choosing. Again, assuming that they are qualified charity, of course. So your church, for example, you could make a larger contribution into the donor advised fund and then have the donor advised fund each month send a check to your church for your tithe, but you’re able to bunch up all of those, maybe multi years of tithing, into one tax year to be able to itemize.

Bob: If I’m hearing you correctly and summarizing this back from my perspective and hearing this is that they get all the deduction right now and then they can give it away from their donor advised fund to their church or charities at any point in the future.

John: Yes, absolutely, and the charity or the church will receive a check just like if the offering plate is passing you by and you place your personal check in there. From their end, from their perspective, it’s exactly the same thing that they get a check in that they can use for their ministry work, and you can even designate funds when the donor advised fund distributes the money. You can actually designate it to certain projects at the church if you’d like. You can just make that a part of the grant that you’re recommending.

Mary Jo: What if I don’t know who I want to give it away to yet?

John: Well, that’s the beauty of the donor advised fund. You can decide later on who you want to receive the contribution, but you get the tax benefits and the tax deduction upfront when you make your contribution.

Bob: Yeah. I remember this a couple of years ago, Mary Jo and John, we had a client that sold a large business and I wish we had got to him for planning before he sold it because then we could look at a charitable remainder trust, but that’s another day to talk about or another another time. But he came to us after it was sold, and he sold the business for about 3.5 Million dollars and he wanted to tithe off that, but he was in a very small church and he didn’t want to give all that money to that church right then, $350,000 so we opened up a donor advised fund for him. We put that into the donor advised fund, and then he’s given it to his church over time. And you know, one of the reasons he told me he didn’t want to do that is because the church was so small that he was concerned if he gave it all to the church then, then the church would not need money from anyone else. It would take away, possibly, the tithing of the other members because they’d say, “Well, he’s giving away everything. They don’t need anything from us.”

Mary Jo: Interesting. So another item that complicates taxable income are required minimum distributions. Many of our clients have more money than they need, believe it or not, and they don’t actually need their RMDs to cover their living expenses. It actually just creates additional taxable income to them and puts them into a higher bracket. So as givers, are there ways that they can use their RMDs to make charitable donations more taxed advantaged?

John: Absolutely. If someone is subject to RMDs, which basically means they’re 70 and a half years of age or older and and have pretax accounts like an IRA or 401K or 403B, something like that. They have to take out a certain amount from that account each year and of course pay taxes on it when they take it out. So, instead of receiving the RMD themselves, they can actually donate it. It’s called a qualified charitable distribution. You can donate it to a charity, and if you would have needed the RMD for your living expenses, you can then actually take the cash that you would have donated to the charity and use that for your living expenses instead. So, by donating the RMD, the nice thing is you don’t have to claim that as income and by avoiding the income, that could have other beneficial effects on your tax return. For example, maybe less of your social security income would be taxed because your income is lower. Maybe you’ll pay less in medicare premiums because your income is lower. Like we mentioned earlier, the medical bills are only deductible if they’re over 10% of your AGI, your Adjusted Gross Income. If you reduce your adjusted gross income, therefore more of your medical bills may be deductible. So it’s a great strategy if you’re charitably inclined.

Bob: Now, John, there’s some tax laws though on this, isn’t there, and I’m going to need you to clarify this for me about required minimum distributions. You can give it to a charity, and we were talking about donor advised funds, but can you give your required minimum distributions to a donor advised fund?

John: No, you cannot. That’s specifically not allowed by the code.

Bob: That’s what I thought. I just wanted to make sure we clarified that.

John: So using a donor advised funds and qualified charitable deductions, they’re also great strategies for gifting during life, but the fourth strategy you mentioned was gifting at death. How is this different and what tax strategies can you share about this?

John: Well sure. If you plan to make charitable contributions from your estate that’s part of the legacy that you want to leave. Just make sure that you’re donating from pretax accounts like traditional IRAs and 401k’s. Of course charities don’t pay taxes so they can receive that traditional IRA, let’s say, and sell it and there is no tax consequences to them because they are a charity. So make sure that you’re leaving things like life insurance, leave that to your family because that’s usually tax free. And those Roth IRAs, leave those to your family because they’ll enjoy those tax free benefits as well and even your taxable brokerage accounts so they’re not within a tax preferred wrapper, if you will, leave those to your family as well because they would receive a stepped up basis on those assets. So, any charitable contributions, try to designate it from your traditional pretax retirement accounts.

Bob: I’m so glad you’re saying this because for years what I’ve been telling my clients is the beneficiary of your IRAs make that your charities in the taxed accounts. The nonqualified money, leave that to your children. Just makes so much sense tax wise and financially.

John: Absolutely.

Mary Jo: So there really are some strategic ways to continue to give to charity even with the limitations on the new tax laws regarding deductions. That makes me think about the big question, how much is enough and what would God have me do with the excess if I have more than what I need for a comfortable retirement as well as accomplishing, you know, those personal financial goals that I have? I know that not everybody’s in that situation, but we do have a good number of our listeners who have been blessed and are very fortunate, and this gives them some food for thought. John, you talk a lot about tithing cheerfully, and I know you’ve investigated a lot on tithing strategies and what this means to Christians and how they can give more generously by taking advantage of these tax efficient strategies. So if you will answer this for me, besides the obvious benefit to the church, what are the benefits of tithing to the givers?

John: Sure. In Malakai 3, God calls on us to test him with our tither. I find it interesting that this is the only area, at least in my knowledge, that God actually asks us to test him. And it says in verse 10 that if we’re giving our tithe cheerfully, that he’ll open up the windows of Heaven and pour out for you such blessings that there will not be room enough to receive it. Now, those blessings may come in the form of financial gain or they may be in some other form. But what’s important is that we cheerfully gave it to him, that he received it, and in turn he’s going to bless us in a manner that he sees fit. So regardless of the form those blessings may take, we can be assured that whatever blessing it is is going to exceed our expectations. So we should always tithe as a form of worship and obedience, not because it’s some business deal that we’re going to get something out of because he certainly knows our hearts and whether we’re giving with the proper attitude or not.

Mary Jo: Does this have to be done directly to our local church? Not Everybody has a church that they frequent, but can they give to other kingdom purposes as part of their tithing strategies?

John: For me, tithing means my local church. You know, the church that I’m a member of. Offerings are gifts above the top and they can certainly go to charitable causes and you know, we’re called and scripture to be a part of a body of believers. And think of obedient Christians, that’s what they should be doing, if at all possible, at least wherever they may be located. The tithes should go to the storehouse of the local church.

Mary Jo: Interesting.

Bob: John, you have some interesting statistics on tithing. Can you share those with our listeners?

John: Sure, yeah, just a few of them that I think are really meaningful that Christians need to kind of take a step back and look at how we’re doing with what God has blessed us with. But there was a study from last year that really shows some sad statistics in my mind. Only about 2% of Christians tithe, meaning, you give a 10% of their increase to the Lord. Today’s Christians on average give about 2.5% of their income. And to make that even worse, during the Great Depression, Christians gave 3.3% of their income and for families making $75,000 or more, only 1% tither. You know, these are probably the folks of any families out there that would have the means and the cashflow to be able to do it, yet only 1% do.

Mary Jo: Wow. So before we let you go, can you share with our listeners a little about, you’ve got some live financial workshops that you prepare and put on. How can our listeners bring these to the attention of their local church or maybe their pastor and see if that’s something that would be helpful to their local area?

John: Absolutely. First a little bit about the workshops. It’s kind of a two parter. The first part of it is on financial stewardship and it kind of introduces the steward plan, as I call it, for managing God’s resources in a manner that’s consistent with his word. We look at scripture, then we introduce the stewardship principle and then we take it for specific application in today’s financial environment. So we’ll talk about things like setting financial goals and tithing and budgeting and dealing with debt and building wealth, things like that. The second part of the presentation of the workshop is all on tax efficient tithing like we’ve been talking about this morning, but we’ll be able to go into a lot more details and actually work some examples that numbers really don’t translate very well when we’re speaking, but we’re able to go through a long PowerPoint presentation to show a lot of examples of that. Combined, the two workshops run about three hours, so it’s great for like a Saturday morning boot camp kind of thing or maybe a couple of consecutive evenings and break it down into two different parts.

Bob: Is there a charge for these workshops to the church or to the members?

John: No. There’s no charge to the church or the participants. I don’t charge for my time to present these workshops. Again, God’s placed me here with the ability to go and do these things and I certainly want to share this knowledge. Obviously some travel would be involved. If a church is able to help with travel expenses, great. That’ll allow me to get to more places to speak about stewardship, but it certainly is not required. So anyone who’s interested can feel free to email me at with any questions, and I’d certainly welcome the chance to talk about coming to their church to give these presentations.

Bob: Thank you for that.

Mary Jo: So we covered a lot of great information today. I just really want to thank you for sharing and being so open with our listeners. You just gave us how to reach you at your website, but are there any other contact details that you can provide?

John: Well sure. As we’ve said, the email is The website is and they can even call me. The number’s right there on the website or I’ll give it to you now as well. It’s (804) 883-6528, and I’d be happy to talk to them about the workshops or whatever coaching needs they may have. I’m available.

Bob: Well John, it has been an honor to have you on Christian Financial Perspectives. You fit like a glove here, so you know, I mean you fit with what we’re all about. So we want to thank you and your incredible ministry, Dayspring Financial Ministry. You’ve been such a wonderful guest today. You’ve really opened our eyes on how to be more strategic with our giving in order to maximize our impact and work within those new tax laws as well. You gave us some interesting food for thought on tithing and how we could see in our own hearts to open our fist and let God’s resources flow out. Open that hand up and grow the kingdom. Let’s end on this. God loves a cheerful giver. Any last thing you’d like to say, John, before we end the podcast?

John: No, I just appreciate the opportunity to come on and speak to your audience and again, feel free for them to reach out to me whatever way is most convenient for them.

Mary Jo: Awesome. Thank you so much for being with us.

John: Thank you.


Mary Jo: You’ve been listening to Christian Financial Perspectives. Join us next week as we explore more about how to apply biblical wisdom to your financial situations.

Bob: To make sure you don’t miss any of our podcasts, you can subscribe to Christian Financial Perspectives on iTunes, Google Play, or Stitcher. To learn more about integrating your faith with your finances, visit out website at or call 830-609-6986.

Mary Jo: That’s all for now until next week.


Comments from today’s show are for informational purposes only and not to be considered investment advice or recommendations to buy or sell any company that may have been mentioned or discussed. The opinions expressed are solely those of the hosts, Bob Barber and Mary Jo Lyons. Bob and Mary Jo do not provide tax advice and encourage you to seek guidance from a tax professional. Investment advisory services offered through Christian Investment Advisors Inc. DBA Christian Financial Advisors, a registered investment advisor.