As the end of the year and the holiday season approach, we will all see an increase in the number of charitable solicitations arriving in our mailboxes and by email. Since some charities sell their contributor lists to other charities, frequent contributors may find themselves besieged by requests from all sorts of charities with which they are not familiar.
Watch Out for Charity Scams – You need to be careful; there are scammers out there pretending to be legitimate charities looking to take advantage of your generosity for their gain.
When making a donation to a charity with which you are unfamiliar, you should take a few extra minutes to ensure that your gifts are going to legitimate charities. The IRS has a search feature, Tax Exempt Organization Search, which allows people to find legitimate, qualified charities to which donations may be tax-deductible. You can always deduct gifts to churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, and government agencies—even if the Tax Exempt Organization Search tool does not list them in its database.
Don’t give or send cash. For security and tax-record purposes, contribute by check, credit card, or another way that provides documentation of the gift.
Tax Benefits of Charitable Contributions – Contributions to charitable organizations are deductible if you itemize your deductions on Schedule A. Generally, the deduction is the lesser of your total contributions for the year or 50% of your adjusted gross income, but the 50% is increased to 60% for cash contributions in years 2018 through 2025, and lower percentages may apply for non-cash contributions and certain types of organizations. Itemized deductions reduce your gross income when determining your taxable income.
However, with the increase in the standard deduction as a result of the 2017 tax reform, many taxpayers are no longer itemizing their tax deductions (because the standard deduction provides a greater tax benefit). For those in this situation, there is a workaround: Bunching Deductions – The tax code allows most taxpayers to utilize the standard deduction or itemize their deductions if doing so provides a greater benefit. As a rule, most taxpayers just wait until tax time to add everything up and then use the higher of the standard deduction or their itemized deductions. If you want to be more proactive, you can time the payments of tax-deductible items to maximize your itemized deductions in one year and take the standard deduction in the next.
Qualified Charitable Distributions – Individuals age 70½ or older – who must withdraw annual required minimum distributions (RMDs) from their IRAs—are allowed to annually transfer up to $100,000 from their IRAs to qualified charities. Here is how this provision works, if utilized:
- The IRA distribution is excluded from income;
- The distribution counts toward the taxpayer’s RMD for the year; and
- The distribution does NOT count as a charitable contribution deduction.
At first glance, this may not appear to provide a tax benefit. However, by excluding the distribution, a taxpayer lowers his or her adjusted gross income (AGI), which helps with other tax breaks (or punishments) that are pegged at AGI levels, such as medical expenses when itemizing deductions, passive losses, and taxable Social Security income. In addition, non-itemizers essentially receive the benefit of a charitable contribution to offset the IRA distribution.
Non-cash contributions are also deductible. Generally, contributions of this type must be in good condition, and they can include food, art, jewelry, clothing, furniture, furnishings, electronics, appliances, and linens. Items of minimal value (such as underwear and socks) are generally not deductible. The deductible amount is the fair market value of the items at the time of the donation; as with cash donations, if the value is $250 or more, you must have an acknowledgment from the charity for each deductible donation. Be aware: the door hangers left by many charities after picking up a donation do not meet the acknowledgement criteria; in one court case, taxpayers were denied their charitable deduction because their acknowledgement consisted only of door hangers. When a non-cash contribution is worth $500 or more, the IRS requires Form 8283 to be included with the return, and when the donation is worth $5,000 or more, a certified appraisal is generally required.
Don’t be scammed; make sure you are donating to recognized charities. Donations to charities that are not legitimate are not tax-deductible. Contributions to legitimate charities need to be properly substantiated if you plan to claim them as part of your itemized deductions. If you have any questions related to charitable giving, please feel free to call or email us at any time.
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