How Can I Maximize My Tax Benefit From Charitable Contributions?
Many donors are not aware that their contributions may not be deductible, or that deductions may be limited. Here are the general rules:
First, no deduction is allowed unless you itemize deductions, rather than claiming the standard deduction.
Second, when an organization claims to be tax-exempt, it does not necessarily mean contributions are deductible. “Tax-exempt” means that the organization does not have to pay federal income taxes while “tax-deductible” means the donor can deduct contributions to the organization. The Internal Revenue Code defines more than 20 different categories of tax-exempt organizations, but only a few of these are eligible to receive contributions deductible as charitable donations.
If you go to a charity affair or buy something to benefit a charity (e.g., a magazine subscription or show tickets), you cannot deduct the full amount you pay. Only the part above the fair market value of the item you purchase is fully deductible.
Donations made directly to needy individuals are not deductible. Contributions must be made to qualified organizations to be tax-deductible.
Contributions are deductible for the year in which they are actually paid or delivered. Pledges are not deductible they are paid.
Regardless of the amount, to deduct a contribution of cash, check, or other monetary gift, you must maintain a bank record, payroll deduction records or a written communication from the organization containing the name of the organization, the date of the contribution and amount of the contribution.
For text message donations, a telephone bill will meet the record-keeping requirement if it shows the name of the receiving organization, the date of the contribution, and the amount given.
To claim a deduction for contributions of cash or property equaling $250 or more you must have a bank record, payroll deduction records or a written acknowledgment from the qualified organization showing the amount of the cash and a description of any property contributed, and whether the organization provided any goods or services in exchange for the gift. One document may satisfy both the written communication requirement for monetary gifts and the written acknowledgment requirement for all contributions of $250 or more.
What Are The Most Tax-Effective Ways Of Donating?
There are many ways to give money to charity. In fact, much of many charities’ revenues come from the “planned or deferred giving” techniques. A planned or deferred gift is a present commitment to make a gift in the future, either during your life or via your will. Aside from assuring your favorite charities of a contribution, planned or deferred giving brings with it tax benefits.
Charitable gifts by will reduce the amount of your estate that is subject to estate tax. Lifetime gifts have the same estate tax effect (by removing the assets from your estate), but might also offer a current income tax deduction.
If you have property that has significantly appreciated in value but does not bring in current income, you may be able to use one of these techniques to convert it into an income-producing asset. Further, you will be able to avoid or defer the capital gains tax that would be due on its sale — all the while helping a charity.
Many variables affect the type of planned or deferred giving arrangement you choose, such as the amount of your income, the size of your estate and the type of asset transferred (e.g., cash, investments, real estate, retirement plan) and its appreciated value. Not all charities have the resources to be able to offer more sophisticated arrangements.
Here are some examples of planned and deferred charitable gifts:
You name a charity as a beneficiary of a life insurance policy. With some limitations, both the contribution of the policy itself and the continued payment of premiums may be income-tax deductible.
Charitable Remainder Annuity
You transfer assets to a trust that pays a set amount each year to non-charitable beneficiaries (for example, to yourself or to your children) for a fixed term or for the life or lives of the beneficiaries, after which time the remaining assets are distributed to one or more charitable organizations. You get an immediate income tax deduction for the value of the remainder interest that goes to the charity on the trust’s termination — even though you keep a life-income interest. In effect, you or your beneficiaries get current income for a specified period and the remainder goes to the charity.
Charitable Remainder Unitrust
This is the same as the charitable remainder annuity trust, except the trust pays the actual income or a set percentage of the current value (rather than a set amount) of the trust’s assets each year to the non-charitable beneficiaries. Here, too, you or your beneficiaries get current income for a specified period and the remainder goes to the charity.
Charitable Lead Annuity Trust
You transfer assets to a trust that pays a set amount each year to charitable organizations for a fixed term or for the life of a named individual. At the termination of the trust, the remaining assets will be distributed to one or more non-charitable beneficiaries (for example, you or your children).
You get a deduction for the value of the annual payments to the charity. You may still be liable for tax on the income earned by the trust. You keep the ability to pass on most of your assets to your heirs. Unlike the two trusts above, the charity gets the current income for a specified period and your heirs get the remainder.
Charitable Lead Unitrust
This is the same as the lead annuity trust, except the trust pays the actual income or a set percentage of the current value (rather than a set amount) of the trust’s assets each year to the charities.
Here, too, the charity gets the current income for a specified period and your heirs get the remainder.
Charitable Gift Annuity
You and a charity have a contract in which you make a present gift to the charity and the charity pays a fixed amount each year for life to you or any other specified person.
Pooled Income Fund
You put funds into a pool that operates like a mutual fund but is controlled by a charity. You, or a designated beneficiary, get a share of the actual net income generated by the entire fund for life, after which your share of the assets is removed from the pooled fund and distributed to the charity.
Should I Make A Planned Or Deferred Gift?
When determining whether to make a planned or deferred gift to a charity, ask whether you are ready to make a commitment to invest in a charitable organization; despite the tax benefits, you will still be “out-of-pocket” after the deduction.
Some questions you should consider are:
You get an immediate income tax deduction when you contribute the funds to the pool. The deduction is based on the value of the remainder interest.
Is the charity viable, reputable, creditable, and reliable?
Do you wish to support its programs?
Does the gift fit into your estate and family plan?
Is it Wise To Give My Time To Charity?
Volunteering your time can be personally rewarding, but it is important to consider the following factors before committing yourself.
First, make sure you are familiar with the charity’s activities. Ask for written information about the charity’s programs and finances.
Be aware that volunteer work may require special training devotion of a scheduled number of hours each week to the charity.
If you are considering assisting with door-to-door fund-raising, be sure to find out whether the charity has financial checks and balances in place to help ensure control over collected funds.
How Are Tickets To Charitable Events Treated?
Dinners, luncheons, galas, tournaments, circuses, and other events are often put on by charities to raise funds. Here are some points to consider before deciding to participate in such events. Remember, your purchase of tickets to such events is generally not fully deductible. Only the portion of your gift above the “fair market value” of the benefit received (i.e., the meal, show, etc.) is deductible as a charitable donation. This rule holds true even if you decide to give your tickets away for someone else to use.
Tip: If you decide not to use the tickets, give them back to the charity. In order to be able to deduct the full amount paid, you must either refuse to accept the tickets or return them to the charitable organization. In this way, you will not have received value for your payment.
Tip: Make donations by check or money order out to the full name of the charity and not to the sponsoring show company or to an individual who may be collecting donations in person.
Watch out for statements such as “all proceeds will go to the charity.” This can mean the amount after expenses have been taken out, such as the cost of the production, the fees for the fund-raising company hired to conduct the event, and other related expenses. These expenses can make a big difference and sometimes result in the charity receiving 20 percent or less of the price paid.
Solicitors for some fund-raising events such as circuses, variety shows, and ice skating shows may suggest that if you are not interested in attending the event you can purchase tickets that will be given to handicapped or underprivileged children. If such statements are made, ask the solicitor how many children will attend the event, how they will be chosen, how many tickets have been already distributed to these children, and if transportation to the event will be provided for them.