January 30, 2012

Charitable Deductions – More Than One Benefit

Charitable Deductions – More Than One Benefit Tax & Business

Charitable giving is not only a rewarding experience, but also an excellent tax tool to reap benefits when it comes to filing income tax returns. Highlighted below are the main areas to consider when planning for charitable giving. Please consult your Marcum tax professional for further consideration in your yearend tax planning.

Cash Donations

Donations under $250 given by cash, check, credit card or payroll deduction are fully deductible as charitable contributions and can be simply supported by a canceled check, credit card receipt or written communication from the charity. Taxpayers do not attach this documentation to their return, rather it is kept in their records.

A donation in an amount more than $250 must be substantiated by the charity in writing. This letter will indicate the total amount of the donation, date donated, and the value of the donation. When donating to an event, such as a dinner, gala, golf outing or other function held for charity, the value of what you received (i.e. tickets to the event or meals and drinks provided at the event) will be deducted from the total amount donated to arrive at the value of the deduction that may be taken on your income tax return. For example, if you donate $1,000 to a charity golf outing but upon attending the outing you eat a meal worth $50 and the ticket price to the event would have cost you $100, your charitable deduction is actually $850 instead of $1,000. If instead you donate $1,000 but do not attend the outing, the full $1,000 is deductible on your return.

Donations in excess of $5,000 require a qualified appraisal in order to be deductible. Those in excess of $500,000 require that the qualified appraisal be attached to the return.

Please note that cash contributions are limited to 50% of your adjusted gross income when giving to public charities. Donations to non-operating private foundations are limited to 30% of your adjusted gross income. These amounts can also be altered if you are in AMT (subject to Alternative Minimum Tax). Consult your tax advisor to be sure that your donations are in your best tax planning interests. Donations that exceed these limits may be carried forward for five years (for individuals), but will be lost after that time.

Property Donations

Donations of property, such as stock or securities, are another excellent way to give to charity. Property held long-term (longer than one year) is deductible as a donation at its current fair market value, thus by giving the property away you avoid paying the capital gains tax that you would have incurred if the property was sold. These donations are limited to 30% of adjusted gross income if given to public charities and 20% if given to non-operating private foundations. There are some limitations regarding basis in making property donations so please consult your tax advisor when considering such donations. Generally speaking, you should not donate property that has a fair market value less than your basis as this is technically a loss to you. In this scenario you should sell the stock and deduct the loss since only the lesser of fair market value or basis is deductible. You may then donate the proceeds to a charitable cause.

Another consideration in donating property is that donations of tangible personal property are limited to basis in the property, unless the property is directly related to the charity’s tax-exempt function in which case you may deduct the fair market value. Donation of services are not deductible as charitable contributions, although you may deduct mileage and out-of-pocket expenses related to the donation.

A donation of a car or truck cannot be deducted unless the charity is specifically using the vehicle. The amount that might be deductible in this case is the total that the charity receives after selling the vehicle.

Other Considerations

Taxpayers over the age of 70 ½ can donate directly from IRA funds to charitable organizations. This can help satisfy minimum distribution requirements and the portion that would not otherwise have been taxable may be a deduction. This is an excellent planning tool in that the charitable amount will be excluded from your adjusted gross income and thus save taxes in addition to the charitable deduction.

Donations of clothing to charity must be in at least “good condition” to be deductible. Clothing and similar household goods donated must be measured by standards provided by the charitable organization.

Charitable remainder trusts are another option for charitable giving (also known as CRTs). CRTs are tax exempt. This type of investment benefits both the taxpayer and the charity in that it pays an amount (that will be taxable to you) to you each year and at the end of its term distributes remaining assets to charities. When funding the CRT, the donor receives a current year deduction for the present value of the assets designated to charity. This is also practical in estate tax planning as the funds placed into the CRT are removed from the estate.

Charitable lead trusts help benefit charity while transferring assets to loved ones. Also known as a CLT, the trust pays amounts to charities over time and at the end of its term its remaining assets pass on to the beneficiaries of the trust. In funding the CLT, donors make a taxable gift equal to the present value of the amount that will be distributed to beneficiaries. Again, this is also an estate tax planning technique as these funds are removed from the estate.

When donating please confirm that the charity is a qualified charitable organization. The IRS website in addition to your Marcum tax professional can guide you to resources to assure this.

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