Deducting Charitable Contributions

CHARITABLE CONTRIBUTIONS should principally be motivated by generosity. Still, don’t overlook the tax advantages.

If you give cash, you can deduct the entire contribution. For instance, if you’re in the 25% federal income tax bracket, a $1 contribution will save you 25 cents in taxes. You only get this tax benefit if you itemize your deductions, rather than taking the standard deduction. If you usually take the standard deduction, you might bunch two or three years of charitable contributions into one tax year and see if that allows you to itemize. In any one year, the deduction for cash donations is capped at 50% of your adjusted gross income. Any excess can be rolled over and used during the subsequent five years.

Looking to save even more in taxes? Often the smartest strategy is to give appreciated assets that you have held for more than a year and which would otherwise be taxed at the long-term capital gains rate. Donating appreciated assets can have three tax benefits.

First, you can deduct the value of your contribution. That deduction, in any given year, is capped at 30% of your adjusted gross income, a threshold most folks would never come close to breaching. Second, you avoid paying capital gains taxes on the assets involved. To avoid the tax, don’t sell the assets yourself, but instead let the charity do so. Third, you reduce the size of your taxable estate, which could ultimately mean paying less in federal and state estate taxes.

Want the tax savings today, but not sure which charities to support? You might contribute to a donor advised fund, such as those operated by FidelityCharitable.org, T. Rowe Price Group’s ProgramForGiving.org, SchwabCharitable.org and VanguardCharitable.org. Your money can collect investment gains while you decide which charities to help. What if you have a loss on, say, a stock? Don’t donate the shares. Instead, sell the stock yourself so you get the tax benefit from the loss, and then donate the cash proceeds.

If you’re retired or approaching that stage, here’s another option: In return for your charitable contribution, you could get a tax deduction and generate retirement income—by funding charitable gift annuities and charitable remainder trusts.

Next: Charitable Gift Annuities

Previous: Investigating Charities

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