Charitable contributions traditionally peak at the end of the year-end. While tax savings may not be your prime motivator for making a gift to charity, your donation could help your tax bottom-line for 2011. As with many tax incentives, the rules for tax-deductible charitable contributions are complex, especially the rules for substantiating your donation. Also important to keep in mind are some enhanced charitable giving incentives scheduled to expire at the end of 2011.

Tips
The IRS has posted tips for deducting charitable contributions on its website. The tips are a good refresher of the fundamental rules for deducting charitable contributions:

  • To be tax-deductible, a contribution must be made to a qualified organization
  • To deduct a charitable contribution, you must file Form 1040 and itemize deductions on Schedule A
  • If you receive a benefit because of your contribution such as merchandise, tickets to a ball game or other goods and services, then you can deduct only the amount that exceeds the fair market value of the benefit received
  • Donations of clothing and household items must generally be in good used condition or better to be tax-deductible
  • Special rules apply to donations of motor vehicles
  • Many donations must be substantiated; the substantiation rules vary for different donations.

Qualified organizations
Some individuals are surprised to learn that their donation is not tax-deductible because the recipient is not a qualified charitable organization. Generally, churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, and other religious organizations are qualified charitable organizations. Nonprofit community service, educational, and health organizations are also generally qualified charitable organizations. Special rules apply to foreign charities. If you have any questions whether the organization is a qualified charitable organization, please contact our office.

Substantiation rules
In 2006, Congress significantly revised the rules for substantiating your charitable contributions. Unless a contribution is properly substantiated, the IRS may deny your deduction.

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. Remember, this rule applies to all cash contributions, even contributions of small monetary amounts. The IRS will not accept certain personal records. For example, you cannot substantiate a contribution by reference to a diary or notes made at the time of the donation.

In recent years, text message donations have grown in popularity. 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 acknowledgement requirement for all contributions of $250 or more. If your total deduction for all noncash contributions for the year is over $500, you must complete and attach IRS Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions, to your return.

Additional rules apply for donations valued at more than $5,000. These donations generally require an appraisal and you must advise the IRS of that appraisal by filing a special form.

Expiring provisions
Under current law, certain IRA owners can directly transfer tax-free, up to $100,000 annually from the IRA to a qualified charitable organization. The benefit is limited. The IRA owner must be age 70 ½ or older. Additionally, the contribution does not qualify for the deduction for charitable donations. To qualify, the IRA funds must be contributed directly by the IRA trustee to the qualified charitable organization. You can also take advantage of this tax incentive if you itemize or do not itemize deductions.

Unless extended, this incentive is scheduled to expire after December 31, 2011. It is unclear if Congress will extend the incentive into 2012 or beyond. If you are considering a charitable contribution from your IRA, please contact our office so we can review the rules in detail.

Several other enhanced charitable giving incentives are also scheduled to expire at the end of 2011. They include special rules for contributions of food inventory, contributions of computer equipment to schools by corporations, and other special rules for corporations.

Clothing and household items
Cleaning out your closet can help generate year-end tax savings. However, not all charitable contributions of clothing and household items are deductible. Generally, clothing and household items donated to a charitable organization must be in good used or better condition. Other rules also apply to donations of clothing and household items.

Motor vehicles and other types of donations
The tax deduction for a motor vehicle, boat or airplane donated to charity is fraught with complexity. The substantiation requirements depend on the amount of your claimed deduction. If you are considering donating a motor vehicle, boat or airplane to charity, please contact our office so we can help you navigate the substantiation rules to maximize your tax benefits.

The rules for donations of conservation easements, intellectual property and other items likewise require expert planning. Otherwise, you could miss the tax benefit.

Limitations
The Tax Code includes a number of provisions limiting tax-deductible contributions. Limitations may be based on the individual’s income, the type of donation and the nature of the recipient organization. Our office can describe how these limitations may impact you.

In past years, a provision known as the limitation on itemized deductions applied to higher-income individuals. This provision reduces the total amount of a higher-income individual’s otherwise allowable deductions; however, some deductions are not impacted. For 2011 and 2012, this limitation does not apply.

If you have any questions about the mechanics of tax-deductible charitable contributions, please contact our office.