Charitable giving is one of the most popular (and fulfilling) ways to save on your taxes. Not only does it make you feel good to help others, but end-of-year charity donations can also help you save on your taxes — if you do it correctly. To help you with your giving efforts, the IRS offers several tips and reminders about charitable contributions.
- Itemizing – If you decide to take a standard deduction instead of itemizing your tax deductions on a Form 1040, you will not be able to claim any charitable deductions. It may not be the best economic choice for you to itemize. Use Schedule A of Form 1040 to calculate your possible deductions and see if they add up to more than the standard deduction. If not, you can make your donations after the first of the year to try to rack up enough deductions to itemize your 2016 tax bill.
- End-of Year Timing – Donations are deductible in the year in which they are made. Credit charges and checks mailed in December 2015 count as 2015 deductions even if the credit card bills or checks are received and paid in January 2016.
- Qualified Charities – You can only deduct contributions to qualified charitable organizations. The IRS offers a searchable database that you can use to verify whether a charity has qualified status. A qualified charity should be able to offer their IRS determination letter as proof of their status. If all else fails, you can call the IRS toll-free at 1-877-829-5500, but be patient — their understaffing caused very long wait times and dropped calls during the last tax season.
- Keep Records and Receipts – For every charitable deduction that you claim, you must have a suitable receipt, bank record, or written statement from the charity documenting your donation. Statements need to show the charity's name, date of donation, amount paid, and the posting date for credit card transactions.
Any donation over $250 requires a written acknowledgement from the charity. When charitable deductions are made by employers through payroll deductions, make sure that you have pay stubs, W-2 forms, or notes from the employer documenting your contributions.
- Household Items – Household items, including clothing, must be in good condition to be eligible for tax deductions. Keep a description of the donated items, but it does not necessarily have to be detailed. For example, you do not have to document every single item of clothing you donate, just that the donation was clothing and its value. For an item of clothing or household item over $500, you may include a qualified appraisal as a description.
- Larger Items – Deductions for high-dollar items like automobiles are typically limited to the gross proceeds from the sale of the asset, but special rules may apply. You will need to fill out Form 8283 along with your tax return if your total non-cash tax contributions are greater than $500. For further details on special rules and other charitable contribution questions, consult IRS Publication 526, "Charitable Contributions." Make sure that you have downloaded the publication for the current tax year.
As you assess your charitable giving options, we leave you with another tax tip: do not forget to pay your taxes on time. Your charitable contributions will not help your bottom line if you end up giving all of your tax savings back to the IRS through fees and penalties.