Unique Charitable Giving Options

The end of the year and holiday season is the time of the year when everyone is feeling charitable, and a time when you are likely flooded with solicitations for charitable contributions. Before deciding about your charitable giving for the year, you may benefit from reading this article and learning ways to contribute that will help you tax-wise.

Some recent special tax deduction changes make 2017 a unique year for charitable giving. This article provides you a guide to these special provisions in addition to those that have historically provided tax benefits.

Normally, deductible charitable contributions are limited by a percentage of your income, more specifically your adjusted gross income (AGI), which is the number on your tax return before your deductions and exemptions are subtracted. For most charitable contributions the tax deduction limit is 50% of your AGI, but it can drop to 30% or even 20% in certain situations. Additionally, overall itemized deductions, including those for charitable contributions, are phased out for high-income taxpayers.

  • 2017 Hurricane Relief – After the devastation inflicted by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, Congress passed a provision that allows taxpayers to donate money to hurricane relief charities without any percentage-of-AGI limitation. Further, the phaseout of itemized deductions for high-income taxpayers will also not apply to hurricane relief contributions. So, for example, if your AGI is $100,000 and you contribute $70,000 to a qualified hurricane relief charity in 2017, the full $70,000 will be deductible instead of being limited to $50,000. However, if you made other contributions during the year, they will be subject to the normal percentage-of-AGI limitations, and then the hurricane relief donation will be deductible for the balance of your AGI.To qualify, the contributions must have been made in cash between August 23 and December 31, 2017, and the donation documentation must verify that the donation is for Hurricane Harvey, Irma or Maria relief. If you contribute more than is deductible for 2017, the excess will carry forward to your tax returns for up to the next five years.
  • Donate Unused Employee Time Off – As it has done before in the wake of disasters, including Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, the Internal Revenue Service is providing special relief that allows employees to donate their unused paid vacation, sick leave and personal leave time to Hurricane Harvey, Irma and Maria relief efforts.Here is how it works: If your employer is participating, you can relinquish any unused and paid vacation time, sick leave and personal leave, and your employer will then donate the cash equivalent to Hurricane Harvey, Irma and Maria relief charities. Your employer can deduct the amount donated as a business expense. You don’t get a deduction for a charitable contribution, but better yet, you won’t have to report the income, which is beneficial for both individuals who itemize deductions and those who use the standard deduction. This special relief applies to all leave-based donations made before January 1, 2019, giving individuals over a year to forgo their unused paid vacation, sick and leave time and have the cash value donated to a worthy cause.If your employer is unaware of this program, refer them to IRS Notice 2017-48 (related to Hurricane Harvey) for further details. Note: Notices 2017-52 and 2017-62 were later released, adding Irma and Maria, respectively, to the list. Your employer will also benefit from not being liable for payroll taxes on the money contributed.
  • Contributions of Appreciated Assets – Although this is not a new strategy, taxpayers can donate appreciated long-term capital gain assets to a charity and deduct the fair market value (FMV) of the assets as a charitable deduction. For example, suppose you donate to your church’s building fund a stock that is worth $10,000 but that only cost you $2,000. Your charitable contribution would be $10,000, and you do not have to pay tax on the $8,000 appreciation in the stock. This strategy can also apply to land, homes, rentals, equipment, etc. Determining the FMV for listed stock is easy since the value of the stock can be determined from quoted stock prices on the day of the contribution. For other capital assets, a certified appraisal is generally required. It would be good practice to contact this office before making a gift of appreciated property to make sure that it is appropriate for your tax bracket and that the appraisal is properly performed and documented.
  • IRA to Charity Contributions – For some time this unique method of making charitable contributions was a temporary provision of the tax law, but Congress made it permanent in 2016. This charitable contribution provision is limited to taxpayers age 70.5 and older. They can directly transfer up to $100,000 a year from their IRA to a qualified charity. So if you are 70.5 or older and make an IRA-to-charity transfer you won’t get a charity deduction, but instead and even better, you will not have to pay taxes on the distribution, and because your AGI will be lower, you can benefit from other tax provisions that are pegged to AGI, such as the amount of Social Security income that’s taxable and the cost of Medicare B insurance premiums for higher-income taxpayers. As an additional bonus, the transfer also counts toward your annual required minimum distribution.
  • Cash Contributions – Cash contributions include those paid by cash, check, electronic funds transfer, or credit card. To claim a cash contribution, you must be able to document that contribution with a bank record, receipt, or a written communication from the qualified organization; this record must include the name of the qualified organization, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution. Valid types of bank records include canceled checks, bank or credit union statements, and credit card statements. In addition, to deduct a contribution of $250 or more, you must have certain payroll deduction records or an acknowledgment of your contribution from the qualified organization.
  • Non-cash Contributions – This is a type of contribution with which you can easily run afoul of the IRS because the contribution deduction is based on the FMV of the item being contributed, not the item’s original cost, and most used items such as clothing and household goods depreciate substantially.Do not include items of de minimis value, such as undergarments and socks, in the deductible amount of your contribution, as they are specifically not allowed. It is not uncommon to see taxpayers over-valuate their contributions. That is why the IRS has four levels of verification and documentation requirements for non-cash contributions, with each becoming more stringent as the valuation increases:
    Caution: The value of similar items of property that are donated in the same year must be combined when determining what level of documentation is needed. Similar items of property are items of the same generic category or type, such as clothing, household goods, coin collections, paintings, books, jewelry, privately traded stock, land and buildings.A. Deductions of Less Than $250 You must obtain and keep a receipt from the charitable organization that shows:

    1. The name of the charitable organization,
    2. The date and location of the charitable contribution, and
    3. A reasonably detailed description of the property.

    Note: The taxpayer is not required to have a receipt if it is impractical to get one (for example, if the property was left at a charity’s unattended drop site). This exception only applies if all the non-cash contributions for the year are less than $250.

    B. Deductions of At Least $250 But Not More Than $500 You must provide the same information as in the previous category and add:

    4. Whether or not the qualified organization gave the taxpayer any goods or services as a result of the contribution (other than certain token items and membership benefits).

    If the deduction includes more than one contribution of $250 or more, the taxpayer must have either a separate acknowledgment for each donation or a single acknowledgment that shows the total contribution.

    C. Deductions Over $500 But Not Over $5,000 You must provide the same acknowledgment and written records that are required for the two previous categories plus:

    5. Attach a completed IRS Form 8283 to the income tax return that reports:

      • a. How the property was obtained (for example, purchase, gift, bequest, inheritance, or exchange),
        b. The approximate date the property was obtained or—if created, produced, or manufactured by the taxpayer—the approximate date when the property was substantially completed, and
        c. The cost or other basis, and any adjustments to this basis, for property held for less than 12 months and (if available) the cost or other basis for property held for 12 months or more.

    D. Deductions Over $5,000 These donations require time-sensitive appraisals by a “qualified appraiser” in addition to other documentation (this requirement, however, does not apply to publicly traded securities). When contemplating such a donation, please call this office for further guidance about the documentation and forms that will be needed.

To help you document some of these noncash contributions, you can download a fillable Noncash Charitable Contribution statement. The statement includes an area for the charity’s agent to verify the contribution and a check box denoting whether the qualified organization provided any goods or services as a result of the contribution. Although not specifically endorsed by the IRS, this statement includes everything needed for noncash contributions of up to $500—provided, of course, that you and the charitable organization’s representative accurately complete the form.

Unfortunately, legitimate charities face competition from fraudsters, so if you are thinking about giving to a charity with which you are not familiar, do your research so that you can avoid swindlers who are trying to take advantage of your generosity. They show up in droves after disasters like the hurricanes and the California firestorms. Here are tips to help make sure that your charitable contributions actually go to the cause that you support:

  • Donate to charities that you know and trust. Be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight in connection with current events.
  • Ask if a caller is a paid fundraiser, who he/she works for, and what percentages of your donation go to the charity and to the fundraiser. If you don’t get clear answers—or if you don’t like the answers you get—consider donating to a different organization.
  • Don’t give out personal or financial information—such as your credit card or bank account number—unless you know for sure that the charity is reputable.
  • Never send cash. You can’t be sure that the organization will receive your donation, and you won’t have a record for tax purposes.
  • Never wire money to someone who claims to be from a charity. Scammers often request donations to be wired because wiring money is like sending cash: Once you send it, you can’t get it back.
  • If a donation request comes from a charity that claims to help a local community group (for example, police or firefighters), ask members of that group if they have heard of the charity and if it is actually providing financial support.
  • Don’t make a contribution if it is solicited in an email claiming to be from the IRS. The IRS does not send emails to individuals and does not ask for donations to organizations related to natural disasters. Scammers are using this ploy to extract money from taxpayers who think their contributions will go for hurricane relief or to wildfire victims.
  • Check out the charity’s reputation using the Better Business Bureau’s Give.org or Charity Watch.

Remember that if you want to deduct a charitable contribution on your tax return, the donation must be to a legitimate charity. Contributions may only be deducted if they are to religious, charitable, scientific, educational, literary or other institutions that are incorporated or recognized as organizations by the IRS. Sometimes, these organizations are referred to as 501(c)(3) organizations (after the code section that allows them to be tax-exempt). Gifts to federal, state or local government, qualifying veterans’ or fraternal organizations, and certain nonprofit cemetery companies also may be deductible. Gifts to other kinds of nonprofits, such as business leagues, social clubs and homeowner’s associations, as well as gifts to individuals, cannot be deducted.

Be aware that, to claim a charitable contribution, you must also itemize your deductions. If you only marginally itemize your deductions, it may be beneficial for you to group your deductions in a single year and then to skip deductions in the next year.

Please contact us if you have questions related to the tax benefits associated with charitable giving for your particular tax situation.

A Novel Way to Make Hurricane Relief Donations

As they have done before in the wake of disasters, including Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, the Internal Revenue Service is providing special relief that allows employees to donate their unused paid vacation, sick leave, and personal leave time to recent hurricane relief efforts.

Here is how it works: if your employer is participating, you can relinquish any unused and paid vacation time, sick leave and personal leave for cash payments which your employer will give to qualified hurricane relief charitable organizations. The cash payment will not be treated as wages to you and your employer can deduct the amount donated as a business expense. However, since the income isn’t taxable to you, you will not be allowed to claim the donation as a charitable deduction on your tax return. Even so, excluding income is often worth more as tax savings than a potential tax deduction, especially if you generally claim the standard deduction or you are subject to AGI-based limitations.

This special relief applies to all donations made before January 1, 2019, giving individuals over a year to forgo their unused paid vacation, sick and leave time and have the cash value donated to a worthy cause.

This is a great opportunity to provide sorely needed help in the aftermath of the recent hurricanes without costing you anything but time. Contact your employer to make a donation. If your employer is unaware of his program refer them to IRS Notice 2017-48 for further details.

If you have questions related to donating leave time for hurricane relief efforts or other charitable contributions, please contact us.

Avoid Being Scammed by Fake Hurricane Charities

Whenever there is a disaster such as the recent hurricanes, the lowlifes show up and try to scam generous individuals out of money intended to go to victims of the disaster. Don’t you be another victim of the disaster – watch out for scammers claiming to represent charitable organizations who will pocket the donations for themselves instead. Besides fraudsters soliciting on behalf of bogus charities, some so-called charities aren’t entirely honest about how they use contributions.

You may receive phone calls, emails, snail mail, or appeals on social networking sites for donations to help the victims of the recent hurricanes;  some of these appeals may be coming from fraudsters and not legitimate charities. Unfortunately, this happens often after natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods.

So before writing a check or giving your credit card number to a charity that you aren’t familiar with, check them out so you can be assured that your donation will end up in the right hands. Follow these tips make sure that your charitable contributions will actually go to the cause you are supporting:

  • Donate to charities that you know and trust. Be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight in connection with current events.
  • Ask if a caller is a paid fundraiser, who he/she works for, and what percentages of your donation go to the charity and to the fundraiser. If you don’t get clear answers – or if you don’t like the answers you get – consider donating to a different organization.
  • Don’t give out personal or financial information – such as your credit card or bank account number – unless you know for sure that the charity is reputable.
  • Never send cash. You can’t be sure that the organization will receive your donation, and you won’t have a record for tax purposes.
  • Never wire money to someone who claims to be from a charity. Scammers often request donations to be wired because wiring money is like sending cash: once you send it, you can’t get it back.
  • If a donation request comes from a charity that claims to help a local community group (for example, police or firefighters), ask members of that group if they have heard of the charity and if it is actually providing financial support.
  • Check out the charity’s reputation online using Charity Watch, or other online watchdogs.

Contributions you make to legitimate charities may be tax-deductible, but only if the donations are to religious, charitable, scientific, educational, literary, or other institutions that are incorporated or recognized as organizations by the IRS. These organizations are sometimes referred to as 501(c)(3) organizations (after the code section that allows them to be tax-exempt). Gifts to federal, state, or local government; qualifying veterans’ or fraternal organizations; and certain nonprofit cemetery companies may also be deductible. Gifts to other kinds of nonprofits, such as business leagues, social clubs, and homeowner’s associations, as well as gifts to individuals cannot be deducted.

To claim a cash contribution, you must be able to document that contribution with a bank record, a receipt, or a written communication from the qualified organization; this record must include the name of the qualified organization and the date and amount of the contribution. Valid types of bank records include canceled checks, bank or credit union statements, and credit card statements. In addition, to deduct a contribution of $250 or more, you must have an acknowledgment of your contribution from the qualified organization; you’ll also need certain payroll deduction records instead if you made your donation through work.

Be aware that you must also itemize your deductions to claim a charitable contribution. It may also be beneficial for you to group your deductions in a single year and then skip deductions in the next year. Please contact us if you have questions related to the tax benefits associated with charitable giving for your particular tax situation.

When is a Charitable Contribution Appraisal Required?

A commonly overlooked requirement of taking a tax deduction for donating clothing and household goods to charity is the substantiation requirement, for both what is donated and the value placed on the donation. Because the IRS has encountered so much abuse in this area, it has increased the donation verification requirements over the years, and taxpayers risk losing the deduction if their donations are not correctly documented and reasonably valued.

Fair Market Value – Generally, it is up to you, the donor, to reasonably determine the fair market value (FMV) of the items you donate. If your return is reviewed, the values you claimed can be challenged. A deduction for household goods or clothing is not allowed unless they are in good used condition or better. The FMV of used household goods, furniture, appliances, linens, used clothing and other personal items are usually worth far less than the price they sold for new. Valuing these items as an arbitrary percentage of the original cost or by using another fixed formula is not appropriate – the condition of each item, whether it is still in style and other factors need to be considered. The value of the donated item(s) will determine the type of verification needed. The documentation and verification requirements are broken down into four categories:

  • Deductions of less than $250 – These donations require a receipt from the charity that includes the date and location of the contribution and a reasonably detailed description of the donated property.
    CAUTION – Don’t always rely on door hangers as a valid acknowledgment, since they generally do not include all of the required information (especially the reasonably detailed description of the donated item), and their use as documentation has been denied in tax court.
  • Deductions of $250 to $500 – Such deductions require a written acknowledgement from the charity that includes the date and location of the contribution and a reasonably detailed description of the donated property, whether the qualified organization gave you any goods or services as a result of the contribution, and if goods and/or services were provided to you, a description of the goods/services and an estimate of their value.
  • Deductions of over $500 but not over $5,000 – You must have the same acknowledgement and written records as for contributions of at least $250 but not more than $500, as described above. In determining whether your deduction is worth $500 or more, combine your claimed deductions for all similar property items donated to any charitable organization during the year. In addition, the records must also include:
    • How the property was obtained – for example, by purchase, gift, bequest, inheritance, or exchange.
    • The approximate date when the property was obtained or, if you created, produced, or manufactured it, the approximate date when the property was substantially completed.
    • The cost or other basis, and any adjustments to the basis, of property held for less than 12 months and, if available, the cost or other basis of property held for 12 months or more. However, this requirement does not apply to publicly traded securities. If you are unable to provide either the date the property was obtained or the cost basis of the property and there is reasonable cause for not being able to do so, you need to attach a statement to your return with an explanation.When your total deduction for all noncash contributions for the year is over $500, Form 8283 must be completed and attached to your Form 1040.
  • Deductions over $5,000 – You must have the same acknowledgement and written records as for contributions of at least $250 but not more than $500, as described above. In addition, if the contribution exceeds $5,000 for a single property item or group of similar items, then a qualified appraisal is required, and IRS Form 8283 must be completed, signed by the qualified appraiser and attached to the return. The exception to this rule is publicly traded securities.

Example: Jay and Emily made three donations of used clothing during the year: $2,500 worth to the Salvation Army, $1,500 worth to the Vietnam Veterans of America and $2,000 to Goodwill, for a total of $6,000. Because the items were all similar in nature (clothing) and because the total exceeded $5,000, Jay and Emily will need to obtain a qualified appraisal.

Qualified Appraisal – A qualified appraisal of any property is an appraisal that’s treated as qualified under IRS regulations. This means that the person doing the appraisal is generally someone who earned an appraisal designation from a recognized professional appraiser organization, has met certain education or experience requirements relative to the type of property being appraised, regularly prepares appraisals for a fee and has not been prohibited from practicing before the IRS.

Appraisal Timing– You must obtain the appraisal no earlier than 60 days before the appraisal property’s contribution date and no later than the extended due date of your tax return.

CAUTION – If you don’t bother to obtain an appraisal and the IRS later challenges your deduction, it will be too late to get the appraisal, and the deduction will most likely be denied.

Donations of vehicles, boats and airplanes have a special set of rules not covered in this article if the claimed deduction exceeds $500. Please give us a call about the documentation requirements for vehicle donations and any questions you might have related to any charitable contribution. Click here to download a special non-cash contribution form.

Don’t Be Scammed by Fake Charities

Each year at this time, the IRS publishes its list of the “dirty dozen” tax scams. Among the dirty dozen are groups that masquerade as charitable organizations to attract donations from unsuspecting contributors. Before you write a check, be aware that fraudsters are out there soliciting on behalf of bogus charities and that some so-called charities aren’t entirely honest about how they use contributions.

Urgent appeals for aid – whether in person, over the phone, by mail, via e-mail, on a website, or through a social networking site – may not be on the up-and-up. Fraudsters pop up after natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods to try to coax people into making donations that will go into the fraudsters’ pockets – not to help victims of the disaster.

Unfortunately, legitimate charities face competition from fraudsters, so if you are thinking about giving to a charity with which you are not familiar, do your research so that you can avoid the swindlers who are trying to take advantage of your generosity. Here are tips to help make sure that your charitable contributions actually go to the cause that you support:

  • Donate to charities that you know and trust. Be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight in connection with current events.
  • Ask if a caller is a paid fundraiser, who he/she works for, and what percentages of your donation go to the charity and to the fundraiser. If you don’t get clear answers – or if you don’t like the answers you get – consider donating to a different organization.
  • Don’t give out personal or financial information — such as your credit card or bank account number – unless you know for sure that the charity is reputable.
  • Never send cash. You can’t be sure that the organization will receive your donation, and you won’t have a record for tax purposes.
  • Never wire money to someone who claims to be from a charity. Scammers often request donations to be wired because wiring money is like sending cash: Once you send it, you can’t get it back.
  • If a donation request comes from a charity that claims to help a local community group (for example, police or firefighters), ask members of that group if they have heard of the charity and if it is actually providing financial support.
  • Check out the charity’s reputation using the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, or Charity Watch.

Remember that, to deduct a charitable contribution on your tax return, the donation must be to a legitimate charity. Contributions may only be deducted if they are to religious, charitable, scientific, educational, literary, or other institutions that are incorporated or recognized as organizations by the IRS. Sometimes, these organizations are referred to as 501(c)(3) organizations (after the code section that allows them to be tax-exempt). Gifts to federal, state, or local government, qualifying veterans’ or fraternal organizations, and certain nonprofit cemetery companies also may be deductible. Gifts to other kinds of nonprofits, such as business leagues, social clubs, and homeowner’s associations, as well as gifts to individuals, cannot be deducted.

To claim a cash contribution, you must be able to document that contribution with a bank record, receipt, or a written communication from the qualified organization; this record must include the name of the qualified organization, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution. Valid types of bank records include canceled checks, bank or credit union statements, and credit card statements. In addition, to deduct a contribution of $250 or more, you must have certain payroll deduction records or an acknowledgment of your contribution from the qualified organization.

Be aware that, to claim a charitable contribution, you must also itemize your deductions. It may also be beneficial for you to group your deductions in a single year and then to skip deductions in the next year. Please contact this office if you have questions related to the tax benefits associated with charitable giving for your particular tax situation.

Time-Share Use as a Charitable Contribution

If you have ever attended a charity auction, it is not uncommon to see a week’s use of a time-share included in the items donated for auction. The time-share owners who donate these weeks generally do so in anticipation of being able to take charitable donation deduction on their tax returns.

How does one determine how much one can deduct for such a donation? The answer may come as a surprise. Per an IRS revenue ruling(1), the use of a property, or the permission to use and occupy a property, does not constitute a gift of property. In addition, the Internal Revenue Code does not allow a charitable deduction for a gift of a partial interest in a property unless this is done in trust(2). Therefore, no charitable contribution deduction is allowed for the use of a time-share property.

Time-share owners are generally required to pay an annual maintenance fee that covers the pro rata upkeep of the resort itself, plus housekeeping services. The question arises: Can the time-share owner deduct the maintenance fee for the week donated?

IRS regulations (3) allow deductions for expenses incurred in connection with personally rendered services to a qualified organization.

However, services provided by others, even if paid for by the taxpayer, are not personally rendered to the charity and thus are not deductible. Since this includes the services provided by the time-share management company that are paid for with the taxpayer’s maintenance fees, the time-share’s maintenance fees for the donated period are not deductible. However, if the taxpayer incurred other expenses in connection with the donated use of the time-share, such as driving to the time-share property to let the winning bidder into the unit, a deduction for those expenses would be allowed under IRS regulations (3). This is because the time-share owner would be performing the service directly for the charitable organization; a mileage deduction at the rate of 14 cents per mile would be allowed.

As a bottom line, the donation of the use of a time-share does not constitute a charitable contribution. If you have questions related to charitable contributions please give this office a call.

(1) Rev Rul 70-477, I.R.B. 1970-3
(2) IRC Sec 170(f)(3)(A)
(3) IRS Reg 1.170A-1(g).

Take Advantage of the IRA-to-Charity Provision

Individuals age 70.5 or over—who must withdraw annual required minimum distributions (RMDs) from their IRAs—will be pleased to learn that the temporary provision allowing taxpayers to transfer up to $100,000 annually from their IRAs to qualified charities has been made permanent. If you are age 70.5 or over and have an IRA, taking advantage of this provision may provide significant tax benefits, especially if you would be making a large donation to a charity anyway.

IRA-to-Charity Provision

Here is how this provision, if utilized, plays out on a tax return:

  1. The IRA distribution is excluded from income;
  2. The distribution counts towards the taxpayer’s RMD for the year; and
  3. The distribution does NOT count as a charitable contribution.

At first glance, this may not appear to provide a tax benefit. However, by excluding the distribution, a taxpayer with itemized deductions lowers his or her adjusted gross income (AGI), which helps for other tax breaks (or punishments) that are pegged at AGI levels, such as medical expenses, passive losses, taxable Social Security income, and so on. In addition, non-itemizers essentially receive the benefit of a charitable contribution to offset the IRA distribution.

If you think that this tax provision may affect you and would like to explore its possibilities, please call this office.

Proving Noncash Charitable Contributions

One of the most common tax-deductible charitable contributions encountered is that of household goods and used clothing. The major complication of this type of contribution is establishing the dollar value of the contribution. According to the tax code, this is the fair market value (FMV), which is defined as the value that a willing buyer would pay a willing seller for the item. FMV is not always easily determined and varies significantly based upon the condition of the item donated. For example, compare the condition of an article of clothing you purchased and only wore once to that of one that has been worn many times. The almost-new one certainly will be worth more, but if the hardly worn item had been purchased a few years ago and become grossly out of style, the more extensively used piece of clothing could actually be worth more. In either case, the clothing article is still a used item, so its value cannot be anywhere near as high as the original cost. Determining this value is not an exact science. The IRS recognizes this issue and in some cases requires the value to be established by a qualified appraiser.

Remember that when establishing FMV, any value you claim can be challenged in an audit and that the burden of proof is with you (the taxpayer), not with the IRS. For substantial noncash donations, it might be appropriate for you to visit your charity’s local thrift shop or even a consignment store to get an idea of the FMV of used items.

The next big issue is documenting your contribution. Many taxpayers believe that the doorknob hanger left by the charity’s pickup driver is sufficient proof of a donation. Unfortunately, that is not the case, as a recent United States Tax Court case (Kunkel T.C. Memo 2015-71) pointed out. In that case, the court denied the taxpayer’s charitable contributions, which were based solely upon doorknob hangers left by the drivers who picked up the donated items for the charities. The court stated that “these doorknob hangers are undated; they are not specific to petitioners; they do not describe the property contributed; and they contain none of the other required information.”

The IRS requires the following documentation for noncash contributions based on the total value of the donation:

  • Deductions of Less Than $250—A taxpayer claiming a noncash contribution with a value under $250 must keep a receipt from the charitable organization that shows:
    1. The name of the charitable organization,
    2. The date and location of the charitable contribution, and
    3. A reasonably detailed description of the property.

    Note: The taxpayer is not required to have a receipt if it is impractical to get one (for example, if the property was left at a charity’s unattended drop site).

  • Deductions of at Least $250 But Not More Than $500—If a taxpayer claims a deduction of at least $250 but not more than $500 for a noncash charitable contribution, he or she must keep an acknowledgment of the contribution from the qualified organization. If the deduction includes more than one contribution of $250 or more, the taxpayer must have either a separate acknowledgment for each donation or a single acknowledgment that shows the total contribution. The acknowledgment(s) must be written and must include:
    1. The name of the charitable organization,
    2. The date and location of the charitable contribution,
    3. A reasonably detailed description of any property contributed (but not necessarily its value), and
    4. Whether or not the qualified organization gave the taxpayer any goods or services as a result of the contribution (other than certain token items and membership benefits).

    If the charitable organization provided goods and/or services to the taxpayer, the acknowledgement must include a description and a good-faith estimate of the value of those goods or services. If the only benefit received was an intangible religious benefit (such as admission to a religious ceremony) that generally is not sold in a commercial transaction outside the donative context, the acknowledgment must say so, and in this case, the acknowledgment does not need to describe or estimate the value of the benefit.

  • Deductions Over $500 But Not Over $5,000—If a taxpayer claims a deduction over $500 but not over $5,000 for a noncash charitable contribution, he or she must attach a completed Form 8283 to the income tax return and must provide the same acknowledgement and written records that are required for contributions of at least $250 but not more than $500 (as described above). In addition, the records must also include:
    1. How the property was obtained. (for example, purchase, gift, bequest, inheritance, or exchange),
    2. The approximate date the property was obtained or—if created, produced, or manufactured by the taxpayer—the approximate date when the property was substantially completed, and
    3. The cost or other basis, and any adjustments to this basis, for property held for less than 12 months and (if available) the cost or other basis for property held for 12 months or more (this requirement, however, does not apply to publicly traded securities).

    If the taxpayer has a reasonable case for not being able to provide information on either the date the property was obtained or the cost basis of the property, he or she can attach a statement of explanation to the return.

  • Deductions Over $5,000—These donations require time-sensitive appraisals by a “qualified appraiser” in addition to other documentation. When contemplating such a donation, please call this office for further guidance about the documentation and forms that will be needed.

Caution: The value of similar items of property that are donated in the same year must be combined when determining what level of documentation is needed. Similar items of property are items of the same generic category or type, such as coin collections, paintings, books, clothing, jewelry, privately traded stock, land, and buildings. For example, say you donated $5,300 of used furniture to 3 different charitable organizations during the year (a bedroom set valued at $800, a dining set worth $1,000, and living room furniture worth $3,500). Because the value of the donations of similar property (furniture) exceeds $5,000, you would need to obtain an appraisal of the furniture to satisfy the substantiation requirements—even if you donated the furniture to different organizations and at different times during the year. The IRS has strict rules as to who is considered a qualified appraiser.

To help you document some of these noncash contributions, you can download a fillable Noncash Charitable Contribution statement. The statement includes an area for the charity’s agent to verify the contribution and a check box denoting whether the qualified organization provided any goods or services as a result of the contribution. Although not specifically blessed by the IRS, this statement includes everything needed for noncash contributions of up to $500—provided, of course, that you and the charitable organization’s representative accurately complete the form.

Do not include items of de minimis value, such as undergarments and socks, in the deductible amount of your contribution, as they specifically are not allowed.

Please call this office with any questions about documenting or valuing your noncash contributions.

Don’t Be Scammed By Fake Charities

As the end of the year approaches, you will probably be besieged by requests from charitable organizations for contributions. The holiday season is the favorite time of the year for charities to solicit donations.

But you should be aware that it is also the time of year when scammers show up in force, pretending to be legitimate charities in hopes of deceiving you into giving them your hard-earned money.

When making a donation, you should take a few extra minutes to ensure your gifts are going to legitimate charities. IRS.gov has a search feature, Exempt Organizations Select Check, which allows people to find legitimate, qualified charities to which donations may be tax-deductible.

Charity Donation Check

Here are some tips to make sure your contributions are going to legitimate charities.

  • Be wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations.
  • Don’t give out personal financial information, such as Social Security numbers or passwords, to anyone who solicits a contribution from you. Scam artists may use this information to steal your identity and money. Using a credit card to make legitimate donations is quite common, but please be very careful when you are speaking with someone who called you; don’t give out your credit card number unless you are certain the caller represents a legal charity.
  • Don’t give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card or another way that provides documentation of the gift.

Another long-standing type of abuse or fraud involves scams that occur in the wake of significant natural disasters. In the aftermath of major disasters, it’s common for scam artists to impersonate charities to get money or private information from well-intentioned taxpayers. Scam artists can use a variety of tactics. Some scammers operating bogus charities may contact people by telephone or email to solicit money or financial information and may set up phony websites that claim to solicit funds on behalf disaster victims. Unscrupulous individuals may even directly contact disaster victims and claim to be working for or on behalf of the IRS to help the victims file casualty loss claims to get tax refunds.

Scammers may also attempt to get personal financial information or Social Security numbers that can be used to steal the victims’ identities or financial resources. Disaster victims with specific questions about tax relief or disaster-related tax issues may call a special IRS toll-free disaster assistance telephone number (1-866-562-5227) for information.

Don’t be scammed; make sure you are donating to recognized charities. Deductions to charities that are not legitimate are not tax deductible. If you have questions, please give this office a call.