3 Nontraditional Ways to Give That Still Qualify for a Tax Deduction

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Kevin Oleszewski, Senior Wealth Planner

‘Tis the season to give. In fact, 37% of charitable giving occurs during the last quarter of the year — 20% of it in December alone, according to a survey conducted by the Blackbaud Institute. And while the holidays are traditionally a time to reflect on our blessings and help those less fortunate than ourselves, there’s another factor influencing the timing of these donations — and that’s the goal of minimizing a tax bill.

Of course, any charitable donation should be driven by altruism and the desire to make a difference. The great news is that we’re a generous society. Despite the uncertainty of the past few years, giving from individual donors remains on the rise. The Blackbaud Institute survey found giving increased 9% in 2021 over 2020, with overall giving rising 19% since 2019.

However, there’s nothing wrong with embracing the opportunity to help your own finances while helping others. While most donors give the conventional way, via a direct cash gift, there are other less traditional but impactful ways to give that can also provide a boost to your tax strategy.

Three Tax-Advantaged Donation Strategies to Consider

1. Create a donor-advised fund (DAF)

A DAF is an excellent way to achieve an immediate tax deduction without feeling obligated to give an entire gift at once. With a DAF, you contribute assets — cash, real estate, stock, even cryptocurrency — to a fund you establish through a custodial account, which then becomes a charitable account you personally control. Once open, you can start making gifts right away or you can leave the money in there indefinitely, potentially taking advantage of growth as you determine how you want to spend it.

The entire amount of your initial donation to the DAF is deducted the year you establish it, even if you’ve yet to choose a charity. That makes it a savvy way to offset sky-high taxes you otherwise might owe in a year when you have a particularly high level of income.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you intend to gift $10,000 a year over four years. You can put $40,000 into the DAF today and get the entire deduction, yet still maintain your regular schedule of making a $10,000 gift each year.

This strategy also can protect you and your money in case the charity changes policies or otherwise aligns with activities or positions you disagree with. Although the gift to the DAF is irrevocable, you can redirect the remaining funds to other causes whenever you wish.

2. Use a qualified charitable distribution (QCD) from your individual retirement account (IRA).

If you are age 70 ½ or older, you can transfer money from your IRA to a charity as a qualified charitable distribution (QCD), which makes it tax-free up to $100,000 ($200,000 if you file jointly). That can be particularly handy for those who have to make Required Minimum Distributions (RMD), which is the minimum amount of money you must withdraw by law from any tax-deferred account, like an IRA or 401(k), starting at age 72. Reducing your IRA through charitable donations also reduces your overall taxable estate, which can eventually protect your beneficiaries from a tax hit.

This strategy can also be a savvy way to eliminate the tax liability if you convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, which some people prefer because the money in the Roth IRA will then grow tax free. Talk to your advisor about whether a conversion would make sense for your overall financial goals.

3. Donate valuable assets that aren’t cash.

While most of us think of making donations to nonprofits in cash, there are other advantageous ways to support an organization. For example, donating stock that has appreciated allows you to do good for the charity and also potentially eliminate your capital gains burden.

Here’s how it works: Rather than liquidating the stock and owing the capital gains tax, you can donate the security directly to the organization to be eligible for a deduction of the full fair market value, up to 30% of your adjusted gross income (AGI).

You also can donate items like vehicles, works of art, sports memorabilia or rare books, to name a few. Often, these are items that were bequeathed by another person yet don’t hold value to you, personally. For example, a client of mine once donated valuable manuscripts to a university and received a sizable tax deduction.

The benefit again with these nontraditional assets is you will receive the entire value as a tax deduction without having to absorb the capital gains tax you otherwise would owe.

With a car (and potentially other goods depending on their value), work with the charity to determine the amount of the deduction. Often, especially in the case of a vehicle, a charity will sell the item, which means your deduction is based on the gross proceeds of the sale. There are exceptions, such as if the charity intends to use a vehicle for their own purposes — to deliver meals, for example. The IRS has a handy guide to all your questions about vehicle donation and how to determine the value of donated property. And always check with your accountant to ensure you are complying with all legal requirements.

Give Generously, but Also Wisely

No matter how you choose to give, here are three things to keep in mind.

Research the Charity Before Donating

Confirm the charity you’ve chosen is a 501(c)(3), which means it has tax-exempt status. Then evaluate other facets that are important to you, such as its financial health, key programs, results, and accountability and transparency policies. You can use a resource like Charity Navigator or GuideStar to compare various charities to find one that aligns with your goals.

Get the Requisite Paperwork

Always check with your tax planner to make sure you have the correct documentation should the IRS come knocking. Typically, contributions of money or goods will require a letter from the charity confirming how much of your gift was tax-deductible. Then verify you have the required forms.

For example, you’ll need to complete Form 8283 for noncash charitable contributions, and/or Form 1098 for contributions of motor vehicles, boats and airplanes. You also may need a written appraisal from a qualified appraiser depending on the value of the item. Always confirm with your tax preparer you have the most up-to-date version of the forms and the correct paperwork.

Time it Right

While it’s always a good time to be generous, there are some years you might find it even more beneficial to achieve a tax deduction. Often, it’s when you had a surprisingly high amount of income in one year — for example, if you sold your company. That’s when conducting thoughtful tax planning can be vital to lessen the blow, and a philanthropic donation can be a key part of that. Remember that in order to qualify as a tax deduction, the gift must be paid before the end of the calendar year.

Most individual itemizers can deduct up to 60% of their AGI to charity, and if your donation exceeds that, you can carry over the remainder for up to five tax years. However, note that tax laws and income brackets can change frequently so double-checking you’re in compliance is always wise.

Finding creative ways to donate can benefit both you and the charity. And as you retain the glow of doing something nice — and also receive a tax deduction — you are liable to agree that it is better to give than receive.

Just remember to talk with your financial planner and accountant to ensure you’re benefitting to the full extent possible.

Converting from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA is a taxable event.

Generally, a donor advised fund is a separately identified fund or account that is maintained and operated by a section 501(c)(3) organization, which is called a sponsoring organization. Each account is composed of contributions made by individual donors. Once the donor makes the contribution, the organization has legal control over it. However, the donor, or the donor’s representative, retains advisory privileges with respect to the distribution of funds and the investment of assets in the account. Donors take a tax deduction for all contributions at the time they are made, even though the money may not be dispersed to a charity until much later.

For a comprehensive review of your personal situation, always consult with a tax or legal advisor. Neither Cetera Advisor Networks LLC nor any of its representatives may give legal or tax advice.

Kevin Oleszewski is not affiliated with Cetera Advisor Networks, LLC.

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