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Do You Make These Year-End Contribution Mistakes?

Individuals and businesses making contributions to charity should keep in mind several important tax law provisions that have taken effect in recent years. Some of these changes include the following:

 

Special Charitable Contributions for Certain IRA Owners

This provision, currently scheduled to expire at the end of 2011, offers older owners of individual retirement accounts (IRAs) a different way to give to charity. An IRA owner, age 70½ or over, can directly transfer tax-free up to $100,000 per year to an eligible charity. This option, created in 2006, is available for distributions from IRAs, regardless of whether the owners itemize their deductions. Distributions from employer-sponsored retirement plans, including SIMPLE IRAs and simplified employee pension (SEP) plans, are not eligible.

To qualify, the funds must be contributed directly by the IRA trustee to the eligible charity. Amounts so transferred are not taxable and no deduction is available for the transfer.

 

Do You Make These Year-End Contribution Mistakes?

Not all charities are eligible. For example, donor-advised funds and supporting organizations are not eligible recipients.

Amounts transferred to a charity from an IRA are counted in determining whether the owner has met the IRA’s required minimum distribution. Where individuals have made nondeductible contributions to their traditional IRAs, a special rule treats transferred amounts as coming first from taxable funds, instead of proportionately from taxable and nontaxable funds, as would be the case with regular distributions. See Publication 590, Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs), for more information on qualified charitable distributions.

 

Rules for Donating Clothing and Household Items

To be deductible, clothing and household items donated to charity generally must be in good used condition or better. A clothing or household item for which a taxpayer claims a deduction of over $500 does not have to meet this standard if the taxpayer includes a qualified appraisal of the item with the return. Household items include furniture, furnishings, electronics, appliances and linens.

 

Guidelines for Monetary Donations

To deduct any charitable donation of money, regardless of amount, a taxpayer must have a bank record or a written communication from the charity showing the name of the charity and the date and amount of the contribution. Bank records include canceled checks, bank or credit union statements, and credit card statements. Bank or credit union statements should show the name of the charity, the date, and the amount paid. Credit card statements should show the name of the charity, the date, and the transaction posting date.

Donations of money include those made in cash or by check, electronic funds transfer, credit card and payroll deduction. For payroll deductions, the taxpayer should retain a pay stub, a Form W-2 wage statement or other document furnished by the employer showing the total amount withheld for charity, along with the pledge card showing the name of the charity.

These requirements for the deduction of monetary donations do not change the long-standing requirement that a taxpayer obtain an acknowledgment from a charity for each deductible donation (either money or property) of $250 or more. However, one statement containing all of the required information may meet both requirements.

 

Reminders for Donations before year end

To help taxpayers plan their holiday-season and year-end giving, the IRS offers the following additional reminders:

  • Contributions are deductible in the year made. Thus, donations charged to a credit card before the end of 2011 count for 2011. This is true even if the credit card bill isn’t paid until 2012. Also, checks count for 2011 as long as they are mailed in 2011.
  • Check that the organization is qualified. Only donations to qualified organizations are tax-deductible. IRS Publication 78, searchable and available online, lists most organizations that are qualified to receive deductible contributions. It can be found at IRS.gov under Search for Charities. In addition, churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and government agencies are eligible to receive deductible donations, even if they are not listed in Publication 78.
  • For individuals, only taxpayers who itemize their deductions on Form 1040 Schedule A can claim deductions for charitable contributions. This deduction is not available to individuals who choose the standard deduction, including anyone who files a short form (Form 1040A or 1040EZ). A taxpayer will have a tax savings only if the total itemized deductions (mortgage interest, charitable contributions, state and local taxes, etc.) exceed the standard deduction. Use the 2011 Form 1040 Schedule A to determine whether itemizing is better than claiming the standard deduction.
  • For all donations of property, including clothing and household items, get from the charity, if possible, a receipt that includes the name of the charity, date of the contribution, and a reasonably-detailed description of the donated property. If a donation is left at a charity’s unattended drop site, keep a written record of the donation that includes this information, as well as the fair market value of the property at the time of the donation and the method used to determine that value. Additional rules apply for a contribution of $250 or more.
  • The deduction for a motor vehicle, boat or airplane donated to charity is usually limited to the gross proceeds from its sale. This rule applies if the claimed value is more than $500. Form 1098-C, or a similar statement, must be provided to the donor by the organization and attached to the donor’s tax return.
  • If the amount of a taxpayer’s deduction for all noncash contributions is over $500, a properly-completed Form 8283 must be submitted with the tax return.
  • And, as always it’s important to keep good records and receipts.

 

Additional information on charitable giving including:

Charities & Non-Profits
Publication 526, Charitable Contributions.

How to Get Credit for Retirement Savings Contributions

If you make eligible contributions to an employer-sponsored retirement plan or to an individual retirement arrangement, you may be eligible for a tax credit.

 

Here are six things you need to know about the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit:

1. Income Limits The Savers Credit, formally known as the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit, applies to individuals with a filing status and income of:

  • Single, married filing separately, or qualifying widow(er), with  income up to $27,750
  • Head of Household, with income up to $41,625
  • Married Filing Jointly, with income up to $55,500

2. Eligibility requirements To be eligible for the credit you must have been born before January 2, 1992, you cannot have been a full-time student during the calendar year and cannot be claimed as a dependent on another person’s return.

3. Credit amount If you make eligible contributions to a qualified IRA, 401(k) and certain other retirement plans, you may be able to take a credit of up to $1,000 or up to $2,000 if filing jointly. The credit is a percentage of the qualifying contribution amount, with the highest rate for taxpayers with the least income.

4. Distributions When figuring this credit, you generally must subtract the amount of distributions you have received from your retirement plans from the contributions you have made. This rule applies to distributions received in the two years before the year the credit is claimed, the year the credit is claimed, and the period after the end of the credit year but before the due date – including extensions – for filing the return for the credit year.

5. Other tax benefits The Retirement Savings Contributions Credit is in addition to other tax benefits which may result from the retirement contributions. For example, most workers at these income levels may deduct all or part of their contributions to a traditional IRA. Contributions to a regular 401(k) plan are not subject to income tax until withdrawn from the plan.

6. Forms to use To claim the credit use Form 8880, Credit for Qualified Retirement Savings Contributions.

 

How to Get Credit for Retirement Savings Contributions

For more information, review IRS Publication 590, Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs), Publication 4703, Retirement Savings Contributions Credit, and Form 8880. Publications and forms can be downloaded below or ordered by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

 

IRS Information about Retirement Savings Contributions

  • Form 8880, Credit for Qualified Retirement Savings Contributions (PDF 46K)
  • Publication 590, Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs) (PDF 449K)
  • Tax Topic 610
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Ten Tips for Deducting Charitable Contributions

When preparing to file your federal tax return, don’t forget your contributions to charitable organizations. If you made qualified donations last year, you may be able to take a tax deduction if you itemize on IRS Form 1040, Schedule A.

 

Ten Tips for Deducting Charitable Contributions

The IRS has put together the following 10 tips to help ensure your contributions pay off on your tax return.

  1. Contributions must be made to qualified organizations to be deductible. You cannot deduct contributions made to specific individuals, political organizations and candidates.
  2. You cannot deduct the value of your time or services. Nor can you deduct the cost of raffles, bingo or other games of chance.
  3. If your contributions entitle you to merchandise, goods or services, including admission to a charity ball, banquet, theatrical performance or sporting event, you can deduct only the amount that exceeds the fair market value of the benefit received.
  4. Donations of stock or other property are usually valued at the fair market value of the property. Special rules apply to donation of vehicles.
  5. Clothing and household items donated must generally be in good used condition or better to be deductible.
  6. 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. For donations by text message, a telephone bill will meet the record-keeping requirement if it shows the name of the organization receiving your donation, the date of the contribution, and the amount given.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Taxpayers donating an item or a group of similar items valued at more than $5,000 must also complete Section B of Form 8283, which requires an appraisal by a qualified appraiser.
  10. To deduct a charitable contribution, you must file Form 1040 and itemize deductions on Schedule A.

 

Making a Charitable Contribution

For more information on charitable contributions, refer to Form 8283 and its instructions, as well as Publication 526, Charitable Contributions. For information on determining value, refer to Publication 561, Determining the Value of Donated Property. These forms and publications are available below or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

  • Search for Charities or download Publication 78, Cumulative List of Organizations
  • Publication 526, Charitable Contributions (PDF 178K)
  • Publication 561, Determining the Value of Donated Property (PDF 101K)
  • Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return (PDF 176K)
  • Schedule A, Itemized Deductions (PDF)
  • Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions (PDF)
  • Instructions for Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions (PDF)