Deciding where to donate your hard-earned dollars takes a lot of careful planning. A smart charitable giving strategy also considers how and when you give. Both your method of giving and the timing of your gifts can help to maximize your impact on favorite charities—while minimizing your tax bite.
Impact of tax reform on charitable giving
While there are many ways to give charitable gifts during your lifetime, from charitable remainder trusts to remainder interests in real estate, chances are you donate directly to the organizations you care most about.
When you itemize deductions on your income tax return, you can still deduct the cash gifts you made to charities throughout the year, up to 60% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). However, as part of the 2017 tax law changes, the standard deduction amount almost doubled, and now fewer than 10% of taxpayers are likely to itemize their deductions.
If you’re among the millions of Americans no longer itemizing deductions, you may be missing out on an income tax benefit from your charitable gifts. And even if you are still itemizing, you may not be receiving as large a tax benefit as you enjoyed in previous years.
To help maximize your income tax benefits going forward, here are five charitable giving strategies you might want to consider:
1. If the numbers add up, itemize
To decide if itemizing is the right strategy for you, add up the amount of your allowable itemized deductions, including your home mortgage interest, property/state/local income taxes and other common deductions. If that number is greater than the standard deduction allowed for that year, then itemizing would leave you better off. If not, then it would make more sense to take the standard deduction, which in 2019 is $12,200 for individual taxpayers or $24,400 for married couples filing jointly. For those of you over the age of 65, there’s an additional amount you can deduct—$1,600 if single and $2,600 if married (and both are over 65).
2. Donate stocks or bonds
A simple strategy for boosting your donation—and your tax deduction—is to give stocks, bonds or other appreciated securities directly to your charity of choice. Simply writing a check or giving via credit card may be quick and easy, but cash gifts are typically much less efficient from an income tax perspective. There are a couple of key benefits to giving appreciated assets to charity:
First, if you sold the security, you’d likely owe capital gains tax on it. By gifting it instead, you wouldn’t have to pay that tax—and because charities are tax exempt, they won’t either. You would also be eligible for a charitable income tax deduction, equal to the fair market value of the security you donate, up to 30% of your AGI.
Example: John purchased stock in ABC Company when it cost $100 per share. It is now worth $1,000. If John gives that share of stock to his favorite charity, he will have a $1,000 charitable income tax deduction without recognizing the $900 of capital gain.
3. Take a qualified charitable distribution (QCD)
If you happen to be over the age of 70½, you can take advantage of another strategy to reduce your taxable income in the form of qualified charitable distributions, or QCDs. These are donations made directly from your IRA to your chosen charity. While the gift amount won’t qualify for a charitable deduction, it won’t be considered taxable income either and can, therefore, offset your required minimum distribution (RMD) for the year. This effectively deducts the amount transferred to charity from your taxable income, if you would not otherwise be itemizing deductions. This may be useful for nontax reasons, such as calculating your Medicare premiums. In order to benefit from this strategy, you need to meet a few strict requirements, so make sure you talk to your advisor or accountant first.*
Example: Sally has an IRA with a $10,000 RMD. She directs $1,000 from her IRA to her favorite charity and takes the remaining $9,000 RMD. On her income tax return, she will report only $9,000 of taxable distributions from this retirement account.
4. Bunch your charitable gifts
As a way to make your itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction threshold—and ultimately reduce your tax bill—you might consider “bunching” or prefunding your charitable gifts into one tax year. Taxpayers often bunch in this way by donating appreciated securities.
Example: Jack and Dianne are both age 60. They typically give $10,000 per year to charity. Their standard deduction for 2019 is $24,400. The only other itemized deduction available is the $10,000 state and local income tax deduction. If Jack and Dianne gave $10,000 to charity this year, they would not receive an income tax deduction (because the standard deduction is higher). They could, however, make three years’ worth of gifts this year and then their itemized deductions would total $30,000.
5. Consider a donor-advised fund (DAF)
Did you know that you can create your own personal charitable giving fund? A donor-advised fund is itself a charitable entity, and a key benefit is its flexibility. Funding a DAF allows you to claim an immediate charitable tax deduction—and then recommend when to distribute the money to your favorite charities, on a timetable that works for you. While you decide how best to bestow financial support, the funds in your DAF are invested and have the potential to grow. Any growth would be tax free—enabling you to give even more to the causes close to your heart. For an even greater tax benefit, you can fund your DAF with appreciated securities as well as cash.
In the example above, Jack and Dianne could make the $30,000 gift to their donor-advised fund and benefit from the charitable income tax deduction this year, while still continuing to give $10,000 to charities each year thereafter.
Deciding which strategy is right for you
While there is no “one size fits all” strategy for charitable giving, choosing between cash, appreciated securities and qualified charitable distributions will depend on a number of personal factors, including your age, portfolio and how much you are willing or able to give.
Charitable giving can easily become complex. Make sure to talk to your TIAA advisor, as well as your tax advisor, before deciding on your giving plan. We can help you better understand these five tax-savvy strategies and review your options.