The Season of Giving

Written by Peter Tran

July 6, 2017

Thanksgiving weekend is coming to an end.  As we finish the lever stuffing, un-bandage our black-Friday bruises, and begin decorating for Christmas, let’s keep the spirit of the season alive and remember those whose holiday experience may be less than… well, merry. 

Helping others elevates your spir  It may also lower your taxes.  Today, I will revisit some basic tax questions regarding charitable contributions.  I will also consider the proof the will require for you to deduct your donations.  My goal is to help you maximize your charitable deduction without running afoul of tax rules.

According to tax law, a charitable contribution is a donation of money or property to a “qualified organization.”  To qualify for the deduction, the contribution must benefit the organization, and not be set aside for any specific individual. 

To qualify as a charitable contribution you nnot receive anything of “tangible” value in return.  For example, if you purchase tickets to a dinner for $100 and the value of the dinner is $50, you n only deduct $50 as a charitable contribution.  If you give the organization more than $75 and receive any or services in return, the organization must give you a statement that breaks down the deductible and nondeductible portions of the gift. 

What is a “qualified organization?”  Qualified organizations include (but are not limited to) churches, synagogues and other religious organizations, public parks and government entities (if contribution used to benefit public), nonprofit schools, hospitals and volunteer fire departments, and not-for-profit public charities such as the Salvation Army and the Boys and Girls Club.  Other than churches and governments, most other organizations must apply with the before they are considered “qualified”.  A searchable list of these organizations n be found at http// or by obtaining publition 78 from the

What proof will you need to substantiate charitable donations to qualified organizations?  Here is a quick rundown:

Contributions by sh and check:  Over the past few years, the has tightened their stance on charitable “sh” giving.  gone are the days of deducting the “twenty” tossed in the church collection plate each Sunday.  If you donate sh you must have a receipt from the organization to claim the deduction.  Donations made by check, however, are easily substantiated with a ned check or bank statement.  But if you donate $250 or more to any organization in one day, a ned check will not be enough.  You will need a written receipt from the organization to prove your donation. 

Household such as furniture, s and clothing: This spring you may clean out your garage and closets, box household items you no er use, bag clothes you no er wear, and donate them to Goodwill or the Salvation Army.  To be deductible, these items must be in “good used condition.”  It is your responsibility to prove the value the “fair market value” (what the item would sell for at a yard sale or thrift shop) of each donated item.  Writing “three bags of clothes and two boxes of household items” on the yellow receipt will do little to help you substantiate your donation, if the should question  

Consider taking the following steps to maximize and prove your nonsh donations:  Ft, take a picture of the donated items.  This will help prove the items donated and their condition.  Second, list donated items on a sheet of notebook paper. And, finally, use a valuation guide (free at http// or http// to estimate each item’s fair market value.  These records will also help you complete form 8283, “Nonsh Charitable Contributions,” required if nonsh contributions exceed $500.

These are the basics of making charitable contributions. There remain, however, many different deduction limits and reporting requirements related to your income level, of donated items (such as vehicles or appreciated property), organization’s use of donation, and type of organization donated to.  If you find it difficult to navigate this maze of tax rules, don’t forego charitable giving or sacrifice the deduction.  Seek the assistance of a tax professional.

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