Most people no longer get a tax deduction when they donate to charity. That shouldn’t keep you from making donations, but you may want to change your approach.
Typically, only taxpayers who itemize deductions can write off charitable contributions. The vast majority of taxpayers instead take the standard deduction, which was nearly doubled by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. (Temporary provisions in pandemic relief legislation allowed taxpayers to deduct $300 of their donations in 2020 and 2021 without itemizing, but those provisions have expired.)
It has never made sense to donate solely to get a deduction. If you’re in the 22% federal tax bracket, for example, you save only 22 cents in taxes for each dollar you give away. If you’re charitably minded, however, there may still be ways to get a tax break for your generosity with some planning, or you could reconsider how you give money away.
Not just for the rich
Tax experts recommend “bunching” deductions when people’s itemized deductions are close to the standard deduction limits, which in 2023 will be $13,850 for single filers and $27,700 for married couples filing jointly.
Bunching allows taxpayers to take the standard deduction one year while moving as many itemized expenses as possible into another year. If you’re maximizing deductions for this year, for example, you might pay your January 2023 mortgage payment in December or make two years’ worth of charitable donations.
One way to bunch deductions is to use a donor-advised fund, an account that allows you to contribute a lump sum in one year and then parcel out the money in future years to the charities of your choice, says financial adviser Mark Astrinos, a certified public accountant and personal financial specialist in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Donor-advised funds are offered by major investment companies as well as universities, community foundations and various charities.
If the client normally gives about $5,000 a year to charity, Astrinos might encourage that person to contribute three years’ worth of donations, or $15,000, to a donor-advised fund. The donation would allow the client to exceed the standard deduction for a single filer and potentially make other expenses, such as mortgage interest and property taxes, deductible again.
A stock that soared in value since you bought it can create a big tax bill when you sell. You can avoid that bill if you give the stock to a qualified charity or to your donor-advised fund. If you’re able to itemize deductions, you also can take a deduction for the stock’s current price on the day of your donation.
Astrinos uses the example of someone who invested $10,000 in shares that are now worth $100,000. Selling the stock would create a $90,000 capital gain, while donating it would create a $100,000 deduction and avoid capital gains tax.
“It’s a double tax benefit,” Astrinos says.
Tapping an IRA
Qualified charitable distributions allow people 70½ and older to donate money directly from their individual retirement accounts, or IRAs, to charity. There is no tax deduction, but the money isn’t included in their income, either.
Qualified charitable distributions often appeal to people facing required minimum distributions from their retirement accounts but who don’t need the income, Astrinos says. (The IRS requires people to withdraw minimum amounts from most retirement accounts — and pay taxes on that income — starting at age 72.)
The IRS places other restrictions on charitable deductions, such as requiring the recipient to be a “recognized charity ” — a tax-exempt organization that’s on the IRS’ list. Gifts to individuals and political organizations don’t qualify.
If you aren’t going to get a tax deduction for your generosity, then you might broaden the list of worthy causes you want to benefit. You could contribute to a political cause, help reduce a friend’s student loan debt or pay someone’s rent if they’re struggling.
If you give money to an individual, however, you should understand the annual gift exemption limits. In 2023, you can give up to $17,000 to as many people as you want without having to file a gift tax return. You wouldn’t owe any gift tax until the amount you gave away over that annual limit exceeds the lifetime exemption, which in 2023 is $12.92 million. The $17,000 limit doesn’t apply to gifts to spouses or political organizations or if you’re paying someone else’s medical bills or tuition.
Or you could simply continue giving to your favorite charities, which may need your contribution more than ever. Charities worry that a rough stock market and high inflation may constrain remaining donors’ giving.
“People are more generous when times are good, but people need it the most when times aren’t good,” Astrinos notes.
Liz Weston is a financial columnist for NerdWallet.