A new world of charitable tax breaks

How does the latest federal tax bill affect charity donations?


If you’re wondering whether your donations to charity will bring you any tax benefits now that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has passed, rest assured, there are several ways.

And they’re important to know: More than ever, charities will need your help. Some nonprofits are worried that with the new tax rules, donations will plunge. Pessimistic estimates suggest the number of households that will donate to charities will plummet from roughly 37 million, to 16 million in 2018.

As before, only taxpayers who itemize deductions can claim charitable donations on their tax returns. But one consequence of the TCJA is that the standard deduction nearly doubled, which means fewer people will itemize.

For singles, the standard deduction is now $12,000 (up from $6,350) and for married joint-filers, the standard deduction is now $24,000 (up from $12,700).

While that’s great for a lot of people, it means many will no longer itemize deductions and therefore, won’t get the tax break. Never fear: There are still some ways to satisfy your charitable inclinations and benefit at tax time:

A donor-advised fund

A donor-advised fund (DAF) is a fund your advisor can set up specifically to support the charitable organizations you care about. DAFs allow you to take a charitable income tax deduction when you contribute funds, even if you defer deciding which charities to support and for how much. The money you sock away grows tax-free, which leads to even more money to donate later.

Although the contributions to your DAF are irrevocable, you, as the fund owner, retain advisory privileges as to how the account assets are distributed. Depending on how much you put into a DAF, you may exceed the standard deduction at tax time, and qualify to take an itemized deduction, in addition to growing tax-free income.

An added bonus to creating a DAF is that, though you get the immediate tax benefit of socking money into the fund, you can sit back and observe the charities you’re considering, to see how well they function.

One more tax benefit: Some DAFs are equipped to accept appreciated assets such as real estate and securities.

By donating appreciated assets to a DAF, you avoid the capital gains you’d have to pay if you sold the property — win-win.

Alternating years

You may choose to beat the standard deduction by “bunching” your donations. Suppose you and your spouse generally donate $20,000 per year to a favorite charity. Make your donation for — let’s say 2019 — early in the year.

In January 2019, donate $20,000. Then, instead of donating another $20,000 in January 2020, send it in December 2019. That gives you a $40,000 donation for 2019, and effectively covers both years. Your next donations would be in January and December of 2021. Every other year, you’ll exceed the standard deduction.

The RMD loophole

If you’re at least 70 1/2 and you have an IRA, you probably know you must take annual required minimum distributions (RMDs) of taxable income. But did you know you can avoid taxation on some of that money by donating it to a qualified charity directly from your IRA? A single person can donate up to $100,000 and a married couple can donate up to $200,000.

You can’t also claim a charitable deduction on your tax return, but the tax benefit comes because the amount donated lowers your taxable adjusted gross income, which then lowers your RMD. Lowering your RMD means more of your IRA funds can continue to grow. It also may make it easier to qualify for deductions that depend on an income floor, such as net investment income tax.

One word of caution: The distribution must be made to a qualified charity directly from your IRA. If you receive the RMD and then write a check to the charity yourself, you lose a significant tax advantage. That’s why it’s critical to have your IRA trustee make the distribution, not you.

Stay tuned to IRS updates about the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Teresa Ambord is a former accountant, a longtime freelance writer and an occasional contributor to Good Age.