WASHINGTON ― The Internal Revenue Service today reminded taxpayers planning to claim charitable donations to make sure they have the records they need before filing their 2015 tax returns.
This is the fifth in a series of 10 IRS tips called the Tax Time Guide. These tips are designed to help taxpayers navigate common tax issues as this year’s April 18 deadline approaches.
For any taxpayer, keeping good records is key to qualifying for the full charitable contribution deduction allowed by law. In particular, this includes insuring that they have received required statements for two contribution categories—each gift of at least $250 and donations of vehicles.
First, to claim a charitable contribution deduction, donors must get a written acknowledgement from the charity for all contributions of $250 or more. This includes gifts of both cash and property. For donations of property, the acknowledgement must include, among other things, a description of the items contributed.
In addition, the law requires that taxpayers have all acknowledgements in hand before filing their tax return. These acknowledgements are not filed with the return but must be retained by the taxpayer along with other tax records.
Second, special reporting requirements generally apply to vehicle donations, and taxpayers wishing to claim these donations must attach any required documents to their tax return. The deduction for a car, 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.
The IRS also reminded taxpayers to be sure any charity they are giving to is a qualified organization. Only donations to eligible organizations are tax-deductible. Select Check, a searchable online tool available on IRS.gov, lists most organizations that are eligible to receive deductible contributions. In addition, churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and government agencies are eligible even if they are not listed in the tool’s database.
Only taxpayers who itemize their deductions on Form 1040 Schedule A can claim gifts to charity. Thus, taxpayers who choose the standard deduction cannot deduct their charitable contributions. This includes 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 2015 Form 1040, Schedule A to determine whether itemizing is better than claiming the standard deduction.
Besides Schedule A, taxpayers who give property to charity usually must attach a special form for reporting these noncash contributions. If the amount of the deduction for all noncash contributions is over $500, a properly-completed Form 8283 is required.
The IRS provided these additional reminders about the special rules that apply to charitable contributions of used clothing and household items, monetary donations and year-end gifts.
Rules for Charitable Contributions of Clothing and Household Items
- This includes furniture, furnishings, electronics, appliances and linens. Clothing and household items donated to charity generally must be in good used condition or better to be tax-deductible. 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.
Guidelines for Monetary Donations
- A taxpayer must have a bank record or a written statement from the charity in order to deduct any donation of money, regardless of amount. The record must show the name of the charity and the date and amount of the contribution. Bank records include canceled checks, and bank, credit union 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.
- Contributions are deductible in the year made. Thus, donations charged to a credit card before the end of 2015 count for 2015, even if the credit card bill isn’t paid until 2016. Also, checks count for 2015 as long as they were mailed in 2015.
IRS.gov has additional information on charitable giving, including:
- Charities & Non-Profits
- Publication 526, Charitable Contributions. Among other things, this publication has a detailed discussion of records to keep.
- Online mini-course, Can I Deduct My Charitable Contributions?
Other tips in the Tax Time Guide series are available on IRS.gov.
IRS YouTube Videos:
- Charitable Contributions: English | Spanish | ASL
- Exempt Organizations Select Check: English | Spanish | ASL
Know these Facts Before Deducting a Charitable Donation
If taxpayers gave money or goods to a charity in 2016, they may be able to claim a deduction on their federal tax return. Taxpayers can use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool, Can I Deduct my Charitable Contributions?, to help determine if their charitable contributions are deductible.
Here are some important facts about charitable donations:
- Qualified Charities. Taxpayers must donate to a qualified charity. Gifts to individuals, political organizations or candidates are not deductible. To check the status of a charity, use the IRS Select Check tool.
- Itemize Deductions. To deduct charitable contributions, taxpayers must file Form 1040 and itemize deductions. File Schedule A, Itemized Deductions, with a federal tax return.
- Benefit in Return. If taxpayers get something in return for their donation, they may have to reduce their deduction. Taxpayers can only deduct the amount that exceeds the fair market value of the benefit received. Examples of benefits include merchandise, meals, tickets to events or other goods and services.
- Type of Donation. If taxpayers give property instead of cash, their deduction amount is normally limited to the item’s fair market value. Fair market value is generally the price they would get if the property sold on the open market. If they donate used clothing and household items, those items generally must be in good condition or better. Special rules apply to cars, boats and other types of property donations.
- Noncash Charitable Contributions. File Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions, for all noncash gifts totaling more than $500 for the year. Complete section-A for noncash property contributions worth $5,000 or less. Complete section-B for noncash property contributions more than $5,000 and include a qualified appraisal to the return. Taxpayers may be able to prepare and e-file their tax return for free using IRS Free File. The type of records they must keep depends on the amount and type of their donation. To learn more about what records to keep, see Publication 526, Charitable Contributions.
- Donations of $250 or More. If taxpayers donated cash or goods of $250 or more, they must have a written statement from the charity. It must show the amount of the donation and a description of any property given. It must also say whether they received any goods or services in exchange for the gift.
Taxpayers should keep a copy of their tax return. Beginning in 2017, taxpayers using a software product for the first time may need their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) amount from their prior-year tax return to verify their identity. Taxpayers can learn more about how to verify their identity and electronically sign tax returns at Validating Your Electronically Filed Tax Return.
Additional IRS Resources:
- Charitable Contributions – Topic 506
- Publication 561, Determining the Value of Donated Property
- Publication 526, Charitable Contributions
IRS YouTube Videos: