Giving to Charity This Holiday Season? Here’s How to Report it on Your Taxes

Reporting Charitable Deductions
Reporting Charitable Deductions

The end of 2014 is just days away, and if you’re like many Americans, you are planning to give to one or more charitable organizations before the new year dawns. Around 34 percent of all charitable giving is done in the last three months of the year and slightly more than half of that is during the month of December. Giving is up substantially this year over 2013, thanks in large part to the continued national economic recovery.

While the desire to help others is the main reason that most people give to charity, they also enjoy the ability to claim a deduction on their tax return. However, many Americans incorrectly report their charitable giving and do not receive the credits they are entitled to.

The biggest mistake, according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), is that people don’t verify that they are giving money or goods to a qualified charitable organization. They also make the mistake of assuming that donations made to individuals, political candidates and political organizations are deductible on their tax return. If you try to claim any of these as charitable donations, the IRS will deny your credit.

How to Claim a Charitable Deduction on Your Tax Return

If you plan to deduct your charitable contributions in 2014, you must use Form 1040 and itemize the deductions on a Schedule A. You may donate cash, tangible goods, services or personal property and write it off on your taxes this year. If you are donating a non-cash item, you should use IRS Publication 561 to determine its value.

In the event that you received merchandise in exchange for your donation, the IRS only allows you to deduct the amount of that item that exceeds fair market value. For example, if you donated money to fund a scholarship and the college gave you season tickets to watch its football team, you must deduct the value of those tickets from your charitable donation.

Stocks, bonds, and other deferred financial contributions are typically deducted at fair market value. This is the amount that the item would sell for if a competent buyer purchased it and the seller presented all relevant facts. In effect this means that all used items that you donate, such as cars and clothing, must be in good used condition in order to claim a tax deduction.

Proof of Donations

If the donation you itemized on Schedule A is worth more than $250, you must have written documentation that contains the name of the organization receiving the gift, the amount of the donation, and the date it changed hands. This communication can be in the form of a bank statement, a pay stub showing a payroll deduction, a letter from the receiver, or a printout of a text message or email.

For donations totaling more than $500 for the year, you need to complete IRS Form 8283 for Non-Cash Charitable Contributions and include it with your return. You should also use Section B of this form for non-cash donations worth more than $5,000 and include a professional appraisal when you submit your return. In most cases, the IRS limits the credits you can claim for charitable giving to 50 percent of your taxable income.