Posts

Girl hanging ornaments on tree

Merry Christmas and happy last day of the 25 Days of Giving Series! If you’ve been reading along throughout December, thank you. If you’ve happened upon the GoFisch blog just now, welcome. I hope to see you back here often.

Celebrating the holidays with children, be it family or friends’ children, can be an wonderful opportunity to “see” the magic and delight of the season through their experiences. The season of giving is also an opportune time to teach and reinforce the importance of a different kind of giving beyond the wish lists for Santa and filled stockings. Consider these few tips when teaching the future generation of philanthropists about why charitable giving is important, and how to practice charity during December…and all year round.

Think Tradition

holiday themed cupcakes

Just like decorating cookies, trimming the tree, singing carols, or any other one of your family traditions, charitable giving can be made into an annual family affair. Incorporate this in a way that works for you and your family. One idea is instead of the traditional advent calendar in which children would usually get a small toy or candy each day give some loose change or “gift” a charitable activity you can do together. For the money, the child can collect and then then at the end of the advent period have then donate their money to a cause they care about.

Talk About It Together

Similarly to how I counsel my estate planning clients on the importance of speaking with family members about decisions for their estate, it’s important to actually talk about charitable giving as a family. Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy conducted a study and found that children whose parents talk with them about donating are 20% more likely to give to charity than kids who do not have those conversations with their parents.

snowmen figurines

Visit local charitable organizations together. (Or, if that’s not accessible at least go online to the charities’ websites.) Introduce your child to what the charity does and why it’s important. Organizations whose missions align with your child’s interests are a good place to start. For instance, the kid who loves animals may be interested to know that the local animal rescue helps animals when they get lost or hurt.

Practice What You Preach: Volunteer Time

Charitable giving doesn’t just have to be monetary. When possible set up volunteer activities you can do together. However, volunteer opportunities for children can be limited, so don’t be afraid to get creative. If your kiddo loves riding her bike around the park, plan a day where you pick up trash around the park. If your son loves to help you plant flowers, see if he can help out at the community garden. Of course, youth organizations like scouting programs (for example), can be a great opportunity for your child to put charitable work into action. Kids, just like most of us, will better be able to “see” the impact of charitable giving when they experience it firsthand. (Note: volunteer time is not tax deductible, but out-of-pocket expenses associated with volunteer work are!)

child in front of stocking

Shared Generosity

From your year-end giving charitable dollars, set aside a portion specifically for the kids to decide how to allocate. Have them brainstorm on with you and provide them with any suggestions/charities to match the causes they care about. You could also try out a matching program. Explain to them that every dollar they save throughout the year and want to donate to charity, you’ll match. If you need a colorful visual explain with Monopoly money.

 How do you involve your entire family with charitable giving? I would love to hear your ideas. Remember, this doesn’t have to be your own children. If you’re a teacher or simply an involved aunt/uncle or grandparent you can still instill in children the important philosophy of why giving can be the best gift of all.
Questions about your own year-end charitable giving? Contact me by email or phone (515-371-6077) at any time. 
red ornaments Endow Iowa Tax Credit

Merry Christmas Eve and thank you for reading the 25 Days of Giving series! In the spirit of the holiday season I’m covering different aspects of charitable giving…perfect to get you thinking about your end-of-year giving.

There are many, many reasons Iowa is great place to live and work. One reason is the Endow Iowa Tax Credit Program—a smart way to stretch your charitable dollars. Iowa community foundations provide exclusive access to the Endow Iowa Tax Credit program. Giving through the Endow Iowa program allows Iowa taxpayers to receive a 25% Iowa tax credit, in addition to the federal charitable income tax deduction, for qualifying charitable gifts.

gift with glitter ribbon

The Endow Iowa Tax Credit Program provides unique opportunities to meet philanthropic goals while receiving maximum tax benefits. Highlights of this program include:

  • A variety of gifts qualify for Endow Iowa Tax Credits including cash, real estate, grain, appreciated securities, and outright gifts of retirement assets. In fact, appreciated assets, like stocks or real estate, can provide even better value because the donor may avoid capital gains taxes.
  • To be eligible, gifts must benefit an Iowa charity.
  • Tax credits of 25% of the gifted amount are limited to $300,000 in tax credits per individual for a gift of $1.2 million, or $600,000 in tax credits per couple for a gift of $2.4 million, assuming both are Iowa taxpayers.
  • Eligible gifts will qualify for credits on a first-come/first-serve basis until the yearly appropriated limit is reached. If the current available Endow Iowa Tax Credits have been awarded, qualified donors will be eligible for the next year’s Endow Iowa Tax Credits. Donors should be encouraged to to act as early in the year as possible to ensure receipt of credits as soon as possible.
  • All qualified donors can carry forward the tax credit for up to five years after the year the donation was made.

There is one “catch.” Funds can only be granted at a spend rate of 5% per year. It should also be noted that the Endow Iowa Tax Credits are capped. The Iowa Legislature sets aside a pool of money for Endow Iowa, and it’s available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Submitting an application at the beginning of the tax year is advised, as tax credits often run out toward year’s end. In fact, this year approximately $6 million in tax credits were awarded and there are no more available credits to be granted. However, you can submit your application to be placed on the wait list for 2018 tax credits.

In exchange for 25% Iowa tax credit and the opportunity to have an even greater impact on their philanthropic interests in the state of Iowa, now and into the future, the Endow Iowa Tax Credit Program should be seriously considered by all. Any questions or thoughts on how the Endow Iowa Tax Credit Program could mean big benefits for your finances and your state? Don’t hesitate to contact me.

529 plan charitable giving

Family of all shapes and sizes plays a special role for most during the holidays. This brings to mind a different type of gift you can give to a loved one who is currently or planning on attending college. For the majority of the 25 Days of Giving series we’ve focused on charitable gifts made to nonprofit organizations. But, investing in a student’s future and helping to make higher education more affordable and accessible is certainly a valid cause…and has tax benefits of its own.

The 411 on the 529

Gordon Fischer Law Firm is dedicated to Iowans, so we’ll focus on the College Savings Iowa 529 plan, but know that all 50 states and D.C. sponsor at least one type of 529 plan. There are two types of 529 plans—prepaid tuition plans and college savings plans. The College Savings Iowa plan is a tax-advantaged program sponsored and administered by the Treasurer of the State of Iowa. The purpose? Just as the name “college savings” says, it is intended to “help an individual or a family pay for higher-education costs.”

girl in graduation robes

The account funds can be used by the beneficiary for any purpose, but for the withdrawals to be considered tax-free, the money must be used for qualified higher-education expenses at an eligible educational institution by the student. Eligible expenses include elements associated with higher education such as: tuition, mandatory fees, books, required supplies, computers (including related hardware and software), internet access, equipment required for enrollment/attendance, and even  room and board during any academic period where the student is enrolled at least half-time.

If withdrawals are made and not used for for a qualified expense, the deductions must be added back to Iowa taxable income and adjusted annually for inflation. Additionally, the earnings part of the non-qualified withdrawal may be subject to a 10 percent federal penalty tax on top of federal income tax. A great alternative to non-qualified withdrawals if the student doesn’t end up going to or paying for school, is transferring the money to another eligible beneficiary’s 529 account.

Who Can be a 529 Plan Beneficiary?

Your school years may be far behind you, but you can set up a 529 for any beneficiary. The only requirements are that the prospective or current student must be a U.S. citizen or resident alien with a valid Social Security number or other taxpayer ID number. The student doesn’t have to reside in Iowa or be related to you in any way. So, you could set-up a 529 for your niece, but also your friend’s son whom you’ve known since he was little…even if he lives in another state!

woman opening gift on couch

Federal, State, & Estate Tax Benefits

The most obvious benefit of College Savings Iowa 529 accounts is that contributed assets grow deferred from federal and state income taxes. Plus, “Iowa taxpayers can deduct up to $3,239 in contributions per beneficiary (student) account from adjusted gross income for 2017.” These contributions can usually be made up through the tax-filing deadline. (For example, you could make a tax deductible contribution for the 2017 tax year up until the end of April 2018.)

Beyond the $3,239 state tax deduction, you can contribute up to $70,000 in a single tax year for each beneficiary (or $140,000 as a married couple filing jointly) without incurring federal gift tax. This is provided you don’t make any other gifts to that student beneficiary over the course of five years. For the purpose of the contribution, it’s as if you made the $70,000 gift over the course of five years. Any additional gifts made to the beneficiary during that five-year period will incur a gift tax.

There’s another major benefit when it comes to the 529 and estate taxes. Money contributed to a 529 account is generally treated as a “completed gift” to the student beneficiary, but as the contributor/participant, you still have control over the money. If you were to die with money remaining in your account, it will not be included in your estate for federal estate tax purposes. In short, the 529 is a valid tool if your goal is to reduce the total of your estate to avoid the estate tax, but still help a student you care about.

In terms of estate tax, if you took option for the $70,000 contribution ($140,000 for married couples) to a 529 plan account as if it was made over five years and then you die within the five year window, a prorated portion of the contribution will be subject to estate tax. This can get a bit confusing so please speak with your trusted estate planning attorney or tax advisor for more personalized information.

What’s your experience with 529 plans? Any questions in regards to how contributing to a 529 plan could impact your tax savings? Don’t hesitate to contact me by email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or phone (515-371-6077).

gold and silver christmas gift

Thanks for the reading the 25 Days of Giving series! Each day through December 25, I’m covering different aspects of charitable giving for both donors and nonprofit leaders. Have a topic you want covered or question you want answered  regarding charitable giving? Contact me.

The vast majority of public and private universities and colleges are tax-exempt entities as defined by Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 501(c)(3) because of their educational purposes and/or the fact that they are state governmental entities. If this is the case, gave you ever wondered why tuition for a student to attend a university is not deductible as a charitable contribution? This is known in gift law as as a “personal benefit” transfer. The personal benefit of education for the student is equal to the tuition paid. Because of the benefit value, there is no charitable gift and therefore no federal income tax charitable contribution deduction.

university library

Another example of personal benefit transfer would be payment to a charity for specific services, and such payments are not deductible. In Hernandez v. Commissionerthe U.S. Supreme Court determined gifts of fixed amounts to the Church of Scientology (a tax-exempt religious organization) in exchange for personal counseling were not deductible. The Court held that such “gifts” were more appropriately considered payments for services rather than charitable contributions.

If you ever have a question if a charitable gift is tax deductible, don’t hesitate to contact me. It never hurts to get a second opinion on potential personal benefit situations, especially if the opinion can mean potentially avoiding an IRS audit.

The title of this sounds pretty lacking in the “merry and bright” department…especially considering this is the 25 Days of Giving series! But, the name here describes an little-known deduction beneficial for volunteers…and nonprofits to stress to volunteers to indeed encourage more volunteering!

The IRS does NOT allow a charitable deduction for volunteering your services. However, out-of-pocket expenses relating to volunteering are deductible. Yes, seriously!

Any given charity should provide volunteers with a description of the contributed services and state whether there has been any transfer from the charity of goods or services back to the donor. In addition to other out-of-pocket expenses, mileage is deductible at the IRS rate. Also, expenses like tolls and parking can be deductible.

For example, if a volunteer travels to attend a meeting or conference sponsored by the charity, then there is a deduction only if there is “no significant amount of personal pleasure” in the meeting. This has become known as the “no smile” rule. To be deductible, the principal purpose of the meeting must be to further charitable goals (aka operative mission). Which, if you think about it, is something worth smiling about!

2 girls "no smile rule"

Any questions as to what donors can and can’t deduct? If you’re a nonprofit organization you may have questions about the extent of information you’re required to provide. I welcome any questions on the topics. Gordon can be easily reached by phone at 515-371-6077; by email at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com.

Candles and christmas tree for charity auction

Thanks for reading the 25 Days of Giving series! Share with friends, family, & colleagues. Knowledge is indeed a “gift” when it comes to encouraging and maximizing smart charitable giving

Headed to a holiday party this season? If it’s to celebrate/fundraise for your favorite charity, you might experience an auction (silent or otherwise). Charity auctions can be great fun and it feels like you’re giving back while also gaining a great gift to tuck under the Christmas tree!

Sometimes charity auction participants mistakenly believe their successful bids are completely deductible. However, since the individual receives the auction property, there is usually no federal income tax charitable deduction. But, if the bid can be shown to be in excess of the fair market value of the item, the amount in excess can be deducted as a charitable contribution.

The charity may make a “good faith estimate” of the fair value of the auction item before bidding commences.

Noel at charity auction

Let’s look at a few easy examples:

Example 1. A $50 gift certificate to a retail store is purchased at charity auction for $40. No deduction.

Example 2. A different $50 gift certificate to the spa is purchased at the charity auction for $70. This generates a $20 charitable deduction.

Example 3. You bid on and win a fruit basket for $30 at an auction supporting a local high school basketball program. The equivalent fruit basket at a local grocery store would cost $15, so you may receive a $15 tax deduction.

Unsure if your actions at a charity auction mean a charitable deduction? It’s always a good idea to get a second opinion. Also, if you’re a nonprofit leader planning on hosting a charity auction it’s advantageous to be briefed on all the tax and legal rules surrounding the event in case donors ask. I’m always happy to help and offer a free one-hour consultation. Reach me by phone at 515-371-6077 or by email at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com.

Santa with Heart

Thanks for reading the 25 Days of Giving series! Share with friends, family, & colleagues to inspire others to to also make meaningful year end gifts this season…and plan ahead for 2018 charitable goals.

You may deduct from your federal income tax any charitable contributions of money or property made to qualified organizations if you itemize your deductions. But, there are record keeping requirements you’ll want to stay on top of, so you’re not scrambling during tax time!

Payroll deduction substantiation

Making a charitable deduction directly from your paycheck is a great and steadfast way to be sure to meet your charitable giving goals. For charitable contributions made via payroll deductions, the donor needs two documents to substantiate the gift:

  1. a pay stub, W-2, or other document furnished by the employer that sets forth the amount withheld from the taxpayer during a taxable year by the employer for the purpose of contributing to a charity;
  2. a pledge card or other document prepared by or at the direction of the charity that shows the name of the charity.

Donors who give to a local United Way or other organizations that funnel contributions to other charities need to only obtain the pledge card or other document from the United Way and not from the affiliated charities which ultimately receive the money.

Payroll deductions of $250 or more

Tax law requires that for any contribution of $250 or more, the taxpayer must substantiate the contribution by a contemporaneous written acknowledgement of the contribution by the charity. For payroll deductions, the contribution amount withheld from each payment of wages to a taxpayer is treated as a separate contribution for purposes of the $250 threshold.

So, for example, a taxpayer who gave $300 over the course of a year through payroll deductions, $30 per paycheck over ten paychecks, would not trigger the $250 substantiation requirement. The substantiation requirement would only kick in if $250 or more is withheld from each paycheck.

If any of this is confusing, know you don’t have to navigate these requirements just by yourself. Contact me at any time to discuss your situation and charitable giving goals. We’ll figure out the best course of action together!

The December/January issue of The Iowa Lawyer magazine is out! Click here and scroll to page 13 to read the final piece in my four-part series on the practical application of Iowa’s new succession planning rule for lawyers and law firms. “Giving for good: Practical application of Iowa Court Rule 39.18” covers how the rule may well significantly increase charitable giving by Iowa attorneys through both business succession planning and personal estate planning.

Iowa Court Rule December Article

While the series is targeted toward Iowa lawyers, the advice throughout can be applicable to individuals in need of personal estate planning as well as business owners in need of business succession plan. Click on the following links to read the past articles related to the Rule.

  1. September issue: overview of Iowa’s new succession planning rule and the importance of personal estate planning as well
  2. October issue: 8 simple steps for a successful business succession
  3. November issue: benefits of a supplemental plan

This month’s Iowa State Bar Association publication also includes features on: issues and roles of startups and in-house counsel; Larry Johnson Jr., the new State Public Defender; cover story on intellectual property lawyer, Brandon Clark; periodic cost-of living adjustments for indigent defense compensation; data on the realities of attracting young attorneys to the state’s small towns; and the Kids First Law Center, among other great pieces.

If you would like to discuss any questions or concerns related to personal estate planning or a succession plan for your business (including law firms), don’t hesitate to contact me.

blue and tan present

Thanks for reading the 25 Days of Giving series! Plan on coming back to the blog every day from now through Christmas Day.

25 days of Christmas - Holiday giving

In December there is gift giving with wrapping paper abound, but when it comes to charitable giving the important assets (like your retirement assets) don’t need ribbons or bows. Let’s first focus on a major retirement asset giving tool, the IRA charitable rollover.

IRA Charitable Rollover

This federal law allows donors age 70½ and older to make direct distributions of up to $100,000 from his/her IRA each year to any qualified charity. The donation is not treated as taxable income and, moreover, counts toward the donor’s required minimum distribution for that year.

At the end of 2015, Congress made the IRA charitable rollover a permanent giving tool, unlike the year-to-year renewal basis they had operated on since the introduction of the IRA charitable rollover in 2006 (as part of the Pension Protection Act).  The result? Tax savvy IRA account holders can now plan charitable giving in a more reliable way.

Other Options

There are two other accessible ways to direct retirement benefit plan assets to your favorite charity:

  • Gifts at death via beneficiary designations.
  • Withdrawals over age 59½ followed by outright deductible gifts that can effectively result in tax-free retirement plan gifts.

Keep in mind, too, that the IRA charitable rollover applies only to IRAs. These two options — gifts at death via beneficiary designations and withdrawals by those older than 59½ — will work with virtually all qualified retirement plans, including 401(k)s and 403(b)s.

Lights and small house - for charity

Naming your favorite charity as beneficiary

Donors considering charitable bequests may not realize that they can make a meaningful gift simply by naming their favorite charity as the beneficiary of an IRA, 401(k), 403(b), or other retirement plan. Giving retirement assets in this way is easy, and does not require drafting or amending a will or trust. A donor simply has to contact his/her financial institution holding the retirement benefit plan and request a change of beneficiary form.

Note, however, that if the account holder is married, the spouse should be informed and may have to consent to the gift. The plan assets may also be left to a charitable or marital trust[s]. In the latter case, professional advisors should be consulted. (Hint: call me!).

Give now!

Donors could also choose to make current gifts using funds withdrawn from their qualified retirement plans. Individuals over age 59½ may generally withdraw funds from retirement plans without penalty, make a gift with these funds, and then claim an offsetting charitable deduction. In most cases, a gift made in this manner will be a “wash” for tax purposes.

Let’s take a quick example. Rebecca (age 64) wants to make a very generous donation of $10,000 to her favorite charity. She can withdraw $10,000 from her IRA or 401(k) account, and make that donation. Assuming she itemizes her tax deductions, the $10,000 donation should leave her “even Steven” with regard to taxes – the $10,000 in income is offset by the $10,000 charitable deduction, resulting in zero net income taxes.

Advice is Priceless

The decision to want to give to you favorite causes this season is easy. Knowing exactly where to start with smart giving can be a little more complex. If you have questions about the IRA charitable rollover or any other giving strategy, don’t hesitate to reach out via email or by phone (515-371-6077). My firm’s mission is to maximize charitable giving in the state of Iowa and I want to help YOU maximize your personal charitable giving (in a way that is also tax efficient).