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holiday wreath with ornament

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.

Earlier this year I read an article in Forbes about two tax court cases where families claimed large charitable contributions on their federal income tax and, given that they were fraudulent claims, failed to have the substantiation to back it up. As the article stated, “the IRS is NOT messing around when it comes to holding taxpayers to the substantiation requirements for charitable contributions.” The substantiation is required in exchange for the federal income charitable deduction.

Note there is, of course, a limit to the charitable deduction on your taxes. Mind this when considering maxing out your charitable deduction.

Substantiation requirements

First and foremost, the donations must be made to a qualified charitable organization. You must then be able to substantiate your contribution to said qualified charitable organization. The record keeping required by the IRS depends on the amount of your contribution. At their most basic, the IRS substantiation rules for the charitable deduction are as follows:

  • Gifts of less than $250 per donee — you need a cancelled check or receipt
  • $250 or more per donee — you need a timely written acknowledgement from the donee
  • Total deductions for all property exceeds $500 — you need to file IRS Form 8283
  • Deductions exceeding $5,000 per item — you need a qualified appraisal completed by a qualified appraiser

Gifts of $250 or more per donee

Let’s focus for today on gifts of $250 or more per donee. Specifically, the income tax charitable deduction is not allowed for a separate contribution of $250 or more unless the donor has written substantiation from the donee of the contribution in the form of a contemporaneous written acknowledgement.

The $250 threshold

Note this $250 threshold is applied to each contribution separately. So, if a donor makes multiple contributions to the same charity totaling $250 or more in a single year, but each gift is less than $250, written acknowledgment is not required. [Unless the smaller gifts are related and made to avoid the substantiation requirements].

Written acknowledgment

The written acknowledgement must indicate:

  1. the name and address of the donee;
  2. the date of the contribution;
  3. the amount of cash contributed;
  4. a description of any property contributed;
  5. whether the donee provided the donor any goods or services in exchange for the contribution; and, if so;
  6. a description, and a good faith estimate, of the value of the good or services provided or, if the only goods or services provided were intangible religious benefits, a statement to that effect.

Contemporaneous acknowledgement

The IRS definition of contemporaneous is that the acknowledgment must be obtained by the donor on or before the earlier of [a] the date the donor files the original return for the year the donation was made; or [b] the return’s extended due date. A donor cannot amend a return to include contributions for which an acknowledgment is obtained after the original return was filed.

Responsibility lies with the donor

Interestingly, the responsibility for obtaining this documentation lies with the donor. The donee (the charity) is not required to record or report this information to the IRS on behalf of the donor.

If this sounds like a lot, 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.