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The limits on federal income tax charitable deductions are quite high, but they do exist. Keep this in mind as you make any year-end donations. The specific limitations are complicated, and there are numerous exceptions. The limits are based on your AGI (adjusted gross income). AGI is an individual’s total gross income minus specific deductions.

A quick rule-of-thumb for different types of donated assets to public charities:

  • You can deduct appreciated capital gains assets, such as stock, up to 20% of AGI.
  • You can deduct non-cash assets, such as real estate, up to 30% of AGI.
  • You can deduct cash contributions up to 50% of AGI.

Note that these rates are for public tax-exempt organization and private operating foundations. Contributions to certain private foundations, veterans organizations, fraternal societies, and cemetery organizations are limited to 30% adjusted gross income. (Check out these IRS status codes and deductible limits if you’re unsure of an organization’s limit.)

Most people won’t exceed these limits indicated above, but it can happen. For instance, if Jane Donor is a retiree living off of savings and donates more than her investments yield over the year, her limit could be exceeded. The good news is that in this case the IRS allows you carry over excess contributions for up to five following tax years.

I’m happy to advise on your situation and help you maximize your charitable giving for this tax year. I can be reached by phone at 515-371-6077 and by email at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com.

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Since 1968, every Section 501(c)(3) organization is classified by the IRS as either a private foundation or a public charity. This classification is crucial for at least two reasons to anyone considering forming a nonprofit or anyone considering making a significant donation to a nonprofit.

First, private foundations are subject to much stricter regulations than public charities. Second, public charities receive more favorable tax treatment than private foundations. Let’s explore each classification a little deeper.

Public Charities

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Public charities must attract broad donor support. Some organizations—churches, schools, and hospitals for instance—are by their very nature considered “publicly supported.” Other organizations must pass mathematical public support tests to qualify as a public charity. These tests require charities to obtain funding from numerous sources, rather than one singular source, or a small group of related funders.

When a charity passes one of the public support tests, it is demonstrating to the IRS that the general public (non-insiders) evaluated the charity’s performance and found it worthy of financial support. As a result, such charities are treated as having a sort of stamp of approval of the general public, lessening the need for the stricter IRS scrutiny applied to private foundations.

Private Foundations

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Private foundations are funded by an individual, a family, a company, or a small group. Two prominent examples would include the Ford Foundation and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Private foundations are subject to a more strict regulatory scheme than public charities. There are penalties for self-dealing transactions, failure to distribute sufficient income for charitable purposes, holding concentrated interests in business enterprises, and making risky investments. The IRS recognizes two types of private foundations: private non-operating foundations and private operating foundations. The main difference between the two? How each distributes its income:

  • Private nonoperating foundations grant money to other charitable organizations.
  • Private operating foundations distribute funds to their own programs that exist for charitable purposes.

In general, private foundations can accept donations, but many do not and instead have endowments, as well as invest their principle funding. The income from the investments is then distributed for charitable activities/operations.

Deduction limits

Contributions made to public charities and private foundations may be deducted from the donor’s federal income tax. The amount of the deduction is subject to certain limits under federal tax law.

 

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Gifts to public charities receive more favorable tax treatment than gifts to private foundations—this includes donor limits. For example, a charitable cash donation to a public charity would be deductible at up to 50 percent of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income (AGI), but the same gift to a private foundation is deductible at a rate of only 30 percent of AGI.

A word on the word “foundation”

Don’t assume that an organization with “foundation” in its title/name is indeed a private foundation and not a public charity. Of course, it could be, but many types of nonprofit organizations have adopted “foundation” as part of their name to help project a mission and/or identity. (Examples include Friends of Animal Center Foundation and the Iowa City Public Library Friends Foundation.) If you’re entirely unsure if a nonprofit you’re considering donating to is a private foundation or public charity, simply ask one of the nonprofit’s executives or appropriate contact.

If you’re wanting to make a complex gift or include nonprofits as beneficiaries in your estate plan it’s wise to work with an attorney experienced in those areas. Of course, I would be happy to help.


Have any questions? Want to discuss your charitable donation or formation of your dream nonprofit? Contact me by email or phone (515-371-6077) .