Charitable Gifts and the New Tax Law

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One of the unexpected consequences of the new tax law is that charitable organizations are going to be struggling. Under the new tax law, charitable contributions are expected to drop by about half.¹

This is because the Standard Deduction has nearly doubled, from $13,000 to $24,000. At first blush, this would appear to be good news, but this is how it pans out for some taxpayers —

Let’s say we’re back in 2017, when the Standard Deduction for a married couple was $13,000. Your mortgage is paid off, and your only itemized deduction is $10,000 for state and local taxes.

It would make sense to make a $10,000 charitable contribution, because your tax deductions would total $20,000, $7,000 greater than the Standard Deduction.

However, for 2018, you would probably want to take the Standard Deduction of $24,000, because it’s higher. Consequently, you might not do a gift to charity because there would be no tax benefit to you. In the past, roughly 30% of taxpayers were itemizers. That number is expected to drop to 10% by the time we start filing this year’s taxes.² It’s a tough decision, because you may still want to support your favorite church, temple or charitable organization, and help preserve the community.

There is still a way to support the community, take advantage of the higher Standard Deduction, and also receive additional tax deductions — it’s a strategy called “bunching,” and it uses the unique advantages of the Donor-Advised Fund.

A Donor-Advised Fund is a fund in your name created inside a public charity. You receive an immediate federal (and sometimes state) tax deduction for the full value of your donation. Then, you can decide which charities, how much, and when to make distributions from the account later on.

In “bunching,” (continuing the example above), instead of gifting $10,000 each year, you do $20,000 every other year. That gets your Itemized Deductions above the level of the Standard Deduction, but you have full control over when to make grants from the fund.

Because the investments continue to grow inside the fund, you could give away only the earnings each year, and preserve the principal. Or you could give away some or all of the principal. You can even wait several years, letting the money in your account grow before making grants. The main restriction is that the charities must be IRS-approved.

It gets even better. Suppose you donate stock that you bought at $10 a share, and now it’s worth $50 a share. If you sold it yourself, you would have to pay capital gains taxes on the $40 per share gain. However, when you donate the appreciated stock to a Donor-Advised Fund, you escape paying the capital gains taxes. Nevertheless, you still receive a tax deduction based on the full $50 a share, as long as you’ve held the stock for at least a year. In this example, because of the tax savings, it would only cost you about $9,000 to make a $20,000 gift to your favorite community organization. 

You don’t need to be a millionaire to consider Donor-Advised Funds. Minimum initial donations are typically in the $5,000 to $10,000 range.  Subsequent contributions can be much smaller. Donor-Advised Funds can accept any one of a variety of assets as a charitable contribution —  cash, wire transfers, stocks, mutual fund shares and bonds all are acceptable. 

When choosing a Donor-Advised Fund, you should carefully examine management fees, donation restrictions and investment choices.  A Certified Financial PlannerTM or CPA who is involved in the community can provide advice on the local needs of your community as well as a feature comparison of Donor-Advised Funds.



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