holiday donations

3 Tips to Make Your Holiday Donations Pay Off at Tax Time

A lot of us give to charities, our places of worship, or other non-profit organizations during the holidays.

While it probably makes you feel good to help the less fortunate, you should also know that your generosity can have financial perks too – in the form of tax breaks when April 15 rolls around.

Here are 3 tips to make your holiday donations and year-end giving pay off when you file your next tax return with Uncle Sam.

Donate to Eligible Groups Only – Not Individuals

Even though your needy nephew in college, your cash-strapped cousin or your ailing grandmother might have true financial need, any money you give them during the holidays (or at other points during the year) isn’t tax deductible.

Sorry, but the IRS says that only donations to eligible organizations are tax deductible.

You can use the Exempt Organization Select Check, a searchable online database available on IRS.gov, which lists most organizations that are eligible to receive deductible contributions.

There are some groups you won’t find there though. For instance, churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and government agencies are eligible to receive deductible donations, even if they are not listed in the database.

You Must Itemize

In order to take advantage of charitable deductions, you must itemize your deductions on Form 1040 Schedule A.

Under federal tax law, charitable contributions can’t be claimed by anyone who chooses the standard deduction, including anyone who files a short form (i.e., Form 1040A or 1040EZ).

It’s also worth noting that you will only reap a tax savings if your total itemized deductions (including mortgage interest, charitable contributions, state and local taxes, etc.) exceed the standard deduction.

You can use the latest Form 1040 Schedule A to determine whether itemizing is better than claiming the standard deduction.

Maintain Proper Documentation

Finally, you need records of your contributions to prove what you donated. The types of records depend on how much money you’re writing off on your taxes.

For donations up to $250: You need a receipt showing the name of the charity, the date and location of your donation, and a description of what you’re giving away.

You don’t need a receipt, however, if you’re donating clothes or other goods to an unmanned drop box.

For write-offs of $250 to $500: For any donation over $250, make sure to get a receipt, plus a letter from the organization that states an estimate of your donation and if you received any goods or services in return.

For donations of more than $500: For any donation of any value to be tax-deductible, the clothing or household items donated to charity generally must be in good used condition or better.

But a clothing or household item for which you’re claiming a deduction of over $500 doesn’t have to meet this standard as long as you include a qualified appraisal of the item with your return.

Lastly, if you’re making a monetary donation, be sure not to run afoul of IRS requirements, or else your tax deduction may be disallowed.

To deduct any charitable donation of money, regardless of the amount, you must have a bank record or a written communication from the charity showing the name of the charity and the date and amount of the contribution.

Donations of money can be made in any form you choose, including charitable contributions made in cash or by check, electronic funds transfer, credit card and even payroll deduction.

For payroll deductions, just be sure to keep your pay stub, a W-2 wage statement or any written document provided by your employer that shows the total amount withheld for charity, along with the pledge card showing the name of the charity.

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