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Know the Rules for Charitable Gift Deductions

By Terri Judycki, CPA, MST

As year-end approaches, most charities see an increase in donations as a result of donors’ year-end tax planning. Many donors do not realize that they need to do more than write out a check to secure the charitable contribution deduction.

Terri Judycki, CPA, MST

Terri Judycki, CPA, MST

This article will explore the compliance and substantiation requirements for both donors and donees of charitable contributions, since organizations that receive gifts have an interest in ensuring that donors can deduct their gifts for income tax purposes as well as avoiding penalties that could be imposed on them.

Of course, donors must be able to substantiate their gifts to charities — dates and amounts. For this purpose, a bank record or acknowledgement from the charity is sufficient. However, if the amount of the gift is $250 or more, the donor must have a written acknowledgement from the charity that includes either a description and estimate of any goods or services the charity provided in return for the contribution or a statement that no goods or services were provided in return for the contribution. 

There are exceptions for insubstantial or token items as well as for certain membership benefits. The donor must have this written acknowledgment prior to filing his or her income tax return claiming the deduction or by the due date of the return, if the tax return is filed late. The donor’s requirement to obtain written substantiation for gifts in excess of $250 also applies to out-of-pocket expenses incurred on behalf of a charity.  

While the $250 written acknowledgement is a requirement imposed on the donor, the charity has a requirement to disclose in connection with any part-gift/part-purchase with a price exceeding $75. For example, if tickets to a golf tournament or gala exceed $75, tax law imposes a requirement on the charity to disclose the amount that the patron may deduct as a charitable contribution. The acknowledgement must include a statement that only the amount in excess of the fair market value of the goods or services provided by the charity is deductible and must provide an estimate of the value of those goods or services, which may be very different than the cost to the organization. 

The acknowledgment must be made in a manner that will be noticed. The penalty for noncompliance is $10 per contribution up to $5,000 for a single fundraiser.  

With respect to non-cash gifts, additional requirements are imposed on the donor and the charity. Donors are required to obtain qualified appraisals for non-cash gifts (other than publicly traded securities) in excess of certain thresholds. For property with a claimed value of more than $5,000, the donor must attach to his or her income tax return an appraisal summary on Form 8283, signed by both the appraiser and the charity.

If the charity sells or otherwise disposes of donated property with a claimed value of more than $5,000 within three years of the donation, the charity is required to file Form 8282 reporting the sale. Every time a charity is asked to sign a Form 8283, it should consider the potential Form 8282 filing requirement if the asset is disposed of within 3 years. Form 8282 is due on or before the 125th day after the disposition, and a copy must be sent to the donor. Penalties for failure to comply may apply. 

There are even further rules and requirements that apply to contributions of qualified intellectual property, art valued at $20,000 or more, other non-cash property valued over $500,000, certain qualified conservation easements, and contributions to a college or university that entitle the donor to purchase tickets to athletic events.

In response to perceived abuse, there are now specific rules that apply to donations of used cars, boats, and airplanes after Dec. 31, 2004. While there are many exceptions and modifications, in general if the vehicle is sold for more than $500, the charity must file Form 1098-C. The donor must receive a copy within 30 days of the date of sale, and it must be filed with the IRS by Feb. 28 of the following year. Again, penalties may apply. Note that Form 1098-C is in addition to, not in lieu of, Form 8282 discussed above.

Many charities hold raffles as a fundraiser or in connection with another fundraiser. Raffles are a form of lottery, and only certain charities may hold raffles under Massachusetts law. The charity is required to obtain a permit from the local town hall before the raffle and to pay a tax to the Massachusetts State Lottery Commission within 10 days after the raffle. There are additional Massachusetts requirements for tickets with a sale price of $10 or more or if the prize is worth more than $10,000. The purchase of a raffle ticket is never deductible as a charitable contribution, and the charity should be cautious not to imply that the purchase price may be deducted. There are income-tax-reporting and withholding rules that may apply to the winnings if the value of the prize is $600 or more.

Massachusetts requires income tax withholding when the value is $600 or more. For federal purposes, if the prize is valued at $600 and is at least 300 times the amount of the wager (for example, a $1 raffle ticket with a $600 or greater prize), reporting is required on Form W-2G, but federal withholding is not required until the value of the prize exceeds $5,000.  For noncash prizes, the winner must remit the withholding tax to the charity. If, instead, the charity pays the withholding tax on behalf of the winner, it must include the tax remitted on behalf of the winner in the value of the prize.

Raffle tickets with non-cash prizes of $600 or more should contain language to the effect that the winner may be required to pay state or federal income taxes to avoid any hard feelings. A charity that fails to withhold income taxes when required can be liable for the tax. There are somewhat similar rules that apply to charities conducting other types of gaming activities.

Don’t let your charitable contributions fall into the “no good deed goes unpunished” category from a tax perspective. Now is the time to gather your acknowledgment letters and signatures on Form 8283, if required. If you’re in doubt regarding the requirements in a specific situation, consult your tax adviser.

Terri Judycki, CPA, MST, is senior tax manager with the certified public accounting firm Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C. in Holyoke; (413) 536-8510.

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