Charitable gifts offer a great opportunity to reduce income tax liability. When a taxpayer makes a charitable contribution, typically they get an offsetting charitable income tax deduction. Unfortunately, that offsetting deduction doesn’t always end up reducing the total tax burden. To take a charitable income tax deduction, the taxpayer needs to itemize their deductions. If the charitable contribution and other itemized deductions don’t exceed the standard deduction amount, then it makes sense to take the standard deduction and forego the itemized deductions.
Let’s look at an example. Assume that Charlie Charitable has taxable income of $100,000 each year. He files as a single taxpayer with a standard deduction of $13,850 (in 2023). He has $10,000 of state and local taxes (an itemized deduction and the most one could take as a deduction for such taxes under current law). In addition, he makes a charitable contribution each year of $2,500 to his alma mater. His itemized deductions would be $10,000 plus $2,500 = $12,500, i.e., less than the standard deduction amount of $13,850. It doesn’t make sense for Charlie to itemize his deductions since they would be less than the standard deduction he could take without itemizing.
If Charlie Charitable spoke with an advisor, he would discover that by making several years’ worth of charitable contributions in one year, he would increase his charitable deductions to an amount exceeding the standard deduction amount. Charlie could refrain from making charitable contributions in the “off” years and simply take the standard deduction amount. Charlie likes that idea and decides to make a charitable contribution of $10,000 in 2023. That raises his itemized deductions to $20,000. This saves him the tax on $20,000 (his itemized deductions) less $13,850 (the standard deduction) = $6,150. Assuming he’s in a combined state and federal bracket of 40%, that would result in savings of nearly $2,500. In the “off” years of 2024, 2025, and 2026, he’d take the standard deduction amount each year and the strategy would not impact his taxes in those years. In 2027, he could repeat the large charitable contribution for another itemized deduction.
Another way for Charlie to optimize his charitable deduction would be by using a Donor Advised Fund (“DAF”). Contributions to DAFs give an immediate income tax deduction to the donor while creating a reservoir of assets for distribution to charities in the future. In addition, DAFs provide an opportunity for donors to invest contributed funds and make suggestions regarding which charities should receive the distributions. Donors may change their recommendations regarding the charitable distributions allowing great flexibility coupled with immediate benefits. In our example above, that means that Charlie could continue to make charitable contributions to his alma mater, but Charlie could decide to switch to a different charity altogether. In the interim, Charlie could invest the funds as he determined was appropriate prior to their distribution to a charity.
Donors may combine DAFs with other strategies to produce even better results. For example, if a donor gave highly appreciated public stock to a DAF, the donor would receive an income tax deduction for the full value of the appreciated stock without ever paying tax on the gains. Going back to our Charlie example, assume that Charlie gave $10,000 worth of publicly traded stock in which he had a basis of $1,000 to the DAF. If Charlie had sold the stock, he would have had to pay tax on the $9,000 gain. Assuming a state and federal combined capital gain tax rate of 30%, he’d owe $2,700 on the gain. If he then contributed the proceeds to charity, he’d only have $7,300 to contribute to charity. By giving the appreciated publicly traded stock directly to the charity (or DAF), he increases the amount that he contributes to charity which increases the deduction he receives.
DAFs complement any charitable giving strategy already in effect and provide a great opportunity for those new to charitable giving to discover the benefits it provides. It allows one to maximize the tax benefit from charitable giving, while retaining a say over the timing and distribution of the money. I can help you decide if a DAF is right for you.