Your guide to tax deductions on charitable donations

Financial Planning

Like many people, you may have a desire to use your money in a way that can make a difference to your community or the causes you care about. Developing a charitable giving strategy can help you achieve the meaningful impact you envision and take advantage of tax benefits along the way.

Some giving approaches are simple; others are more sophisticated. Each comes with different tax implications.

Direct gifts of cash

These can be made by check, credit card or even payroll deduction through your employer. If you itemize deductions, gifts of cash to qualified public charities can be deducted in an amount up to 60 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI) in a given year. If donations are made to private foundations (such as a family foundation), the annual limit is 30 percent of your AGI.

For 2021, the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CCA) extended the CARES Act provision that gifts of cash to qualified public charities by donors who itemize are deductible up to 100 percent of AGI. For taxpayers who don’t itemize, the CCA also extended the CARES Act provision of an above-the-line deduction of $300 of an individual’s cash charitable contributions. Joint filers who don’t itemize may deduct $600 for cash contributions to qualified public charities for 2021. This enhanced deduction expires after 2021.

Small donation amounts each year might not create enough of a deduction to give you a tax break under the current tax law. In this situation, consider “bunching” donations into a single year so you can itemize and claim the deductions.

Gifting appreciated assets

If you hold publicly-traded securities or other types of assets that have appreciated in value, you may face a significant capital gains tax when you sell the asset. An alternative is to gift the appreciated asset to a qualified charity. For gifts of appreciated publicly-traded securities, you can claim a tax deduction equal to the fair market value of the asset. The tax deduction cannot exceed 30 percent of your AGI for gifts to a public charity or 20 percent of your AGI for gifts to a private foundation.

Gifting other types of assets

Other assets that can be gifted include:

  • Real estate
  • Life insurance policies
  • Capital assets such as land, buildings, machinery, and appreciated closely-held securities that you’ve owned for at least one year

If your gifts exceed the tax deduction limits in the year the gift is made, you can carry the unused portion of the deduction forward up to five years. You can claim the unused deductions to the extent they fall within your deduction limits for each of those years until the entire amount has been exhausted.

Available deduction limits for charitable gifts

Current annual limits based on the type of gift and charity type:

Type of gift

Public charities

Private charities

Cash

Up to 60% of donor’s AGI

(100% in 2021)

Up to 30% of donor’s AGI

Most long-term appreciated property

Up to 30% of AGI based on fair market value of property

Up to 20% of AGI based on fair market value of property

Type of gift

Public charities

Private charities

Cash

Up to 60% of donor's AGI

Up to 30% of donor's AGI

Most long-term appreciated property

Up to 30% of AGI based on fair market value of property

Up to 20% of AGI based on fair market value of property

Charitable remainder trust

A trust can support your favorite cause and provide financial benefits for you or your family at the same time. One example is a charitable remainder trust. This irrevocable trust allows you to make a charitable gift but retain a taxable income stream (determined by the IRS) generated by those assets for a set amount of years or for life. When the term ends, remaining assets are passed on to the designated charities tax-free. A portion of the contribution to the trust is tax deductible.

Charitable lead trust

This type of irrevocable trust is designed as a wealth planning technique to transfer assets to family with a discounted value, or to reduce taxes on the grantor’s estate after their death. The trust first pays income to a charity (based on a rate determined by the IRS) for a set number of years. When the term ends, the remaining value of the assets is directed to designated non-charitable beneficiaries.

Developing a charitable giving strategy can help you achieve the meaningful impact you envision and take advantage of tax benefits along the way.

Private foundation

An individual or family can establish a non-profit entity that is designed to direct donations or gifts to other charitable organizations. The foundation directors retain control over how donations are invested and when and how the gifts are ultimately directed.

There are limits on claiming tax deductions (see rules for private charities in the chart above) and at least 5 percent of the foundation’s assets must be distributed to qualifying charities each year. The foundation must comply with several administrative requirements, including filing an annual tax return.

Donor-advised fund

A less complex option than a private foundation is a donor-advised fund. You, as the donor, make an irrevocable contribution to an existing 501(c)(3) organization, which is held and invested. You can make recommendations as to which charities you would like your donation to support. You’ll receive a tax deduction in the year that the contribution is made (see rules for public charities in the chart above). The assets can be distributed to charities over many years.

Learn more about the difference between private foundations and donor-advised funds.

Tax planning is critical

To maximize the tax benefit of your charitable giving strategy, careful planning can be helpful. Consider working with your tax, legal and financial professionals to determine the most efficient assets, timing, amount, and forms of the gifts you’d like to make.


Learn more about charitable giving strategies.