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Six IRS tips for year-end gifts to charity

Many people give to charity each year during the holiday season. Remember, if you want to claim a tax deduction for your gifts, you must itemize your deductions. There are several tax rules that you should know about before you give. Here are six tips from the IRS that you should keep in mind:

1. Qualified charities. You can only deduct gifts you give to qualified charities. Use the IRS Select Check tool to see if the group you give to is qualified. Remember that you can deduct donations you give to churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and government agencies. This is true even if Select Check does not list them in its database.

2. Monetary donations.  Gifts of money include those made in cash or by check, electronic funds transfer, credit card and payroll deduction. You must have a bank record or a written statement from the charity to deduct any gift of money on your tax return. This is true regardless of the amount of the gift. The statement must show the name of the charity and the date and amount of the contribution. Bank records include canceled checks, or bank, credit union and credit card statements. If you give by payroll deductions, you should retain a pay stub, a Form W-2 wage statement or other document from your employer. It must show the total amount withheld for charity, along with the pledge card showing the name of the charity.

3. Household goods.  Household items include furniture, furnishings, electronics, appliances and linens. If you donate clothing and household items to charity they generally must be in at least good used condition to claim a tax deduction. If you claim a deduction of over $500 for an item it doesn’t have to meet this standard if you include a qualified appraisal of the item with your tax return.

4. Records required.  You must get an acknowledgment from a charity for each deductible donation (either money or property) of $250 or more. Additional rules apply to the statement for gifts of that amount. This statement is in addition to the records required for deducting cash gifts. However, one statement with all of the required information may meet both requirements.

5. Year-end gifts.  You can deduct contributions in the year you make them. If you charge your gift to a credit card before the end of the year it will count for 2014. This is true even if you don’t pay the credit card bill until 2015. Also, a check will count for 2014 as long as you mail it in 2014.

6. Special rules.  Special rules apply if you give a car, boat or airplane to charity. For more information visit IRS.gov.

Save Twice with the Saver’s Credit

If you are a low-to-moderate income worker, you can take steps now to save two ways for the same amount. With the saver’s credit you can save for your retirement and save on your taxes with a special tax credit. Here are six tips you should know about this credit:

1. Save for retirement.  The formal name of the saver’s credit is the retirement savings contributions credit. You may be able to claim this tax credit in addition to any other tax savings that also apply. The saver’s credit helps offset part of the first $2,000 you voluntarily save for your retirement. This includes amounts you contribute to IRAs, 401(k) plans and similar workplace plans.

2. Save on taxes.  The saver’s credit can increase your refund or reduce the tax you owe. The maximum credit is $1,000, or $2,000 for married couples. The credit you receive is often much less, due in part because of the deductions and other credits you may claim.

3. Income limits.  Income limits vary based on your filing status. You may be able to claim the saver’s credit if you’re a:

  • Married couple filing jointly with income up to $60,000 in 2014 or $61,000 in 2015.
  • Head of Household with income up to $45,000 in 2014 or $45,750 in 2015.
  • Married person filing separately or single with income up to $30,000 in 2014 or $30,500 in 2015.

4. When to contribute.  If you’re eligible you still have time to contribute and get the saver’s credit on your 2014 tax return. You have until April 15, 2015, to set up a new IRA or add money to an existing IRA for 2014. You must make an elective deferral (contribution) by the end of the year to a 401(k) plan or similar workplace program.

If you can’t set aside money for this year you may want to schedule your 2015 contributions soon so your employer can begin withholding them in January.

5. Special rules apply.  Other special rules that apply to the credit include:

  • You must be at least 18 years of age.
  • You can’t have been a full-time student in 2014.
  • Another person can’t claim you as a dependent on their tax return.

6. Visit IRS.gov.  You figure your credit amount based on your filing status, adjusted gross income, tax liability and the amount of your qualified contribution. Other rules also apply. For more information visit IRS.gov.

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