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Tax Time: Charitable Contributions and Deductions

 January 2017


According to the Giving Institute, Americans exceeded records by donating $373.25 billion in donations in 2015.  Individual donations accounted for more than 70% of that total, with the remainder spread across estate, foundation and corporate donations. It is anticipated 2016 will be another record breaking year.

If you are moving, downsizing or decluttering this year, you may have an opportunity to demonstrate your altruistic side and donate unwanted items to charity. And while most donations are done selflessly, charitable deductions can be a big plus come tax season. To help with your 2016 tax filing and to help you receive the full benefit of your donations in 2017, we have put together a short list of items to consider.

Basic Information

First, be sure your donation is being made to a qualified organization. You can investigate an organization’s qualifications by asking the organization itself, by contacting the IRS at 1-877-829-5500, or going to the IRS eligibility web page.  For more information regarding qualified and non-qualified parties, such as specific individuals and certain organizations, refer to IRS Publication 526.

Most basic deductions can be completed using Form 1040 and completing a Schedule A for itemized deductions.  IRS Publication 561 has more information about the value of deductions. To download tax forms and publications, visit  or call 1-­800­-TAX­FORM (1­800­829­3676).

Value of Deductions

Clothing and household items must generally be in “good” used condition or better to be deductible.  Non-cash donations such as these also need to be itemized. Goodwill  and the Salvation Army provide information regarding deductions on their websites and also a value calculator to help you determine the value of household goods donations. IRS Tax Forms Form 8283 is used to report information about non-cash charitable contributions over $500.   

Donations of property, stock, or other non-cash items are usually valued at the fair market value of the property. Fair market value is generally the price at which property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller. If you give property to a qualified organization, you generally can deduct the fair market value of the property at the time of the contribution.

Special rules apply to vehicle donations.  The fair market value of vehicles such as cars, planes, and boats, must be determined. There are limits on whether or not you can deduct the full value, depending on how the vehicle will be used or distributed by the charitable organization.  For cars worth less than $5,000, use the Kelley Blue Book, the Hearst Black Book, or a guide from the National Auto Dealers Association (NADA) to determine the market value.

To deduct contributions of cash, check or other monetary gifts, maintain a bank record or written confirmation from the organization. To claim a deduction for contributions of cash or property equaling $250 or more you must have a written acknowledgment from the qualified organization. This confirmation or receipt must contain the name of the organization, the date of the contribution and amount of the contribution. For text message donations, a telephone bill will meet the record-keeping requirement if it shows the name of the receiving organization, the date of the contribution, and the amount given. 

Donate v. Sell

Many times our clients look to use for advice on whether they should donate items or sell them. Ultimately, whether you choose to donate or resell your items depends on the volume of what you have, the value of what you have and the time required to liquidate it. In most cases, the tax deduction you get from donating is less than the net cash you would get from selling items, but donating may be a faster solution and also helps you feel good about the final disposition of the property.

When it’s time to make decisions about your own personal property, or that of a loved one, contact the experts at Caring Transitions for a free consultation before you begin to remove items from the home. We will help identify the overall value of goods as well as understand the process and time required to sell/donate.  As the nation’s most trusted liquidation resource, Caring Transitions offers more than estate sales. Our insured, secure, and certified staff has multiple resale and donation options and will present the ideal solution to meet your needs.

*Some online tax filing sources include tools to determine FMV, deduction qualifications, and more. Consult with your local tax professional to determine what’s best for you.

Written By Nan Hayes for Caring Transitions®

©Caring Transitions 2017 no reprint in part or entirety without express permission.