Common Charitable Giving Questions
Q: If I make a contribution
in early January 2013, can I claim it on my 2012 taxes?
A: No, Charitable
contributions must be claimed in the year in which they are delivered.
Example: Mary writes a
check to her church on December 31, 2012, and deposits it in the church offering
on Sunday, January 2, 2013. Her check is not deductible on her 2012 taxes. She
can claim it on her 2013 tax return.
Q: If I mail my
contribution in December 2012, but it doesn't reach my church until January
2013, for which year should I claim it?
A: On your 2012
tax return. A check that is mailed to a charity is deductible in the year the
check is mailed (and postmarked), even if it is received early in the next
Example: Mary mails
(and postmarks) her check in December 2012. Her church doesn't receive the
check until January 2012. The check is deductible on Mary's 2012 tax return.
Q: Can I deduct
the value of volunteer work I did for the church?
A: No. The value
of personal services is never deductible as a charitable contribution. However,
unreimbursed expenses you incur in performing services on behalf of a church or
other charity may be. For 2012, you can use a "standard mileage rate"
of 14 cents to compute a deduction for any miles you drive in performing
services for your church. Be sure to maintain accurate records.
Example: John is an
electrician. He donates 10 hours of time to his church's construction project.
He cannot deduct the value of his donated labor, but he can deduct the value of
materials he purchased in performing the donated labor.
church members go on a short-term missions project to another country. The
value of their labor is not deductible, but they can deduct their unreimbursed
travel expenses (transportation, meals, lodging) incurred in performing the
Q: I gave $135 to
my church when I registered for a spring retreat. Can I deduct that?
A: No, assuming
you received benefits (e.g., lodging, instruction, materials) worth $135 or
more. Charitable contributions generally are deductible only to the extent they
exceed the value of any premium or benefit received by the donor in return for
Q: Is there any
limit to the amount of my contributions I can deduct on my taxes?
A: Yes. A
contribution deduction ordinarily cannot exceed 50 percent of a donor's
adjusted gross income (a 30 percent rule applies in some cases). Donors who
exceed these limits may be able to "carry over" their excess
contribution and deduct it in future years.
Q: I designated
my contribution to the church benevolence fund. Is it deductible?
A: That depends.
"Designated contributions" are those made to a church for a specified
purpose. If the purpose is an approved project or program of the church, you
can deduct the contribution (if you claim itemized deductions on Schedule A).
Example: Your $100
gift designating the church benevolence fund is deductible.
However, if you specify that your contribution be applied to
a named individual, then no deduction is allowed – unless the church exercises
full administrative and accounting control over the donated funds.
Example: You donate
$200 to the church and instruct the church treasurer to give the $200 to a
specified needy family in the church. This contribution is not tax-deductible.
Contributions to a church or missions agency that designate
a particular missionary may be tax-deductible if the church or missions agency
exercises full administrative control over the contributions and ensures that
they are spent in furtherance of the church's tax-exempt purposes.
Example: You donate
$75 to a denominational missions agency and specify a particular missionary as
the recipient. This contribution is tax-deductible, even though it names a
missionary, so long as the missions agency has full administrative and
accounting control over the funds.
Q: What kind of
records do I need in order to prove I made a contribution?
A: For individual
cash contributions under $250: You must have a back record (such as a cancelled
check) or a receipt from the church containing the church's name, and the date
and amount of each cash contribution.
For individual contributions (cash or property) of $250 or
more: You must receive a written receipt from your church that states whether
you received goods or services for your contributions (and if so, the value of
the goods or services received). If you received no goods or services for the
contributions, then the receipt must say so or indicate that only
"intangible religious benefits" were received. If you've made
individual contributions of $250 or more, don't file your federal income tax
return until you receive a contribution statement from your church that
satisfies these requirements. Otherwise, your contributions may not be
deductible. Canceled checks cannot be used to substantiate cash contributions
of $250 or more.
For non-cash property valued at $500 or more: Other rules
apply (see the instructions to IRS Form 8283). If the value is more than
$5,000, you must obtain a qualified appraisal of the property and attach an
"appraisal summary" (IRS Form 8283) to the tax return on which the
contribution is claimed. Some exceptions apply.
For contributions of cars, boats, or planes: If a church
sells the donated property without significant use, the donor's contribution
deduction is limited to the sales proceeds. In addition, the church must
provide the donor, and the IRS, with a written acknowledgement (use IRS Form
1098-C) by the deadline prescribed by law. If the church "significantly
uses" the property, the donor can deduct the market value. However, the
church must still provide Form 1098-C to the donor and the IRS. See the
instructions to Form 1098-C for more details. Qualified appraisal and appraisal
summary requirements apply if deduction exceeds $5,000 (see instructions to
About the Author. Richard Hammar, a graduate of Harvard Law
School, is an attorney and certified public accountant specializing in legal
and tax issues for churches and clergy.