Getting the most from your charitable deductions

Charitable deductions can be a complex and confusing area of your tax return. Understanding what you can deduct and what you can’t deduct can be confusing. Documenting it properly adds yet another layer of difficulty. To help sort it all out, I talked to Kelly Erb, (a.k.a. Taxgirl), and Kay Bell (of Don’t Mess With Taxes).

    • Erb is a tax attorney who runs her own tax law firm with her husband. She’s also been blogging about taxes for the past six years. Before striking out on her own, she clerked for the IRS, specializing in estate and gift taxes. She also worked for a boutique law firm that primarily handled estates and gifts.
  • Bell is the author of The Truth About Paying Fewer Taxes, and the founding editor of Bankrate’s tax section. She has worked on Capital Hill with the House Ways and Means committee.

Both women offered great tips for getting the most from your charitable deductions while taking care to avoid pitfalls that could get your return flagged.

Should You Be Taking Charitable Deductions?

Most people give at least some money to charity, but few of us take our charitable deductions. In fact, only about a third of households itemize their deductions. The rest simply take the standard deduction, which for the 2010 tax year is:

  • $11,400 for a married couple filing jointly
  • $5,700 for individuals

For those taking the standard deduction, charitable donations aren’t deductible.

If you don’t normally itemize your deductions, it’s probably not worthwhile to do it just for your charitable giving. The exception would be if you give a large amount to a charity. Bell mentioned folks who tithe 10% of their income to a church as exceptions who may give enough to make the itemized deduction worthwhile.

To find out if you should be itemizing your deductions, Bell suggests you add up your deductible expenses: things like medical expenses, mortgage interest, property taxes, state income taxes and charitable gifts. If the amount you paid on these taken together is more than your standard deduction, you’ll want to itemize. You always want to take the largest deduction possible.

If you’re itemizing your deductions, you may have overlooked charitable donations. But you don’t want to pay more taxes than you’re obligated, so keep track of everything you give to charities throughout the year. That includes goods and out-of-pocket expenses, as well as money.

Folks in higher tax brackets will benefit the most from charitable deductions. A deduction reduces your taxable income. So, if you’re in the 28% tax bracket and you donate $5000 worth of stuff, you’ll take $1400 off your tax bill. If you’re in the 15% bracket and you donate $5000, you’d get only $750.

If your total donations for the year add up to $100 of Goodwill giveaways, careful record-keeping to claim them on your taxes may not be worth your time. Erb says keeping good records of donations is worthwhile for most people, though, because you’ll be surprised how your charitable donations add up over time.

Handling Cash Donations

Giving cash (or checks or credit card payments) to charities is probably the simplest way to donate. Be sure that you’re donating to a reputable charity approved by the IRS. The charity you give to should give you a receipt in return. You simply deduct the total of your cash donations at the end of the year. Be sure to keep your receipts.

Good record keeping is key. You have to have documentation for your gift. Usually it’s a receipt from the charity you donate to; most will send you a form letter that serves as both a thank you and a receipt for your taxes. If you don’t get a letter from the charity, you need to have some substantiation of your own like your cancelled check. Credit card statements are allowed, Bell says. You don’t have to send these documents in with your tax return, but hold on to them in case you’re ever audited.

“The burden of proof is always on the taxpayer,” Bell says. “You have to prove your deductions were valid.”

There are a few things to watch out for when you’re donating cash. If you get something in return — like a nice tote bag or a dinner — you’ve made what the IRS calls a quid pro quo donation. You can only deduct as a charitable donation the difference between the amount you paid and the value of the goods or services you received. So if you “donate” $100 to NPR and get a $20 Car Talk mug, only $80 of your donation is deductible. Most large organizations will break this out for you on your receipt. If you received something tiny like a bumper sticker, you don’t have to worry about subtracting its value from your donation.

In addition to cash, Bell told me you’re allowed to donate stock you’ve held for at least one year. The value of the stock at the time of the donation is what you’re allowed to deduct on your taxes.

Handling Donated Goods

In addition to money, you can also deduct goods you donate. How you deduct them and what kind of documentation you need varies depending on what you donate and how valuable it is. To deduct donated goods, you want to keep a record of what you donated and what the value of your donations was.

Donations of unwanted household items might be the most common example of donated goods. If you take a box of old clothes to Goodwill, you can deduct those as charitable donations. When donating household items to an organization like Goodwill or the Salvation Army, the IRS suggests that you use thrift store prices to determine the estimated value of your donation.

Be sure that anything you donate is in good or better condition. It’s actually against the law to take a deduction for donations of used items in poor condition. It’s very hard for the IRS to check the condition of your Goodwill donations, Bell says, but the law is designed to make you stop and think before donating.

“Be careful about donating things,” Bell says. “If you wouldn’t buy it at a garage sale, I would say just throw it away.”

The goods must also be something the organization can use. You can’t donate a Picasso to your Girl Scout troop, as Erb put it. If they don’t have a use for it, it doesn’t count as a legitimate charitable donation.

You can deduct donations of goods you make yourself, but you can only deduct what it cost you to make the item, not its fair market value. That means that if you donate a hand-knit scarf to your church holiday fair or a tray of cookies to a school bake sale, you can deduct only the cost of the yarn or the ingredients, not the price the items sell for. Basically, you’re allowed to deduct your out-of-pocket costs, but not the value of the labor you put into making your handmade goods.

For deductions of goods under $250, you’re not required to have a receipt if it’s not practical to get one. That means that if you drop a bag of clothes off at a Salvation Army drop box, you’re still allowed to deduct them. Erb says it’s a good idea to write yourself a detailed note itemizing what was in the bag and roughly how much it would be worth, even if you don’t get a receipt. She suggests recording as much detail as possible. For example, “4 men’s dress shirts, good condition, $2.50 each”.

While you can claim a deduction without a receipt, there’s often no need to. The small extra effort of taking your things into the thrift store and getting a receipt from someone behind the counter can save you a big headache if you wind up being audited. Bell says that it’s always better to have a receipt.

If you’re deducting $250 to $500 worth of goods, you’ll need a receipt and an acknowledgment from the organization. The receipt requirement for this level of donation also means that you can’t drop $400 worth of clothes off at Goodwill’s dumpster and claim it as a deduction. You need something in writing from the recipient.

If you make multiple trips to Goodwill throughout the year, Erb says it’s important to keep good records and receipts even for smaller donations. Donations of similar goods will be counted cumulatively. So while you wouldn’t be required to have a receipt for a $100 donation of children’s clothing, if you make four similar donations throughout the year, you’d be expected to have receipts for that $400 total donation. If, on the other hand, you give $100 worth of clothes to Goodwill and an old car to the Salvation Army, those are different enough that you wouldn’t need a receipt for the clothes. Though it’s still a good idea to have one if it’s practical to get it.

For donations valued over $500 but under $5000, you need the same written acknowledgment of your gift, and you need to fill out Form 8283, which will require you to have not only a receipt but also to explain how you got the property you are donating. Did you buy it? Was it a gift? An inheritance? For these larger donations, the IRS places restrictions on how they can be valued.

Most donated vehicles will fall into this value range. You want to use special care when donating a car, Bell says. When you donate a vehicle, you get a statement from the charity you give it to after they dispose of it. What they got for the vehicle is what you can deduct. If they don’t sell it, or they use it themselves, then you can use the blue book value of that vehicle as your deduction. Be careful not to overvalue the car you donate.

When you donate goods over $5000, you’ll need a written acknowledgment of your gift and a qualified written appraisal. If you’re donating works of art or collections, special rules apply and you always need an appraisal. In those cases, you will probably want to involve a tax professional. Erb says its a good idea to involve a tax attorney, accountant, or CPA whenever you find yourself scratching your head and wondering how to handle a donation.

“If it’s complicated for you, it’s probably also worth it to pay somebody,” she says. “You don’t want to lose your deduction because you did something silly. It’s rare that you’re donating $25 of inherited property. You’re usually looking at bigger numbers.”

Not only can a tax professional protect you from costly mistakes, they can help you make the most of your donation. If it’s something simple, Erb says a good tax attorney will be honest enough to say, “You don’t need me for this.” If you do need professional help, the cost of consulting a tax professional should be deductible on your Schedule A under miscellaneous expenses.

Other Deductions You Can Take

You can take as a charitable deduction any expenses you incur in the service of a non-profit. For example, if you buy pizza for your Girl Scout troop and aren’t reimbursed by the Girl Scouts, you can count the cost of pizza as a charitable donation. This is true for any out-of-pocket expense, like art supplies or event tickets. You can also deduct the cost of uniforms worn during volunteer work, if you pay for them out-of-pocket.

There are whole volunteer vacation packages sold on the basis of this deduction. If you go to Costa Rica to do volunteer work, you may be able to deduct the entire cost of your trip so long as your primary purpose is volunteering for a legitimate charitable organization.

For local travel, bear in mind that you can deduct mileage expenses for any driving you do for a non-profit organization. Your mileage is always deducted at 14 cents a mile.

What You Can’t Deduct

There are some things that seem to many people like they should be deductible — but aren’t. Here are a few non-deductible things Erb gets a lot of questions about:

  • Your time. Erb says she gets asked about this more than anything else. People give many hours of their time to volunteer efforts, and often donate specific services for which they would ordinarily be paid. Your time is never deductible as a charitable donation, though, even if you can quantify what the time is worth. For example, if you’re a massage therapist and donate an hour-long massage to a charity auction, you cannot deduct the cost of the massage as a donation. You can deduct any material expenses for the equipment you use to give the massage, though. While you can’t deduct your time, Erb stresses that it’s still worthwhile to donate it. “You can’t discount the amount of warm fuzzies that you get,” she says.
  • Donations to individuals.. No matter how good a cause it is, you can’t deduct donations of cash or goods to individuals. For example, if a family at your church loses their home in a fire, and you give $20 to a collection that goes directly to the family, you cannot deduct that $20. (On the other hand, if you give $20 to the church and the church then gives money to the family, you can deduct your donation to the church.)
  • Personal expenses. While you can deduct expenses incurred on behalf of a charity, you can’t deduct personal expenses incurred while doing volunteer work. Erb gave the example of buying herself lunch while doing free tax returns for the elderly in her community. Not deductible, unlike the earlier example of buying dinner for your whole Girl Scout troop, which is allowed.
  • Donations to political organizations or candidates. Be sure you understand whether or not an organization is a qualifying non-profit. Political groups are not — even if they’re not associated with a political party. For example, donations to the ACLU are not tax-deductible. Bell says a reputable charity will always be able to document their tax status for you. If they can’t, they probably aren’t recognized by the IRS.
  • Tuition at religious schools. Even though money given to your church is tax-deductible, tuition paid for a Catholic school is not. This is because you’re getting something in return for your money, just like the earlier examples with the Car Talk mug and charity dinners.

Common Red Flags

Erb says the biggest red flag is donating too much. The IRS expects you to donate within certain norms, which work out to be about 3% of your gross income. If you claim charitable deductions worth much more than that on your taxes, they’ll expect very careful documentation. There might be legitimate cases when you’ll donate a lot more than normal. For instance, if you’re giving away your father’s valuable stamp collection or donating a work of art. Just be sure you have all your paperwork in order.

“If the IRS says ‘no’, you always want to be able to say ‘yes’,” Erb says.

A related mistake people make, Erb says, is overestimating the value of your donations. Bell says concerns about overestimating the value of donations have led to a lot of changes to the tax laws and increased scrutiny of charitable deductions. No one is really going to pay $30 for your used jeans with the frayed cuffs, so don’t say so when you estimate your Goodwill donations. People also tend to err towards deducting too many expenses when they itemize costs for a volunteer vacation. Yes, your plane tickets and accommodations are deductible, but you can’t deduct your shampoo or the cost of your new bathing suit.

“You have to be really careful about being greedy on your return,” Erb says. “Take the actual deduction, don’t tag on the $80 swim suit. It will get your return flagged. Just take what you’re entitled to and move on.”

Erb says it’s rare that the IRS will beat up on you for an honest mistake. Generally those who get in trouble are doing something wrong on purpose.

The bottom line take away for charitable deductions is simple: Keep good records and receipts. Ask for help when you need it. Don’t be greedy.

More about...Giving, Taxes

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There are 42 comments to "Getting the most from your charitable deductions".

  1. Nancy L. says 28 March 2011 at 04:13

    While this article isn’t really about the donation itself, this would be a good time to mention that many corporations offer matching funds for charitable donations. Many people fail to take advantage of these programs, but it allows you to as much as double the donation you are giving, which is fabulous for the charities.

  2. Moneycone says 28 March 2011 at 05:30

    Excellent detailed post on deductions! I always wondered if I can take a deduction for items dropped off that I don’t have a receipt for. You make it very clear!

    Thanks, a truly informative post!

  3. Everyday Tips says 28 March 2011 at 05:36

    The one thing I really like about Turbo Tax is that you can just click how many of each item you donated and it will come up with a price for you. I don’t always agree with the price, but it does make it a lot easier.

    I just have a folder that I start at the beginning of each year and all tax receipts go in that folder. It is a simple system, but it works quite well. If I make a credit card donation, I right it on a slip of paper and put it in a folder in case I don’t get a receipt in the mail.

  4. Peggy says 28 March 2011 at 06:24

    We don’t have enough income for it to be worthwhile to itemize deductions on our federal return, but our state does allow a deduction for charitable giving (if the federal deduction was not taken). So our tax savings for charitable giving come at the state level.

  5. barnetto says 28 March 2011 at 06:40

    So a 10% tithe and receiving eternal salvation (temple recommend, whatever may be the case) doesn’t count as a quid pro quo donation?

  6. Jessica the hedgehog says 28 March 2011 at 07:15

    Thank you for this timely article, Sierra! 🙂

    …When you donate a vehicle…if they don’t sell it, or they use it themselves, then you can use the blue book value of that vehicle as your deduction….

    We’ll be donating a car later this year, so this has been on my mind. In cases where they’re unable to sell it (or what have you), I had previously read we could deduct the blue book value of the car BUT only up to $500. Does anyone know if that’s still the case? Or are we now able to deduct the entire blue book value (again, assuming they don’t sell it for a lower/higher price)?

    …For local travel, bear in mind that you can deduct mileage expenses for any driving you do for a non-profit organization…

    I wonder if that includes driving to and from the non-profit for your volunteer shift? Or is that only when you’re driving somewhere on behalf of the non-profit organization (say to deliver something, for example)?

    Sierra’s notes: I’ll have to look into your first question, but for the second, I am pretty sure it’s the latter: you can deduct only the driving you do on behalf of the non-profit, not your personal transportation to and from, which I would think would fall under personal expenses just like the lunch you buy yourself while volunteering.

    These are both great questions!

  7. Bjorn says 28 March 2011 at 07:27

    Someone already beat me to it…. In Minnesota (and perhaps in other states as well), a taxpayer can itemize charitable contributions even if they took the standard deduction federally.

  8. Another Kate says 28 March 2011 at 08:19

    Ouch, barnetto. I am a person of faith, and I do take 10% as a “minimum” guideline for my giving — not because I believe it “buys” me salvation or any such thing, but because I believe God has been generous with me, and I should be generous with others. I actually believe in a “graduated tithe” — I give a little more than 10% of my income away, and I would hope I would adjust that figure upward if I became more wealthy. At any rate, I’m not buying my way into heaven; I’m responding to the gifts I have received as best I can.

  9. Jenny says 28 March 2011 at 09:01

    This is really helpful Sierra. We’ve been donating a lot of clothing and household items to Goodwill over the past several weeks, and I actually only started getting receipts with the last couple of trips.

    I’m having a really hard time estimating how much a bag of used clothes in really good condition is worth. I just don’t know! So far, my receipts from Goodwill just say something like, “2 bags.” I kind of wish they would estimate the value of the items donated to take the guess work out of it, and add to the legitimacy of the tax deduction.

    • Jozie77 says 12 April 2013 at 18:43

      so can someone please clarify:

      if I have donated (tithed money) to a church every week, and donated non-cash items to Salvation Army, Goodwill and Deseret Industries, then only the miles driven to drop off items are deductible and NOT the miles driven to and from the church (on account of getting something back- ie listening to a sermon)? Or are miles driven to the church and back deductible as well, because I have donated financially there?

      Please, and thank you 🙂

    • peggy says 29 August 2014 at 07:38

      I volunteer for a 501c3 and can say if we had to qualify/value all items that where donated we would not have the manpower to do it. The law puts the responsibility on the donor to properly evaluate the items donated as they are getting the tax write off. The Salvation Army published and on-line guide for donations if you need some help.

      • Tony says 31 August 2014 at 17:19

        Manpower? When I went into the SA store and donated items there was one person at the counter doing absolutely nothing lol.

        They should be required to have some bookkeeping being they are getting free items and selling them for profit in a store.

  10. Jonathan says 28 March 2011 at 09:10

    Why does Erb say that “3% of your gross income” is the IRS norm for charitable donations and much more will raise red flags? This doesn’t jive with the common practice of giving 10% of your income to church…

    I’ve read elsewhere (probably on one of those “10 myths about __” articles on Fortune or WSJ or something) that the amount of deductions doesn’t affect your likelihood of getting audited, though that seems incorrect also.

    Our charitable contributions are around 18% of our gross income and we haven’t been audited yet. I hope we never are, but we do have the documentation if we need it…

  11. Wilson says 28 March 2011 at 09:13

    Great post! I make sure to always pick up a receipt at the local Goodwill when I drop something off (they’re already pre-signed and dated at the door) and usually make a list of what goes into the bag before I leave home and then staple them together when I get home and then drop them in a folder. Except when I don’t, as I’ve found three such receipts with no itemization attached in doing my 2010 taxes. Now I have no idea what I donated those particular days, and am guessing when I try to value those particular donations (I also use Turbo Tax for that, much easier to use their valuations, although why is an old t-shirt valued as much as a nice dress shirt?). Since I’m already over $250 for the year in my other donations to Goodwill I’m going to have to estimate, against my favor, what the other items were and lose out on some additional deductions. So keep good records and file them away!

    For 2011 I’m going to make sure to take photos of the receipts with my iPhone immediately and use an app like Evernote or JotNote to keep track of them, b/c I know I’m going to lose some paper ones.

  12. Marsha says 28 March 2011 at 09:40

    Since we give 12-15% of our income to charity every year (tithe to church plus donations to other organizations), I keep meticulous records. This is 4 to 5 times the national average, so I want to be well-prepared in case of an audit, although we haven’t been audited over our charitable deductions yet. My biggest concern is I’ll have to prove that our non-cash donations are in good or better condition, so I take pictures of each item donated and store the pictures on my computer and a backup system. I also scan any receipts that are printed on thermal paper, since these fade quickly.

  13. Cindy Brick says 28 March 2011 at 10:18

    Good article. But there are some further things to consider on donations — I know these well, as a certified appraiser specializing in textiles.
    If you’ve made the item YOURSELF (a quilt, painting, teddy bear, whatever), the official IRS dictum is that you can only take off the cost of materials. (There have been exceptions, however. If you have a record of sales or something else proving your professional status, I have heard that the IRS accepted some pieces at appraised value, BASED ON THE APPRAISAL. Not the artist’s evaluation.)
    Ironically, if you die, your relatives can donate your handmade work at full appraised value. And if you collect someone else’s work — an antique quilt, painting, whatever — regardless of whether you know or are related to that person, or don’t know who the heck they are — you can still deduct full appraised value.
    The key here is “appraised.” The appraiser must be certified, with a certain amount of experience under their belt, to qualify. (Check with IRS guidelines on specifics, or ask the appraiser.) And the receiving institution has to finish the same paperwork the appraiser starts for you. But that part, for a professional appraiser, is no big deal. (P.S. The appraisal itself is tax-deductible, as well.)
    For more on textile appraisals, visit the PAAQT website:

  14. Paularado says 28 March 2011 at 10:48

    I’m surprised this wasn’t mentioned in the article, but the Salvation army has a Valuation Guide on their website. Just Google Salvation Army Valuation Guide.

    I keep a copy of it in my tax file. When I take a donation, I create a list of the items and then try to estimate the value of the donation. I print it and put it in the file. If the value comes out to be high, I also take a picture of everything and dump it in the file. I figure it’s well worth the effort.

  15. Misty says 28 March 2011 at 12:55

    We always take pictures of items we donate, whether it be a bag of used children clothes to goodwill, a grocery bag of food for the food pantry, or a box of health items (like toothpaste and shampoo) for the women’s shelter. While I make the donation, I write a quick note on a piece of paper stating what I have donated and the date. When I get home I put the paper into a folder called “next years taxes.” When I get around to uploading my photos, I put the “donation” photos into a folder called “2011 donations.” So when I get around to collecting my tax documents, I print out all of the photos, gather up all the paper receipts. I then use goodwills website to determine donation value and write it on the donation receipts. If I have donated toothpase and shampoo, I use Walgreens website and add the items I have donated to my shopping cart. I can then subtotal the value of my donations and document fair market value all at the same time. Note- I dont actually use the walgreens website to place orders, I just use it to show market value and add up the value of the items.

    J.D.’s note: This is a brilliant idea! Two thumbs up!
  16. Bella says 28 March 2011 at 14:10

    Barnetto – that was hilarious! Though I do agree that I do not view my charitable contributions as ‘buying’ my way into eternal salvation, that just made me laugh out loud!
    I also second the recommendations of having a taxes folder that all tax related receipts (donation or otherwise) go in throughout the year, it sure makes things easier to round up at tax time.

  17. mary w says 28 March 2011 at 15:09

    If you have stock/mutual funds which have appreciated since purchase you can donate them without paying capital gains tax on the appreciation.

    For example, you bought stock for $2000 years ago which is now worth $5000. If you sell it, you’ll pay capital gains of 10 or 15% on $3000 gain. However, if you donate the stock to charity you can deduct the $5000 current value but not pay the capital gains tax. Fidelity has a Charitable Gift Fund to facilitate such transfers. I assume other large fund families do also.

    Not a technique applicable to most readers, but when you are retired it’s a great way to continue to donate.

  18. Jacob S says 28 March 2011 at 19:16

    This seems like an appropriate place to share, but if I’m tooting my own cause too much, I can remove the comment.

    This summer a roommate and I are doing a 2000km bike ride from Shanghai to Beijing to raise money to buy bicycles for orphanages in China. We are really hoping that these will raise the quality of life for the little girls in these unfortunate circumstances. All donations are through a registered charity (Half the Sky) if you are the US, Canada, Australia, the UK, or the Netherlands, so they are tax deductible. We got lots of info on, so please take a gander if you can!

  19. PawPrint says 28 March 2011 at 21:14

    From what I understand, you can deduct the mileage driving to perform volunteer services. I drive to the humane society once a week to volunteer for several hours (i.e., performing services for a charitable organization) and list that as charitable mileage.

  20. FiveSigmas says 28 March 2011 at 22:51

    Jessica @ 6:

    I thought Sierra was right that you can’t deduct the mileage to and from the volunteer location, but the IRS website explicitly states that this is allowed.


    Question: The office is 30 miles from my home. Can I deduct any of my car expenses for these trips?

    Answer: Yes, you can deduct the costs of gas and oil that are directly related to
    getting to and from the place where you are a volunteer. If you do not
    want to figure your actual costs, you can deduct 14 cents for each

  21. Tom says 29 March 2011 at 06:41

    Thanks to FiveSigmas for doing the research. I raise service dogs and get to deduct mileage for anywhere I drive the dog, but since he’s my passenger I think it always falls under “driving on behalf of the non-profit”

    @#10 Jonathan – I’m willing to bet that 3% number means either the average person donates about 3% of their gross income (seems reasonable to me) OR the value of the deduction is 3% of your gross income. If you’re in the 28% bracket and donate 18% of your gross income, your deduction amounts to 5% of your gross income.

  22. Mike Hunt says 29 March 2011 at 23:05


    I think it is the former- 3% of your gross income. The 5% you refer to is the value of the tax credit of the deduction, something that is totally different.


  23. Rachel says 30 March 2011 at 09:10

    This is a great post! Another tip is whenever donating to the charities that leave bags on your front door, leave a note that says “please leave a receipt” since sometimes they may forget 🙂

  24. Harm says 31 March 2011 at 12:47

    …No one is really going to pay $30 for your used jeans with the frayed cuffs…

    well, yeah, they’ll pay $75.00, or more….LoL.
    I guess it would depend if the IRS agent looking
    at your case had teen age girls. Of course, the
    knees would have to be ripped, too…

  25. CPALady says 31 July 2012 at 09:49

    So I’m super late to the party here, perusing articles at my leisure 😉

    For future folks reading though, there’s a couple of other things to keep in mind:

    You cannot deduct less than a full interest in real property. Confusing? This means if you have a vacation property you donate to a charity (say for an auction item) you cannot deduct the market value of the rent. This also means that a charitable donation of a vacation property (less than 100% interest) counts as “personal use”. At least in my relatively conservative understanding of the tax law.

    Additionally: Keep in mind if you attend charity auctions that the price of tickets are generally not 100% deductible (the value of the meal is taken out of the ticket cost). Ditto for items you purchase – the amount you pay OVER fair market value is a charitable deduction.

    My personal policy at charity auctions is to give big during the “paddle raise” which is just a straight donation rather than buying auction items (unless it’s something I really want/would use). YMMV obviously.

    P.S. while I am a CPA, I’m not a tax accountant. My knowledge of tax code is well informed but not extensive. Take it along with advice from a tax professional.

  26. smith says 09 July 2013 at 02:56

    Choosing the right non-profit organization for car donation is very important. Today, some organizations induce people to donate cars for charity, but they use them for their personal benefits. So, while selection the non-profit organization, check whether they are registered and use the donated car for the betterment of society.

  27. cindy says 04 September 2013 at 07:47

    If over the year I have bought and donated items like scissors, crayons, glue,and food items etc. They were individual purchases anywhere from $5 to $50 per receipt. I have kept the receipt and notated for church mission trip on it. I have not ask the church for a receipt for those donations. They may total over 250, if so do I need a receipt from the church for all of those items? Your info is very helpful, thanks

  28. Carolyn says 10 September 2013 at 16:04

    Every year, I like to buy brand new items (toys, clothing, linens and other household goods) to donate to the Salvation Army, usually via the Adopt-a-Family segment. I also drop off brand new toys at the Toys for Tots drop off locations. Neither way gets me a good receipt. We usually get a thank you letter for the Adopt-a-Family but it is by no means a receipt. I have been using my store receipts as my tax receipts for all of that. Plus, I take a picture of everything I donate to any place – whether new, or donations of household goods and clothing to Father Joe’s. But, now that I just received a letter about my 2011 taxes being audited, I’m worried about both of those kinds of donations. The IRS makes it very hard to be generous to the less fortunate. I am by no means rich (actually I am in credit card debt up to my eyeballs), but I do like the feeling I get from giving to charities every year. All I am asking is that I be able to take some of that off on my taxes by doing so. I’m really worried that they are going to deny all of those donations and make me pay that back along with interest and penalties.

    • Syd says 20 March 2015 at 14:44


      How did the audit go with regards to the items you bought new for donating?

  29. site says 11 November 2013 at 03:39

    I really like it whenever people get together and share thoughts.
    Great site, continue the good work!

  30. Doing Charity- A New Life For Poors says 22 April 2014 at 23:49

    Charity is really essential to save the life of the needy, so being a charitable really feels glad to yourself!!!!

  31. Charitydeductions says 06 November 2014 at 00:39

    No, doubt that this article helps people to donate more. Knowing, how to deduct on tax for the non billed goods would improve donations. People can check how much could be deducted from the tax for the donations that they make through donation value calculator. Charity deductions donation value calculator calculates how much can be saved on taxes.

  32. MELISSA KIRK says 08 December 2014 at 12:36

    Im getting ready to give a home to a church. the church will do some work on it they will be letting a single mom and 4 children to live in it. also im leaving a king size bedroom suite with a value of 5000.00 an also a queen size bedroom suite with a value of 2500.00 also curio cabinets an a living room suite i just got re done i paid 1000.00 to redo it. leaving washer dryer and stove fridge. how do i deduct on income tax. home appraised for 85000.00 in 2014. can i deduct the full amount? or is it a pkg deal house furniture in one or break down contents then value of home?

  33. Catherine says 18 March 2015 at 17:57

    Are people able to purchase things, such as paper, office supplies, etc. for a church, then submit the receipt to have the full value added to their yearly tax-deductible contribution? Thoughts?

  34. Tamie says 19 March 2015 at 11:16

    i appreciate your great advise! I’m sitting here doing taxes and ran across your website. I really enjoyed how well written your article is and the wise advice! Thank you!

  35. Jill Pearson says 22 April 2015 at 12:39

    How do you deduct personal products you donate, like soap and toothpaste ext

  36. jennifer says 23 March 2016 at 08:23

    I sell clothing where I donate a percentage of my profits to charities throughout the year. If I am doing a schedule C for my business, can I also itemize the charity donations. I also have W2 and file jointly with my spouse.

  37. Fureigh says 19 November 2016 at 07:48

    Thanks for this informative post! One clarification about “political nonprofits,” such as the ACLU: most nonprofits, including many advocacy nonprofits, are classified as 501(c)(3). Donations to 501(c)(3) organizations are tax-deductible.

    Some such organizations have a companion 501(c)(4) organization that engages more explicitly in the political process. Donations to 501(c)(4) organizations are not tax-deductible.

    The ACLU is indeed a 501(c)(4), but its sister organization the ACLU Foundation is a 501(c)(3). So there is a tax-deductible way to support the work of the ACLU (for instance).

    I’m not a tax adviser but I’ve worked at a number of “political” nonprofits that took these distinctions quite seriously.

  38. Jan says 17 January 2018 at 11:58

    I bought a piece of art at a charity auction for $200. And then in turn gifted it back to the same charity for auction next year. Can I claim both the $200. and the fair market value of $200. for donating it this tax year for total deduction of $400.?

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