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Tapping an IRA for Charity

Donating by transferring money directly from an IRA to charity can lower your tax bill whether you file an itemized tax return or not.

Question: I read your column explaining that making a tax-free transfer from your IRA to a charity is even more attractive now that fewer people will be itemizing their deductions. But if I still itemize, is there a benefit to making the tax-free transfer rather than just withdrawing my required minimum distribution and then writing a check to the charity and taking the deduction?

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Answer: Yes, even if you itemize, you can still benefit from making a tax-free transfer from an IRA to a charity, also known as a qualified charitable distribution.

If you withdraw the money from your IRA and then write a check to a charity, your IRA withdrawal is added to your adjusted gross income before you claim your deductions and determine your taxable income. But if you make a tax-free transfer to a charity, the money stays out of your AGI entirely. (Plus, the transfer counts as your required minimum distribution for the year.)

Your AGI is used to determine whether you meet the income limits for many tax deductions and credits. But it can also have an impact on other government benefits you receive. For instance, a higher AGI may trigger a Medicare surcharge (which boosts your Medicare Part B and Part D premiums if your AGI plus tax-exempt interest income is more than $85,000 if single or $170,000 if married filing jointly) or cause a larger portion of your Social Security benefits to be subject to taxes.

A qualified charitable distribution, or QCD, is available to those who are 70½ or older and allows them to directly donate up to $100,000 from their IRA to charity each year tax-free. As you mention, this strategy is particularly valuable for people who are unable to take a charitable deduction because they don’t file an itemized return. And fewer people will be itemizing going forward, now that the standard deduction has nearly doubled. In 2018, single taxpayers who are 65 and older can take a standard deduction of $13,600, and married taxpayers who are 65 or older get a standard deduction of $26,600 (both husband and wife must be at least 65).

For more information about qualified charitable distributions, see FAQs About Giving Your RMD to Charity.

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