Keep Records of Charitable Contributions

Don't miss out on valuable tax deductions by failing to record unreimbursed costs you've incurred while helping your church, synagogue or a nonprofit organization.

I often buy things for my church and just pay for them out of my pocket -- things like ink for the church printer, food for church dinners, flowers for the altar and stamps to mail announcements to members. Until this year, I have kept receipts for all these things, along with notes as to what the purpose was. Do the new rules for 2007 mean I can no longer deduct these expenses?

You still can deduct those out-of-pocket expenses, and you're wise to do so. Many people forget to keep track of those unreimbursed costs and miss out on some tax deductions that can add up.

It's a good idea to keep two types of records. "Along with your receipts and notes, you should also request a written acknowledgment of the donations from your church, including the date and amount of the contributions," says Mildred Carter, senior tax analyst with tax publisher CCH. It isn't too late to get this paperwork, even if you've already made the contributions. You just need the acknowledgement before the date you file your tax return, says Carter.

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By the way, the new tax law you refer to applies to cash donations. In the past, you could keep track of small cash donations on your own, but now you need a bank record or written communication from the charity listing the amount of the contribution, the date it was made, and the name of the charity -- even if the contribution is small.

For more information about the tax rules for charitable gifts, see IRS Publication 526 Charitable Contributions.

Kimberly Lankford
Contributing Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

As the "Ask Kim" columnist for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Lankford receives hundreds of personal finance questions from readers every month. She is the author of Rescue Your Financial Life (McGraw-Hill, 2003), The Insurance Maze: How You Can Save Money on Insurance -- and Still Get the Coverage You Need (Kaplan, 2006), Kiplinger's Ask Kim for Money Smart Solutions (Kaplan, 2007) and The Kiplinger/BBB Personal Finance Guide for Military Families. She is frequently featured as a financial expert on television and radio, including NBC's Today Show, CNN, CNBC and National Public Radio.