Charitable Donation Tax Deductions: An Additional Reward for the Gift of Giving

With a charitable tax deduction, you can donate to a good cause and cut your tax bill at the same time.

computer keyboard with a red button with a heart and the word "donation" on it
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A charitable donation tax deduction lets you give to a good cause and cut your tax bill at the same time. And with so many people across the globe suffering from war, disease, poverty, and a long list of other problems, your donations to charity are needed this year as much as ever.

However, there are a number of rules to follow and boxes to check before you can deduct your charitable contributions. You also might not be able to deduct all your donations. But if you can satisfy all the requirements, helping those who are less fortunate than you can save you money at tax time. So, break out your checkbook or jump online and send a donation to your favorite charity today. You may receive a gift in return in the form of a charitable tax deduction.

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You Must Itemize to Claim a Charitable Tax Deduction

People who took the standard deduction on their 2020 or 2021 tax return could also claim a tax deduction of up to $300 for cash donations to charity. That deduction wasn't available to taxpayers who claimed itemized deductions on Schedule A.

However, the $300 deduction wasn't extended past 2021. As a result, you can't claim a charitable donation tax deduction on your 2022 tax return. For 2022 and beyond, the only way to write off gifts to charity is to itemize.

Here's a tip if your standard deduction is a little bit higher than your itemized deductions: Consolidate expected charitable deductions from the next few years into the current tax year. With this strategy – known as "bunching" – you may be able to boost your itemize deductions for the current year so that they exceed your standard deduction amount. Also consider using a donor-advised fund if you're bunching donations. With a donor-advised fund, you make one large contribution to the fund (cash or assets) and deduct the entire amount as an itemized deduction in the year you make it. Money from the fund is then sent to the charities of your choice over the next few years when you're claiming the standard deduction.

What Kinds of Donations Are Deductible?

If you do itemize, you can generally deduct contributions of cash or property to charitable organizations. If property is donated, your deduction is generally equal to the property's fair market value. If you give property that has increased in value, you may have to reduce the fair market value by the amount of appreciation when calculating the deduction. If the property has decreased in value, your deduction is limited to the current fair market value. For tips on determining the fair market value of donated property, see IRS Publication 561.

In addition, itemizers can deduct out-of-pocket expenses paid to do volunteer work for a charitable organization. For example, if you drove to and from volunteer work, you can deduct the actual cost of gas and oil or 14¢ per mile, plus parking and tolls. You can't deduct any amounts that are reimbursed, though.

Note: Unlike other mileage rates, the 14¢-per-mile rate for charitable travel doesn't change from year to year. It was also immune from the mileage rate adjustments in 2022 for high gas prices.

Requirements and Limitations for Charitable Tax Deductions

There are certain hoops you might have to jump through before you can claim a charitable donation tax deduction. For instance, for gifts of $250 or more, you must get a written acknowledgment from the charity stating (1) the amount of any cash donation and a description (but not value) of any donated property, and (2) whether the charity gave you any goods or services in return for your contribution. If you donate property worth $500 or more, you have to submit Form 8283 with your return. If you donate a motor vehicle, boat, or airplane worth over $5,000, you might have to get the property appraised, too. There are other requirements that need to be satisfied, so make sure you read the Schedule A instructions carefully before claiming a charitable deduction.

The amount you can deduct can be limited or reduced, too. For example, if you make a gift and receive a benefit in return – such as food, entertainment, or merchandise – you generally have to subtract the value of the benefit from your deduction. The deduction for cash donations is generally limited to 60% of your federal adjusted gross income (AGI). If you donate property to certain charitable organizations, your deduction might be limited to 50% of your AGI. There's also a 30%-of-AGI limit for capital gain property contributed to certain organizations. If you're denied part of a deduction because of these limits, you may be able to carry the excess amount over and deduct it on a future tax return (carryovers are generally limited to five years). Check the Schedule A instructions and IRS Publication 526 for details and additional limits.

Charities Accepting Tax Deductible Donations

Even though your donation may be used for a good cause, that doesn't necessarily mean that you can deduct it. Only contributions to certain charitable organizations are deductible. For example, you probably can't deduct a donation given through a GoFundMe page to help a local business that's struggling or a neighbor whose house burned down.

Fortunately, there's an easy way to determine if donations you make to an organization are tax-deductible charitable contributions. The IRS's online "Tax Exempt Organization Search" tool will tell you if an organization is tax-exempt and eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions.

QCDs Can Provide More Tax Benefits for Seniors

If you're at least 70½ years old, you can transfer up to $100,000 directly from a traditional IRA to charity through a qualified charitable distribution (QCD). Charitable donations made by qualified seniors via a QCD aren't deductible, but you can still save on taxes since QCDs aren't included in taxable income. So, you get a tax break whether or not you itemize.

There's an additional perk for seniors using QCDs to donate to charity – QCD donations also count toward your required minimum distribution. And, again, they count as an RMD without adding to your adjusted gross income.

Rocky Mengle

Rocky Mengle was a Senior Tax Editor for Kiplinger from October 2018 to January 2023 with more than 20 years of experience covering federal and state tax developments. Before coming to Kiplinger, Rocky worked for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting, and Kleinrock Publishing, where he provided breaking news and guidance for CPAs, tax attorneys, and other tax professionals. He has also been quoted as an expert by USA Today, Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, Reuters, Accounting Today, and other media outlets. Rocky holds a law degree from the University of Connecticut and a B.A. in History from Salisbury University.