Did you give? Take the deduction!

I love the fact that “Giving Tuesday” has become an annual tradition in the U.S. If you have made gifts to charities anytime during 2020, you may be able to take a tax deduction even if you do not normally itemize deductions!

The CARES Act allows people to deduct up to $300 of charitable giving on their federal tax return without using Schedule A, which is the “itemized deduction” form. That’s great news, because even the lowest standard deduction (federal) is more than $12,000; that means that it’s not worth itemizing deductions if your total deductions would be less than that. Due to the special rule for 2020, taxpayers who gave to charity will be able to deduct their charitable gifts up to $300 while ALSO claiming the appropriate standard deduction. Note: the special CARES Act rule applies only to donations of money; donations of goods, such as clothing or household goods donated to Goodwill or Salvation Army, can only be deducted if you itemize.

What to do? if you made monetary gifts to qualified charitable organizations, gather up your receipts and keep them for tax time. Can’t find the receipt? Cash gifts with no receipt cannot be deducted, since there is no evidence of the gift. But gifts made by check can be deducted even without a receipt, as long as they were bona fide gifts and not payment for something. Here are some examples to explain some common mistakes:

  • Suppose you and your spouse ate at a spaghetti dinner that was sponsored by a local non-profit for free will donation, and you put $20 in the basket. That $20 is NOT a charitable contribution because you received a meal in exchange for the money you gave.
  • Gifts to political or commercial organizations are not tax deductible. The charity should tell you if your gift is tax-deductible, but if in doubt, check the IRS database.
  • If you include $30 in a sympathy card after a person’s death, intending it for the charity of the family’s choice, that is NOT tax-deductible, because you don’t know if it was used for charity. However, if you make out a check to a charity in honor of the deceased individual, that is a deductible contribution.

The Internal Revenue Service is the authoritative source for information on charitable contributions and all income tax topics. Click here for information on this special deduction for 2020.

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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