Many people strive to support their community by donating their time or their money. When you find a meaningful cause, you might be quick to cut a donation check. Though it's admirable to be quick to act charitably, you should be wary of several common mistakes made when giving to charity. Being mindful of these mistakes and learning tips for making informed charitable choices can help you make the most out of your generous check.
Acting Quickly Out of Emotion
Mission statements are meant to be compelling. If you're an emotionally driven individual, it's natural to pull out your wallet at the sight of a sad puppy on TV or when informed about food insecurity over the phone. Unfortunately, not all charities are as effective or official as they may seem.
Take your passion for helping others one step further by making sure your chosen charity is legit. Speaking with a representative, reviewing their website and social media accounts, and looking at testaments online can give you a better idea of whether the organization is worth your donation.
Forgetting to Keep Record of the Donation
Don't forget that you can reap some financial perks from giving back! With the proper documentation of your donation, you can acquire a better tax deductible.
If you donate more than $12,400 as a single filer or $24,800 as one of two joint filers, you're eligible to deduct that amount from your taxes. So, when a charity asks if you'd like a receipt of donation, always answer yes.
Donating Unusable Materials
Most charities can utilize a monetary donation—it's the physical donations that usually cause some issues. Providing a local nonprofit with irrelevant materials or gifting them with unusable products are surprisingly common mistakes made when giving to charity.
Always check your intended charity's website for a list of things they do and do not accept. The majority of places will provide a guideline to donating or offer contact information to clarify any questions.
Strictly Giving at Year's End
As more and more people get into the holiday spirit at the end of the year, nonprofit organizations see an influx of donations. While it's great to spread holiday cheer via a monetary donation, it's important to keep that spirit going year-round.
With regular donations, charities can more effectively allocate their annual budget. Setting up an automatic monthly donation with the charity of your choosing can maximize your impact. You can account for a monthly donation by foregoing a costly coffee every once in a while.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 raised the standard deduction for US taxpayers and capped the state and local tax deduction at $10,000. This greatly reduced the number of taxpayers who itemize on their tax return and caused a major reduction in charitable giving.
Taxpayers who itemize can reduce their income by the amount that they give to eligible charities and charitable organizations, and thus pay less in taxes.
When you pay taxes you (or let's be real – your accountants) add up all of your deductions (charity donations, student loan interest, et cetera) and if it's more than the standard deduction of $12,400 for single people ($24,800 for married couples filing jointly), you can reduce your income by that amount and pay taxes on that amount.
Since the standard deduction is now higher, less people are itemizing all their deductions as they don't expect to exceed the standard deduction. This disincentives people from giving to charities as they won't be able to use that donation to lower their tax burden.
This year offers a special opportunity thanks to the CARES Act.
The CARES Act was passed in response to the Coronavirus pandemic and offered a special incentive for people to give more to charities, many of which are facing more demand than ever as the pandemic rages on.
Starting in 2020, up to $300 in charitable contributions may be used as an above-the-line deduction, meaning that you would be able to deduct up to $300 in charity donations and mutual funds even if you take the standard deduction.
Let's say you are a single person that lives in Washington State and make $60,000 a year. Your top Federal tax rate is 22% and you pay no state tax in Washington.
Now, you're very likely to take a standard deduction of $12,400, meaning you would only need to pay taxes on $47,600 of adjusted gross income, lowering your tax bill by $2,728 (22% of $12,400).
But, thanks to the CARES Act, if you also give $300 in charitable contributions to charity this year, you would be able to deduct that money as well, reducing your taxes by an additional $66.
A few caveats with this. First, you have to give to a qualified public charity. Check on their website that you are giving to a 501(c)3 organization before you give. You can also check on the IRS website for a list of organizations you may be able to donate to.
Second, it has to be cash giving, so giving your old sweater to Goodwill unfortunately doesn't count. Third, if you give over $250 to an organization, you have to get a "written acknowledgement" of the gift. That just means you want to be sure to ask for a receipt when you send the money to the charity.
A lot of charities have been hit very hard because of COVID-19, and making sure that they have the resources available to continue to help people can be really important for the people who rely on the generosity of others.
With the CARES Act, you can help make sure that charities you believe in are able to continue their work while also saving yourself money come tax time. It might be time to speak with a financial advisor to set charitable goals for 2020 and 2021.If interested in opening a charitable giving account, we recommend Fidelity Charitable. They can help identify private foundations and charities to support, as well as recommend grants. Over time you can grow your donor advised funds, tax free and look into donating stocks or donating with a credit card.
Fidelity Charitable also provides a helpful charitable giving tax savings calculator.
Isn't it refreshing to see a story about someone giving back?
Not every wealthy person is Ebenezer Scrooge, clutching every penny for himself. Some of the wealthiest people on Earth also realize how fortunate they are to have been so blessed, so they share the wealth. When they open their pocketbooks, they aren't stingy.
Just look at Jeff Bezos, who recently announced he was donating $100 million to food banks to help America get through the coronavirus. Wow! That's so much money, and he's just giving it away! It's way more than you or I or several families put together are likely to earn in our entire lifetimes! It's more money than you could fit in your fridge in stacks of $100 bills—unless you're Nancy Pelosi.
If you had that much money in a bank account with just 1% interest compounding annually, you and me and those several families could easily live off that interest without ever touching the principal! Forever! Come to think of it, it's kind of more money than any one person could ever need or even spend on anything reasonable.
Sure, if you want your own private jet to shuttle you around the world eating dinner off the naked bodies of a series of celebrities, you could spend that much pretty easily, but if you just want to have a good, satisfying life, $100 million in the banks isn't much better than an $80,000 salary—depending on factors like your debt burden and the cost of living where you live.
So why don't any one of these mega-billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Michael Bloomberg—if they really are as generous as they seem—just give away their riches and secure a place in history as the person who personally ended world hunger or homelessness in America? They could even keep a few hundred million to continue living like kings (or at least like Warren Buffett).
Surely it must not be that simple? Because if this was just a matter of private greed preventing that kind of transformational change, governments would surely have used their ability to levy taxes for the public good to seize that fallow wealth and make the world a better place. There has to be some reasonable explanation for why they don't just give it all away. Surely...
In this series we'll look at myths around philanthropy, including the notions that it's possible for billionaires to be generous, that their "wealth" is substantially different than money, that their private foundations do a lot of good, and that they are patrons of the arts.
But to start things off, let's look at one of the simplest explanations for this disconnect.
Myth: Charity Is Actually Better Than Taxation
What you'll hear
Government intervention is a blunt instrument, and charity is a scalpel.
The government is okay at helping people, but charity is really the way to go. Private individuals aren't hampered by government bureaucracy and can respond more efficiently and directly to needs as they occur. Over time we should try to shift toward a more voluntary charity-based model of social assistance, rather than relying on big government.
Why It's wrong
Actually the opposite is true.
During economic downturns, when the need is greatest, government assistance like unemployment, food stamps, and welfare kick in automatically to help those in need. They're called automatic stabilizers, and they help to mitigate the impact of these crises and make it easier to shift toward recovery.
Automatic stabilizers | National income and price determination | AP Macroeconomics | Khan Academy www.youtube.com
Meanwhile the wealthy are often anxiously tending to their own floundering finances or businesses amid the tumult and aren't as likely to open their checkbooks for charity. What this means is that charitable giving actually declines when people need it the most.
On top of that, as bad as politicians often are at being responsive to the needs of their constituents, at least they have constituents. By contrast, there's nothing to stop the wealthy from holing up in their gated compounds, beholden to no one and only responsive to the needs of the rarefied elites they know—donating to foundations developing a cure for gout or gene therapy to treat Habsburg Jaw.
To the extent that they are aware of the plight of others, it's often connected to their religious affiliation, which is why religious charities—that often spend money on churches and missionary work and who proselytize to the needy—are among the largest charities in the US.
If you don't mind someone else's idea of God determining which causes are important and who gets helped, then charity is a great way to go. For the rest of us, higher taxes on the wealthy—and reducing the amount they can dodge those taxes through, say "charity"—would be better.
In this sense, a blunt instrument is often exactly what we need—just a flood of money going to everyone who might realistically need it. And while government bureaucracy is annoying and should be cut where possible—particular when it comes to overzealous means testing—the fact that the federal government deals with such massive sums of money actually makes it possible to consolidate administrative overhead.
All this means that the government can actually use its resources for the public good far more efficiently than a bunch of disparate charitable foundations. In other words: Taxation and government handouts are (generally) much better than charity.
Charity: how effective is giving? | The Economist www.youtube.com
While charitable donations have the added value of making rich people feel good and earning them some good PR, they aren't actually better for the world—or even nearly as good—as a robust social safety net. That means we should really limit the amount of taxes that can be written off through charitable donations.
Of course, without that tax incentive a lot of charities might receive substantially less in donations from the ultra-wealthy. But in that case we would have to ask: Are Billionaires really that generous? Check out our next installment to find out.
- Charities You Can Donate to During COVID-19 - Liberty Project ›
- The Most Overlooked Tax Deductions - PayPath ›
- No Good Billionaires—Myth 2: But They're So Generous! - PayPath ›
- How Much Money Do US Politicians Make? - PayPath ›
The Trump Administration's solution to aid the 16 million Americans who are out of a job thanks to coronavirus? One big, shiny, $1,200 check.
As MarketWatch explains, "The Internal Revenue Service will send $1,200 payments to individuals with adjusted gross income below $75,000 and $2,400 to married couples filing taxes jointly who earn under $150,000. The government will also pay $500 per qualifying child." That plan is a little skewed—$1,200, after all, isn't even enough for one month's rent for a studio in NYC's outer boroughs. And for everyone who's receiving the check, there's someone else who, fortunately, is able to work from home and hasn't faced a huge setback due to COVID-19.
If you're one of the lucky ones, or if you're just feeling generous, here are just a few good causes that deserve your donations to help those in need.
WeCount!'s Immigrant Worker COVID-19 Fund: Florida nonprofit WeCount! is on a mission to address the gap in medical support for undocumented immigrants, emphasized by COVID-19.
Immigrant Worker Safety Net Fund: National Day Laborer Organizing Network allocates cash donations to worker leaders, organizers, and volunteers who have already contracted the COVID-19, as well as undocumented laborers who are especially vulnerable to the virus, such as those over 60 or with preexisting health concerns.
National Bailout: Prisons, jails, and detention centers have raised big health concerns in the coronavirus's wake. National Bailout is galvanizing funds to get people out, in an effort to slow the spread. The organization also already hosts an annual #FreeBlackMamas campaign to specifically help incarcerated black mothers each Mother's Day, but donations are welcome and encouraged year-round.
Restaurant Workers' Community Foundation: With restaurants limited to takeout only, many folks in the service industry are taking a major hit. RWCF's emergency relief fund collected $2.8M since its launch in late-March. Of that, half goes directly to individual restaurant workers, 25 percent to non-profits serving restaurant workers, and another 25 percent for zero-interest loans to keep restaurants running.
Coalition for the Homeless: Homeless people are predisposed to major risks year-round, but the pandemic has brought additional attention to their health care. In New York City, the Coalition for the Homeless is providing temporary safe housing to the community thanks to donations.
- There Are No Good Billionaires–Myth #1: Charity Is Better Than Government Handouts - PayPath ›
- How to Save Money with Charitable Giving - PayPath ›
- How to Make the Most of Your Stimulus Check - PayPath ›
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