Donating property? 5 questions to ask yourself

As the holidays approach, you may decide to be extra generous this year by donating property to charity. As long as you observe the strict tax rules in this area, you may still be able to take advantage of tax benefits for 2017. The following questions will help you determine the value of your tax break.

  • Has your donation increased in value? Normally, your deduction for charitable gifts of property is limited to the property’s initial cost. However, if the property would have produced a long-term capital gain had you sold it instead of donating (aka you’ve owned it longer than one year) you may deduct its full fair market value (FMV).

    For example, say you bought a painting for $10,000 five years ago that’s now worth $15,000. If you donate it to charity, you can deduct the FMV of $15,000. The $5,000 of appreciation remains untaxed… forever.

  • Has your donation decreased in value? If property has declined in value since you acquired it, your deduction is limited to its FMV regardless of how long you have held it.
  • Have you gotten a charitable appraisal? Whether or not property has increased or decreased in value, obtain an independent appraisal of its FMV. The IRS specifically requires independent appraisals for property donations exceeding $5,000. (The appraisal costs themselves may be deductible.)
  • Does your donation have a charitable function? If you donate property that isn’t used to further the charity’s tax-exempt function, your deduction is generally limited to the property’s basis. This could occur, for example, if you donate a family heirloom to a museum, but the artwork is never displayed.
  • What is your adjusted gross income (AGI) limit? Among other limits, your deduction for charitable gifts of appreciated property in 2017 can’t exceed 30 percent of your AGI. Usually, you’ll be able to squeeze under the 30 percent threshold. Any excess is carried forward for up to five years.

Other factors may come into play, such as special rules for donations of vehicles. Bottom line: follow the tax rules on year-end contributions and you’ll be happy you did. Give Carl Heinemann, your Chattanooga CPA, a call if you have questions about your charitable donations.

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