Charitable contributions have long been a cornerstone of philanthropy, allowing individuals to support causes close to their hearts while enjoying potential tax benefits. However, recent rulings have added layers of complexity to the deductibility of charitable contributions. This article delves into key developments affecting the deductibility landscape, exploring final regulations on substantiation and reporting requirements, substantiation challenges exemplified by a court case, and proposed regulations addressing state and local tax credits.
Final Regulations on Substantiation and Reporting Requirements
One significant development, represented by Final Regulations (TD 9836), introduces stringent rules regarding the substantiation and reporting of charitable contributions. Here are the key points:
Recordkeeping for Cash Donations:
Taxpayers must maintain a record of all cash donations, supported by either a bank record or a written communication from the donee.
Contemporaneous Acknowledgment for Donations Over $250:
Cash or noncash donations exceeding $250 require a written contemporaneous acknowledgment (CWA) from the donee.
Qualified Appraisal for Noncash Donations Over $5,000:
Noncash donations surpassing $5,000 necessitate a qualified appraisal, and for those exceeding $500,000, the appraisal must be attached to the return.
Appraisers must meet specific criteria to be deemed "qualified," ensuring verifiable education and experience in valuing the type of property being donated.
Elimination of Reasonable Cause Exception:
The reasonable cause exception for a qualified appraisal has been eliminated, emphasizing a more stringent approach.
The new appraiser requirements apply to donations made after December 31, 2018.
These regulations underscore the importance of meticulous recordkeeping, particularly for noncash donations, and highlight the increased scrutiny placed on the qualifications of appraisers.
Substantiation and the Shopping Grandmother (Grainger T.C. Memo 2018-117)
A court case involving a grandmother's attempt to claim a noncash charitable deduction sheds light on substantiation challenges. The taxpayer, an enthusiastic shopper, attempted to leverage her love for shopping into a "personal tax shelter" by claiming a noncash charitable deduction of $34,401. The court's ruling emphasized several crucial points:
Grouping Similar Items for Substantiation:
Similar donated items must be grouped together when determining whether the $5,000 substantiation threshold has been reached. This includes valuing items like clothing as a collective, challenging the notion that a single donation must exceed $5,000 to trigger appraisal requirements.
Receipt Detail Requirements:
Receipts must provide detailed information reasonably under the circumstances, as per regulation 1.170A-13(b). In this case, lack of detail on receipts and a spreadsheet led to the disallowance of the deduction.
Contemporaneous Acknowledgment (CWA) Challenges:
The court found the taxpayer failed to secure a valid CWA due to insufficient information on the receipts. Generic statements about donating clothing without specifying the items donated or their quantities fell short of CWA requirements.
This case serves as a reminder that substantiation challenges can arise even with seemingly straightforward noncash charitable contributions. It emphasizes the need for detailed receipts and proper grouping of similar items to navigate the substantiation landscape effectively.
Proposed Regulations on Charitable Contributions and State and Local Tax Credits (IR-2018-172)
In response to creative strategies adopted by some high-tax states, proposed regulations aim to address the interaction between charitable contributions and state and local tax credits. Here are the key aspects:
Impact on State and Local Tax Credit Strategies:
States granting tax credits for certain donations face a significant change. Taxpayers making charitable contributions must now reduce their charitable deduction by the amount of state or local tax credit received.
Exception for Small Tax Credits:
A taxpayer is exempt from reducing the deduction if the state or local credit is no more than 15 percent of the donated amount.
This proposed regulation closes a loophole that allowed taxpayers to circumvent the $10,000 Schedule A cap on state and local property tax by receiving state tax credits for charitable contributions.
Navigating the Shifting Landscape
In light of these recent developments, individuals and tax preparers alike must navigate the shifting landscape of charitable contribution deductibility. The heightened focus on substantiation, appraiser qualifications, and the interaction between charitable contributions and state tax credits necessitates a strategic and informed approach.
Practical Considerations for Taxpayers and Preparers:
Maintain meticulous records for all cash and noncash donations, ensuring compliance with substantiation requirements.
Exercise caution when dealing with noncash donations exceeding $5,000, ensuring that appraisals are conducted by qualified appraisers meeting the newly defined criteria.
When receiving acknowledgment from the donee, insist on detailed receipts that enumerate the donated items, their quantities, and other relevant information.
Review of State Tax Credits:
Taxpayers engaging in strategies involving state tax credits for charitable contributions should reassess their approach in light of the proposed regulations.
Tax professionals play a crucial role in educating taxpayers on the evolving landscape, providing guidance on compliance and potential pitfalls.
Adapting to Evolving Standards
As the deductibility landscape for charitable contributions undergoes changes, adaptation and vigilance become paramount. Taxpayers and preparers must stay informed about the latest regulations, exercise due diligence in substantiation efforts, and consider the broader implications of state tax credit strategies. By embracing these practices, individuals can continue to support charitable causes while navigating the evolving standards of deductibility.
Note: The information presented in this article is based on the status of regulations as of the knowledge cutoff date in January 2023, and subsequent updates or changes may not be reflected.