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5 Things to Remember About Substantiating Charitable Donations

Jan 16, 2021

When it comes to making a charitable donation, there are countless organizations and causes available to which you can contribute. While you have the option to simply give cash, many organizations also accept noncash items such as stock, personal property, or real estate. No matter the form of your donation, you have earned a tax deduction—given that instead of taking the standard deduction, you choose to itemize.

One major requirement is documentation. However, knowing exactly what you will need depends on the value of your donation and the type of your contribution. We’ve compiled a list of five things that you should always remember about substantiating your charitable donations:

1. Cash contributions are easiest to substantiate if they are less than $250. Providing a credit card statement or a canceled check is sufficient. You also have the option to obtain a receipt from your chosen organization that shows its name, as well as the date, place, and amount of your contribution. It is important to remember that unsubstantiated donations aren’t deductible, so you must keep some form of bank record or receipt.

2. Noncash donations that are less than $250 require a little more work to substantiate. For this type of donation, you will need a receipt for your chosen charity. You almost must determine an estimate for a reasonable value of the item(s) that you donated. If the organization you have chosen regularly accepts noncash donations, they will typically be able to provide you the proper form. It is important to keep in mind that clothing and household item donation must be in good condition to be deductible.

3. The larger the cash donation, the more paperwork is required. If you decided to donate a cash amount that is more than $250, providing a credit card statement or a canceled check will not be sufficient. You will need an IRS-approved written acknowledgment from the organization that you have chosen to make your donation.

A contemporaneous written acknowledgment must be received on or before the date you file your return for the year in which you made the donation. The acknowledgment may also be submitted on or before the due date (including an extension) for filing the return. Additionally, this acknowledgment must include a note that discloses whether or not the charity provided anything in return. If the organization did provide something in exchange for your donation, it must provide a full description, as well as an estimate in good-faith for the item or service. In this case, you will only be able to deduct the difference between the estimated value of the service or item and the amount in which you donated.

4. More paperwork is required for noncash donations valued at more than $250 but less than $5,000. It is required that you submit a contemporaneous written acknowledgment along with evidence, in writing, that provides support for the donation’s acquisition date, cost, and fair market value. The acknowledgment must also provide a description of the item that was donated.

5. The most complicated donations are noncash contributions valued at more than $5,000. In general, both a qualified appraisal and a written acknowledgment are required—unless the donation is publicly traded securities. There are some cases where additional requirements may apply to your donation, so be sure to contact your local CRI tax advisor if you have already made or have plans to make a considerable noncash donation.

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