charitable contribution

Tax Efficient Charitable Giving

by Joe Ben Combs, CPA

Tax Manager at Atchley & Associates, LLP

As we all know there are tax benefits associated with donating to charities, religious organizations, universities, etc. We have written in the past about the basics of charitable contributions but we thought it would be good to take it to the next level and share some of the more sophisticated ways we help our clients maximize the tax benefits of their charitable giving. We’ll start with the simplest ideas first.

  1. “Bunching” contributions. You may be familiar with the concept as it is often applied to property taxes. The idea is that if you accelerate next year’s giving into this year (bunching multiple years’ deductions into one year) you can get both deductions this year and then next year you can take the standard deduction that have otherwise been wasted. It’s something I personally have taken advantage of on multiple occasions but it certainly doesn’t make sense for everyone. There are a host of factors that may limit the benefits so it’s definitely worth a quick conversation with your CPA or financial advisor before pulling the trigger.
  2. Qualified charitable distributions. A QCD is a distribution directly from your IRA to a qualified charity. You will not get a deduction for the contribution but the distribution is also not included in your income, which usually yields a better result than if you were to take a taxable distribution and then deduct the charitable contribution. What’s even better is these distributions can be used to satisfy your annual required minimum distributions (RMDs). It is a highly tax efficient way to give to charity. However, there are two major limitations. First, you must be at least age 70 1/2 to make a QCD. Second, the maximum amount you can distribute as a QCD is $100,000 per year.
  3. Donation of appreciated stock. This is one of the most powerful and underutilized charitable giving strategies available. Let’s look at an example to illustrate. Assume you intend to donate $100,000 to a charity. You currently hold a stock that you purchased for $60,000 and now happens to be worth $100,000. You could sell the stock and donate the $100,000 to charity, creating a taxable gain of $40,000 (and a tax hit of $6,000 of tax, assuming a 15% capital gains tax rate). Or you could donate the stock directly to the charity. If you do this, the tax rules allow you to take the same $100,000 deduction as if you had donated cash but avoid recognizing the capital gain. One thing to keep in mind – this strategy cannot be used to avoid short term capital gains as the contributed property must be held for more than a year.
  4. Donor advised funds. A donor advised fund (DAF) essentially functions as a charitable giving account. You are allowed a tax deduction when you contribute to the fund. Once the funds are in the account they are legally no longer in your control but you are allowed to give instructions (technically grant recommendations) to the organization managing the account about how to distribute the funds. They will often even allow you to select how the funds are invested while they are in the account so they continue to grow. This is a great way to manage your charitable giving and can help to facilitate some of the strategies already mentioned. For example, if you want to bunch your contributions this year but you don’t know which charity you want to give to or you just don’t want to give it all right now, you can contribute to your DAF and decide later where and when to distribute the funds. Or let’s say you want to donate a piece of appreciated stock but the organization you want to donate to does not have the structure in place to receive stock donations. You can contribute the stock to your DAF, the DAF will sell the stock, and you can direct the cash proceeds be donated to the charity. DAFs are also a useful tool for those who want to contribute anonymously.
  5. Charitable trusts. There are a variety of trust arrangements that can be used – usually as estate planning tools – to accomplish your charitable goals. We won’t go into all the particulars here but these usually involve a noncharitable beneficiary receiving income for a certain period of time (generally his or her lifetime) and a charitable beneficiary receiving the remainder, or vice versa. Charitable trusts are a good option for those with substantial wealth looking to retain income for their lifetime, maintain control over charitable assets, or create a more flexible plan of disposition for their assets that includes charitable and noncharitable goals. Needless to say, consultation with your CPA and/or attorney is highly recommended before pursuing this option.
  6. Private foundation. For those with substantial wealth who are interested in creating an ongoing charitable operation, a private foundation may be the solution. While these can be expensive to create and maintain, they provide opportunities that none of the previous strategies do. For example, if you are interested in providing free tutoring to underprivileged children in an area that is not served by any other organization, you can create a foundation that does just that. You can claim a tax deduction for contributions to the foundation, maintain control of the operational aspects, and involve friends or family members in the leadership of the organization if desired. Of course there are numerous tax, legal, and administrative considerations to be discussed with your CPA and attorney before going down this road.

For-profit vs. not-for-profit: Compare and contrast financial reporting goals

As the term suggests, for-profit companies are driven primarily by one goal — to maximize profits for their owners. Nonprofits, on the other hand, are generally motivated by a charitable purpose. Here’s how their respective financial statements reflect this difference.

Reporting revenues and expenses

For-profits produce an income statement (also known as a profit and loss statement), listing their revenues, gains, expenses and losses to evaluate financial performance. They report mainly on profitability and increasing assets, which correlate with future dividends and return on investment to owners and shareholders.

By comparison, not-for-profit entities just want revenue to cover the costs of fulfilling their mission now and in the future. They often rely on grants and donations in addition to fees for service income. So they prepare a statement of activities, which lists all revenue less expenses, and classifies the impact on each net asset class.

Many nonprofits currently produce a statement of functional expenses. But a new accounting standard kicks in this year — Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2016-14, Not-for-Profit Entities (Topic 958): Presentation of Financial Statements of Not-for-Profit Entities. It will require organizations to classify expenses by nature (meaning categories such as salaries and wages, rent, employee benefits and utilities) and function (mainly program services and supporting activities). This information will need to be expressed in a grid format that shows the amount of each natural category spent on each function.

Balance sheet considerations

For-profit companies prepare a balance sheet that lists the owner’s or shareholders’ equity, which is based on the company’s assets, liabilities and prior profits. The equity determines the value of a company’s common and preferred stock.

Nonprofits, which have no owners, prepare a statement of financial position. It also looks at assets, liabilities and prior earnings. The resulting net assets historically have been classified as 1) unrestricted, 2) temporarily restricted, or 3) permanently restricted, based on the presence of donor restrictions. Starting in 2018 for most not-for-profits, the new accounting standard will reduce these classes to two: 1) net assets without donor restrictions and 2) net assets with donor restrictions.

Footnote disclosures

Another key difference: Nonprofits tend to focus more on transparency than for-profit businesses do. Thus, their financial statements and footnotes include a lot of disclosures, such as about the nature and amount of donor-imposed restrictions on net assets. Starting in 2018, ASU No. 2016-14 will require more disclosures on the amount, purpose and type of board designations of net assets. Additional disclosures will be required to outline the availability and liquidity of assets to cover operations in the coming year.

Common denominator

Whether operating for a profit or not, all entities have a common need to produce timely financial statements that stakeholders can trust. Contact us for help reporting accurate financial results for your organization.

© 2018

Tax Exempt Organizations Disaster Relief Written Acknowledgements

by Karen Atchley, CPA

Partner at Atchley & Associates, LLP

The Disaster Tax Relief and Airport and Airway Extension Act of 2017 was signed into law on September 28, 2017 (hereafter referred to as The Disaster Tax Relief Act).  The legislation provides tax relief to the victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and funds the Federal Aviation Administration through March 2018.

Although this new law affects individuals and employers, the purpose of this paper is to advise tax exempt organizations concerning one specific area of the new law relating to issuance of charitable contribution acknowledgement letters.  The law added a temporary suspension of the adjusted gross income (AGI) limitations that are imposed on qualified charitable contributions. The taxpayer must make an election for the temporary suspension of the AGI limitations to apply.

 In general, the law prior to the September 28, 2017 legislation provides that individual’s cash contributions are deductible in any one year up to 50% of AGI and noncash contributions are deductible in any one year up to either 20% or 30% of AGI.  Contributions limited by AGI are carried forward to subsequent years for up to five years.

A qualified charitable contribution under the new law is a contribution that was paid during the period beginning August 23, 2017 and ending on December 31, 2017, in cash to an organization described in section 170(b)(1)(A), for relief efforts in the Hurricane Harvey, Irma, or Maria disaster areas.  The contribution must be substantiated with a contemporaneous written acknowledgement from the charitable organization that states that the contribution was or is to be used for relief efforts.

Most charitable organizations are aware of Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 170(f)(8)(A), which requires that the organization must provide the donor with a written acknowledgement of the donor contribution if the contribution was for $250 or more.  IRC Section 6115 requires the charitable organization to provide the donor with a written statement if a contribution is made for $75 or more if part of the contribution is for goods or services (quid pro quo) and the statement must contain a good-faith estimate of the value of goods and services that the charity has provided to the donor.  What charitable organizations may not know is that The Disaster Tax Relief Act requires written acknowledgement that not only states that the contribution was or is to be used for relief efforts but also requires a letter to the donor regardless of the size of the contribution.

In summary, charitable organizations that collected funds that were collected during 2017 and used in the relief efforts in the Hurricane Harvey, Irma or Maria disaster areas will want to start working on their acknowledgement letters for 2017 early in 2018 since all qualified relief contributions require an acknowledgement letter.

Note: Regulations may subsequently be issued that affect this provision of the tax law.  Check with your tax advisor to determine whether any subsequent tax law changes are made.  This paper is not intended to address all the provisions of The Disaster Relief Act but only the provision relating to the issuance of written acknowledgements.