Regardless of how much or how little a charitable gift affects your tax return, the Internal Revenue Service requires you to keep records of each donation. In most cases, you don't have to attach these written confirmations to your tax return. But for those few donations that do require written confirmations, or additional tax forms even, failing to attach a required document may end up costing you the entire deduction.
Written Confirmation Requirements
Every time you donate money or property, you must, at a minimum, retain a receipt or other record of the transaction. But if any single donation you make during the year -- whether it's cash or property such as used furniture or clothing -- is for $250 or more, the IRS requires that you obtain a written acknowledgment from the charitable organization and to have it available in the event the agency requests it. Charitable organizations must include certain information on these confirmations, including the amount of cash or type of property donated, the item's value, a statement as to whether you were provided goods or services in exchange for the donation, and if so, an estimate of the total value provided. For most donations, however, the IRS doesn't want acknowledgments attached to your return.
When donating a vehicle that's worth more than $500, the most you can deduct is the smaller of the price the charity sells your car for or its fair market value. Under these circumstances, the charity has an obligation to send you Form 1098-C within 30 days of selling the vehicle. Not only does the IRS require that you attach the 1098-C to your return, the form serves as confirmation of your donation and reports the gross proceeds from the sale that you'll need to figure out your maximum deduction. If you e-file your taxes and your tax preparation software is unable to include a copy of the form with the filing, you may need to fill out Form 8453, attach the 1098-C to it and mail both documents to the IRS.
When to Attach Form 8283
Making donations of property may also require you to attach Form 8283 to your return. Including Form 8283 is necessary if you make more than $500 worth of non-cash donations. If no single item, or group of similar items, that you donate is worth more than $5,000, or you donate a portfolio of stocks, you'll only enter the details of your donations -- such as the date donated, fair market value of property and for certain contributions, the original cost -- in section A of the form. For each donated item with a value greater than $5,000, the details are entered in section B of the form, which needs to be completed before attaching it to your return.
Attaching Written Appraisals
The IRS does require written appraisals for certain types of art and real estate donations, as well as when any single item of clothing or other household item you donate that's not in good used condition but is valued at more than $500. This written appraisal of the donated item's fair market value confirms the reasonableness of the deduction.
Michael Marz has worked in the financial sector since 2002, specializing in wealth and estate planning. After spending six years working for a large investment bank and an accounting firm, Marz is now self-employed as a consultant, focusing on complex estate and gift tax compliance and planning.