The tax code rewards your altruistic behavior by giving a tax deduction for donating to charity. Each dollar you give away can lower your taxable income. But, if you're using Form 1040A for your taxes, all your goodwill goes away -- at least from the perspective of the Internal Revenue Service.
Tax deductions are broken into two big categories: adjustments to income and itemized deductions. Adjustments to income are also called above-the-line deductions because they reduce your adjusted gross income and can be claimed without affecting your standard deduction. Itemized deductions, on the other hand, pose a choice to taxpayers: either take the standard deduction for your filing status and no itemized deductions, or give up your standard deduction and write off the sum of your itemized deductions, which include charitable contributions as well as mortgage interest, and state and local taxes.
Claiming the charitable donation deduction, like any other deduction, requires you to report the donations on Schedule A. When you file your tax return, you must use Form 1040 -- it's the only form that allows you to use your itemized deductions instead of your standard deduction. After combining your charitable contributions with your other itemized deductions, it goes on line 40. If you use Form 1040A, you can't deduct your charitable contributions because you're not allowed to itemize your deductions.
If you decide you want to use Form 1040 to deduct your charitable donations, you must divide your giving between contributions made by cash or check and property donations. Cash contributions, which also include gifts made with a credit card, go on line 16 of Schedule A. Donations of property, such as used clothing, stocks or food, go on line 17. The total of your donations goes on line 19 and gets added to your other itemized deduction for the year. If you're donating property worth more than $500, you must also complete Form 8283.
Contributions of property worth more than $5,000 generally require a qualified appraisal, but otherwise you usually don't need to attach any proof of your contribution to your tax return. But, you can't file your taxes until you get the receipt from the charity, and you're required to keep records in case your donation is questioned by the IRS. The only times you won't need a receipt from the charity are when you make a donation of less than $250 of goods and getting a receipt just isn't practical, such as leaving clothing at a drop box, or when you make a cash donation of $250 or less and you have a canceled check, bank statement or credit card statement to prove the donation.
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