Though the warm feelings are often what motivate people to donate to charity, getting a deduction on your income taxes is rewarding in a different way. Though you must use Form 1040 if you want to write off charitable donations you made for the year, the donations themselves actually appear on Schedule A, not the Form 1040 itself.
Schedule A provides three lines for you to report your donations on your taxes. Any cash donations, including donations made by check or credit card, go on line 16, while any donations of property get reported on line 17. If you have donations you made in an earlier year that you couldn't deduct because your donation exceeded the deduction limits based on your adjusted gross income, the amount carried forward goes on line 18. Once you've totaled up all your itemized deductions, including your donations, copy the total from line 29 of Schedule A to line 40 of Form 1040. This amount is subtracted from your taxable income for the year.
If you itemize, you're giving up your right to claim the standard deduction. Each year, you have the choice to either claim the standard deduction, a fixed amount based on your filing status, or the sum of your itemized deductions, which includes not only donations but also other expenses such as state income taxes, mortgage interest and unreimbursed employee expenses. Depending on the total of your deductions, it might not make sense to itemize. For example, for the 2013 tax year, the standard deduction for a single person is $6,100. If your itemized deductions only total $3,000, you'll lose money if you itemize.
Just because you gave something away to someone in need doesn't mean it's deductible. You can only write off donations to qualified charitable organizations, including religious, scientific, educational and literary groups. Donations you make to individuals, no matter how needy, never qualify to be written off on your taxes. In addition, donations of your time also aren't deductible, no matter how valuable the services you're providing.
Each dollar by which your itemized deductions, including your donations, exceed your standard deduction represents a tax savings. The amount of savings varies depending on your marginal income tax rate, which is the rate applied to your last dollar of income. The higher the rate, the bigger your savings. For example, say your donations push your itemized deductions $1,200 over the value of your standard deduction. If you're in the 15 percent tax bracket, that saves you $180. If you're in the 28 percent bracket, you save $336.
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