For almost as long as there have been income taxes, the government has allowed taxpayers to deduct charitable giving. Section 170 of the Internal Revenue Code, which created the charitable deduction, dates back to 1917 -- just four years after the income tax was passed in 1913. Today, the charity tax deduction allows you to write off much of what you give to an eligible charity as long as you follow the IRS's rules. You'll need to get receipts and keep records. The IRS also requires you to itemize your deductions.
Standard vs. Itemized
As has been the case for years, if you claim the flat standard deduction, you can't write off any of your charitable deductions in 2014. However, the standard deduction for 2014 is worth $6,200. This means that, unless you have $6,200 worth of charitable donations and other itemized deductions, you will still do better to claim the standard deduction.
IRS Documentation Requirements
Whatever you give, the IRS requires you to keep a record of your donation if you want to write it off -- even if you just give $20 to an organization exhibiting at the mall. When you give more than $250, you need to have a written receipt from the organization. It should list the amount of the donation, the date you gave the donation, and the name of the organization. If you don't have the written receipt, the IRS could refuse to count your deduction.
If you donate property instead of money, you will also need to be able to establish its value. Generally, you can write donations of property off based on their fair market value, so a used shirt would be worth what it would sell for at a thrift or consignment store rather than what you paid for it new. If you give more than $500 worth of items, you'll have to list them on Form 8283, as well as having to have a receipt. Donations of more than $5,000 worth of items have to have a professional appraisal to establish their value.
Regardless of the type of documentation you have, the IRS places a hard limit on how much charitable giving you can deduct relative to your income level. You cannot deduct more than 50 percent of your adjusted gross income per year. If you earn $30,000 and give $16,000 to charity, you can claim $15,000 in that year and may be able to carry the extra $1,000 over to the next year. Donations to certain organizations -- such as veterans groups and fraternal societies -- are capped at 30 percent of your adjusted gross income. Furthermore, if you are giving property that went up in value, you can only deduct 30 or 20 percent of your income instead of 50 or 30 percent.
- Brand X Pictures/Stockbyte/Getty Images