Giving to charity can help lower your tax bill. But as it does with most deductions, the Internal Revenue Service has record-keeping requirements for deducting your charitable contributions. You always need to have evidence of your charitable donation to claim a deduction, but that evidence doesn't always have to be a receipt from the receiving organization.
If you make a cash donation, which includes donations made by check or credit card, you can get by with using a canceled check, bank statement or credit card statement if your donation is less than $250. To count, the statement has to show the name of the charity, the date of the contribution and the amount you contributed. Of course, a receipt from the charity works as well. Any donations over $250 require a receipt.
When figuring whether your donation exceeds the $250 threshold, count each donation separately, even if you made multiple donations to the same organization. For example, say you make a monthly donation to your favorite charity of $100. Even though your total for the year is well over $250, you can verify each one with just a canceled check or credit card statement because no single donation exceeds the threshold. On the other hand, if you also made a $500 donation at the end of the year, you need a receipt for that donation.
If you donate property, you almost always need a receipt from the charity. But there is one exception: donations of property worth less than $250 when it's impractical to get a receipt. For example, if there's a food drive with an unattended box in which to put donations, you can use your own records to substantiate your deduction. Otherwise, you need a receipt from the charity to deduct your donation.
In some cases, you need to get property you're donating professionally appraised before you can deduct it. For example, most donations of property worth more than $5,000 require an appraisal. There are exceptions that let you write off certain donations without an appraisal. These include publicly traded securities such as stocks; private stock worth $10,000 or less; and vehicle donations when the deduction is based on the amount for which the charity sold the car.
Based in the Kansas City area, Mike specializes in personal finance and business topics. He has been writing since 2009 and has been published by "Quicken," "TurboTax," and "The Motley Fool."