Charitable Giving

Maximize Your Giving and Minimize Your Taxes

The end of the year is quickly approaching, which may prompt a review of any final tax planning strategies to employ before December 31. The fall and winter holiday season also turns our minds to gratitude and giving. Perhaps surprisingly, these year-end considerations are not mutually exclusive.

To promote charitable giving, the IRS offers tax deductions for certain charitable donations. The most straightforward tax benefit is an itemized deduction of the amount of any cash donations to a qualifying charitable organization, up to 60% of the taxpayer’s Adjusted Gross Income for the year (with a five-year carryover allowed). If you itemize deductions, this is an easy deduction to claim and one you are probably already aware of.

But tax-aware charitable giving strategies don’t end there. For example, a special above-the-line deduction (for non-itemizers) was created just for 2020-21 for any taxpayer to deduct cash donations up to $300 for single filers or $600 for married filing jointly.

Let’s look at three additional options to maximize your giving while minimizing your taxes.

1. Qualified Charitable Distributions 

A qualified charitable distribution (QCD) is a direct transfer from your IRA (traditional, rollover, inherited, SEP, or SIMPLE) to a qualified charity. Several attractive benefits come with a QCD:

  • First, a QCD counts toward your annual required minimum distribution (RMD).
  • Second, the amount of a QCD is excluded from your taxable income. So, rather than taking a withdrawal from your IRA, having taxes withheld, and then writing a check to your favorite charity, consider making a direct transfer from your IRA to the charity. You can send the full amount to charity without having taxes withheld on the distribution.
  • Third, the tax-exemption of a QCD doesn’t require that you itemize your deductions. Normally, to get a tax deduction for charitable giving, you need to itemize your tax deductions rather than use the standard deduction. But a QCD is tax-exempt whether or not you itemize – allowing you to take the higher deduction (whether that is the standard or itemized) and get a tax benefit for your charitable contributions either way.

To be eligible for a QCD, you must be 70 ½ or older and SEP or SIMPLE IRAs must be inactive. QCDs are limited to $100,000 per year per person and may be further limited if you are still contributing to the IRA. To count toward the current year’s RMD, the funds must be transferred from the IRA by the RMD deadline (usually December 31). 

2. Donor-Advised Funds
A Donor-Advised Fund (DAF) is a fund you establish to set aside cash and other assets for charitable giving. You receive a tax deduction for the amount given to the fund in the year contributed, and the assets are available for you to donate to specific charitable organizations at any time. 

Donations of appreciated assets, such as stock or real estate, can be given to the DAF without paying capital gains taxes. Any further growth of assets in the DAF is not taxable to you since it is already irrevocably reserved for charitable gifts.

A DAF can be used in a “batching” strategy, where the tax-deductible contribution to the fund happens in one year and then donations to your chosen charities subsequently happen on whatever timeline you wish. You can fund a batch of charitable gifts in one single tax-deductible contribution. This is a great tax-mitigating tool for a particularly high-income year and a useful ongoing strategy to maximize the tax benefits of your charitable giving. 

3. Charitable Remainder Trusts

Charitable Remainder Trusts allow you to make partially tax-deductible contributions to the trust while achieving a two-fold goal: providing an income stream to yourself or another beneficiary and giving to a charitable organization.

There are two types of Charitable Remainder Trusts: a Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust (CRAT) and a Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT).

  • A CRAT distributes a fixed amount to the chosen beneficiary (yourself or someone else) each year. At the end of the trust term (no more than 20 years), the remainder of the trust goes to your chosen charitable organization(s). Additional contributions cannot be made once the CRAT is established.
  • A CRUT distributes a fixed percentage of the trust assets to the beneficiary, with the remainder going to your chosen charitable organization(s). Additional contributions can be made over the life of a CRUT.

The tax deduction of contributions to a Charitable Remainder Trust is based on the type of trust, the term of the trust, the projected income payments, and the IRS interest rate assumptions. You can combine a Charitable Remainder Trust with a Donor-Advised Fund to offer more flexibility. 

CARES Act Enhancements

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) added some additional tax incentives for charitable giving in tax years 2020 and 2021. The maximum allowed deduction for cash contributions increased to 100% of AGI, with a five-year carryover allowed. The deduction allowed for corporations increased to 25% of taxable income. As mentioned previously, a special above-the-line deduction (for non-itemizers) was also created for any taxpayer to deduct cash donations up to $300 for single filers or $600 for married filing jointly.

Family, corporate, and private non-operating foundations are excluded from these enhanced benefits, along with supporting organizations under Section 509(a)(3) and donor-advised funds. These enhancements only apply to cash contributions. Contributions of appreciated assets (like stock or real estate) are subject to the same prior limit of 30% of AGI.


Immediate action items we recommend:

  • If you gave to charity in 2021, make sure you take the special above-the-line deduction (up to $300 for single filers and $600 for married filing jointly).
  • If you are over age 70 ½ and donating to charity, talk with your advisor about making Qualified Charitable Deductions from your IRA.
  • If you had unusually high income this year and/or if you are consistently giving large amounts to charity, talk with your advisor about setting up a Donor-Advised Fund.

Charitable giving is a fulfilling practice and an important piece of many financial plans. Current tax law incentivizes charitable gifts, and thus, skilled tax planning can help you maximize what you can give. Talk to your advisor or tax professional to see if any of these charitable giving strategies could help you achieve your financial goals.

Kirsten C. Cadden, CFP®

Associate Advisor, Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

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