Charitable Giving

Charitable Giving, Part 4: Tax-Smart Ways to Give to Charity (Part 2)

Tax Efficient Giving Strategies

In my last article, I shared a few charitable giving strategies that can help you be your generous self while at the same time being tax smart. In part four of this four-part series, I continue that theme and offer some final thoughts on tax-efficient giving.

Qualified Charitable Distributions

A Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCD) allows IRA owners above age 70 ½ to transfer up to $100,000 directly to charity each year. One of the benefits of donating via a QCD is that you can give to your favorite charity while potentially reducing your taxable income.

In addition, a QCD can satisfy all or part of your required minimum distribution (RMD) once you reach RMD age. This benefit makes it an especially tax-efficient giving strategy for people who have other income sources and don’t necessarily need their RMD.  

Keep in mind that you must satisfy a few key rules for a QCD to be a non-taxable distribution.

Most importantly, the IRS considers the first dollars out of an IRA to be your RMD until you meet your annual requirement. To get the full tax benefit of a QCD, be sure to donate the funds directly from your IRA to charity before making any other withdrawals from your account.

In addition, your IRA custodian will require you to complete and sign a form that details your QCD intention. Then, the custodian will send a check to the charity of your choice.

In some cases, your custodian may allow you to write checks against your IRA. Just be aware that your checks must clear before year-end, so it pays to plan ahead.

Charitable Gift Annuities

A Charitable Gift Annuity is a tax-efficient giving strategy where an individual makes an irrevocable transfer of money or property to a charity. In return, the charity pays the individual a fixed income for the rest of their life or a specific term. The fixed payment amount is based on several factors, including the donor’s age, the donation amount, and current interest rates.

In addition, the donor receives a tax deduction for the initial donation and potential tax-free income from the annuity payments. When the donor dies, the charity retains the remaining assets for its mission.

Here are some things to keep in mind when donating to a Charitable Gift Annuity:

  • The gift is irrevocable.
  • Annuity payments are fixed and don’t adjust for inflation.
  • The annuity payments may be lower than a comparable annuity that is not charitable.

Charitable Remainder Trusts (CRTs)

A Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT) is a “split interest” giving vehicle that allow donors to contribute assets to a trust and receive a partial tax deduction. The trust’s assets are then divided between a non-charitable beneficiary (who receives a potential income stream for a term of years or life) and one or more charitable beneficiaries (who receive the remainder of the assets).

There are two types of CRTs: Charitable Remainder Annuity Trusts (CRATs) and Charitable Remainder Unitrusts (CRUTs). Each has its own distribution method.

CRTs have several benefits, including the preservation of highly appreciated assets, income tax deductions, and tax exemption on the trust’s investment income. In addition, you can donate a variety of assets to a CRT, including cash, securities, closely held stock, real estate, and other complex assets.

CRTs can also be established by will to provide for heirs with the remainder going to charities of the donor’s choosing.

Final Thoughts on Tax-Efficient Giving Strategies

Qualified Charitable Distributions, Charitable Gift Annuities, and Charitable Remainder Trusts are all potentially tax-efficient giving strategies that can help you achieve your philanthropic goals. Yet they are also complex and may not be right for everyone.

If you’re considering one of these strategies or are looking for more tax-smart giving ideas, be sure to consult an attorney, tax expert, and/or financial planner to determine which strategies make sense for you. In the meantime, please visit our Resources page for more information on this and other financial planning topics.

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Charitable Giving, Part 3: Tax-Smart Ways to Give to Charity (Part 1)

Tax-Smart Ways to Give to Charity

If you’ve read the first two articles in this blog series, perhaps you’ve put some thought into how much you want to give to charity each year and to whom. In the second half of this series, we’ll discuss tax-smart ways to give to charity. Tax laws can be dense, so bear with me as I explain the strategies as clearly as possible!

The first thing to know about charitable giving and taxes is that you must itemize on Schedule A of Form 1040 to deduct your charitable donations for the year.

Your total itemized deductions must exceed the standard deduction for you to reap the tax benefit of giving to charity. In 2023, the standard deduction is $13,850 for single filers and married couples filing separately, $27,700 for joint filers, and $20,800 for heads of household.

Fortunately, if you typically take the standard deduction and the amount you give to charity each year doesn’t push you over the threshold to itemize, there are strategies you can employ to maximize your tax savings.

To maximize your tax savings, consider the following tax-smart ways to give to charity:

#1: Bunching

Suppose you’re a non-itemizer but get close to the standard deduction because you max out the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction at $10,000. Then, you may want to consider a strategy referred to as “bunching.”

How Bunching Works

Bunching is a tax-smart way to give to charity where taxpayers combine or “bunch” their charitable donations into one tax year so they can itemize their deductions.  

Suppose a single taxpayer usually gives $3,000 to charity annually. Meanwhile, their other qualifying itemized deductions (such as state and local taxes, mortgage interest, and medical expenses) amount to $10,000 for a total of $13,000 in deductions.

Thus, it would make sense for this taxpayer to take the standard deduction of $13,850 and not itemize. But let’s say instead they give two years of their charitable budget, or $6,000, in one year.

In this case, they would itemize since their total deductions ($16,000) exceed the standard deduction. If this person is in the 24% tax bracket, their tax savings from charitable donations would be $516 for the year.

This strategy or something similar can be repeated over time, creating multi-year tax savings.

#2: Donor-Advised Funds as a Tax-Smart Way to Give to Charity

In the above example, we assumed the taxpayer wrote a total of $6,000 in checks and mailed them to their preferred charities in one year. Then, they skipped donating to charity in year two.

But there are other tax-smart ways to give to charity that can be even more financially advantageous than bunching and allow for giving each year. One example is to utilize a donor-advised fund (DAF).  

How DAFs Work

A DAF is a registered 501(c)(3) organization that can accept cash donations, appreciated securities, and other non-cash assets. Thus, if you hold highly appreciated securities in a taxable investment account, you may benefit greatly from donating to a DAF.

Here’s why. Suppose instead of writing checks for $6,000 to various charities, the same taxpayer in the example above transfers $12,000 worth of Apple (AAPL) stock with a cost basis of $35/share into a DAF. The stock is worth $160/share on the day of the donation.

The taxpayer can take a tax deduction of $12,000 (the current market value of the shares they donate) on that year’s tax return. They also avoid paying the capital gains taxes they would have incurred by selling the stock outright. This amounts to a savings of over $1,400 ($9,375 gain x 15% long-term capital gains tax rate).

Once they donate their shares to a DAF, the fund sponsor can sell the shares tax-free. The taxpayer can then invest the proceeds within the DAF and let the funds grow tax-free over time. In addition, they can designate which charities they want to receive grants from the DAF going forward.

Like bunching, donating to a DAF allows you to take a potentially large tax deduction in the year you make the donation. Yet unlike bunching, you don’t have to decide which charities to donate to right away. Instead, you can donate your $3,000 as planned each year from funds in your DAF.

Key Advantages of DAFs

  • Flexibility: Donors can recommend distributions to multiple charities over time without having to manage individual grants to each organization.
  • Tax benefits: Donors can claim an immediate tax deduction for the full amount of their donation, subject to certain limitations.
  • Investment management: DAFs typically offer a range of investment options and professional management services to help grow the value of the donations.
  • Privacy: Donors can choose to remain anonymous when making recommendations for grants, if desired.
  • Legacy: DAFs can provide a way for donors to involve their family in philanthropy and pass down charitable values and traditions to future generations.

Limitations of DAFs

Keep in mind that DAFs are not free. According to a 2021 study by National Philanthropic Trust, the average total fee for DAFs was 0.96% of assets per year. This fee includes administrative fees, investment management fees, and any other fees the DAF provider charges.

In addition, DAFs come with a number of rules, including minimum balance requirements, minimum grant requirements, deadlines, and grant approvals.

Many DAF providers require a minimum initial contribution ranging from $1,000 to as much as $25,000. Once you establish the fund, there’s typically a minimum balance requirement between $5,000 and $25,000. If you fail to meet these minimums, the provider may change additional fees or penalties.

In addition, some DAF providers may have minimum grant requirements ranging from $50 to $250 or more. And because most people actively grant at the end of the year, there may be deadlines for making grants to ensure timely processing.

Lastly, DAF providers must approve grants before disbursement to ensure the recipient is an eligible charitable organization and that the grant doesn’t violate IRS rules or regulations. However, disapproval of a grant is rare.

Despite these limitations, the potential benefits make DAFs a tax-smart way to give to charity worth considering in many cases.

Popular DAF Providers

While there are many donor-advised funds (DAFs) in the United States, the most popular providers tend to be large financial institutions and nonprofit organizations. Examples include:

  1. Fidelity Charitable: Fidelity Charitable is the largest DAF provider in the US, with over $35 billion in assets and more than 200,000 donor-advised funds.
  2. Schwab Charitable: Schwab Charitable is the second-largest DAF provider in the US, with over $20 billion in assets and more than 180,000 donor-advised funds.
  3. Vanguard Charitable: Vanguard Charitable is a DAF provider affiliated with the investment firm Vanguard, with over $14 billion in assets and more than 80,000 donor-advised funds.
  4. National Philanthropic Trust: National Philanthropic Trust is a nonprofit organization that offers DAFs and other philanthropic services, with over $8 billion in assets and more than 18,000 donor-advised funds.
  5. Silicon Valley Community Foundation: Silicon Valley Community Foundation is a community foundation that offers DAFs and other charitable services to donors in the Silicon Valley region and beyond, with over $13 billion in assets and more than 4,000 donor-advised funds.
  6. DonorsTrust: DonorsTrust is a nonprofit organization that offers DAFs and other philanthropic services to donors who prioritize limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise.

It’s worth noting that there are many other DAF providers in the US, and your choice of provider will depend on your specific philanthropic goals and financial situation. You must do your due diligence to understand the fees, rules, and requirements if you’re considering this tax-smart way to give to charity.

Next: Tax-Smart Ways to Give to Charity Part 2

Hopefully you now have a better understanding of why bunching and DAFs can be tax-smart ways to give to charity. In the final article of this blog series, I’ll share a few more giving strategies that can help you maximize your impact and tax savings.

In the meantime, please visit our Resources page for more information on this topic and beyond.

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Charitable Giving, Part 2: Which Charitable Organizations Should You Donate To?

Which Charitable Organizations to Donate To

This article is part two in a four-part blog series focused on charitable giving and will address the question: Which charitable organizations should you donate to?

Once you’ve decided how much money to give to charity each year, you can focus on the recipients. According to Giving USA Foundation, the types of charities that tend to receive the most donations are:

  • Religious organizations
  • Educational institutions
  • Human services such as food banks, disaster relief organizations, and homeless shelters
  • Health-related charities such as hospitals and medical research centers
  • Arts and culture charities such as museums, orchestras, or theatre groups

Many people tend to respond to end-of-year donation solicitations they receive by email or mail and give to the same organizations every year. But if you want to be more proactive about your giving, spend some time thinking about the issues or causes you care about and find the organizations that impact those issues or causes most.

Smaller organizations may have a greater need for your dollars than larger organizations. As such, you may want to take advantage of opportunities to give to local organizations, such as theatre or educational groups.

For example, I donate to a local organization called Foodwise, whose mission is “to grow thriving communities through the power and joy of local food.” Not only do I admire their mission, but I was also previously a board member and get a lot of pleasure from attending their events.

Another example is a client of mine who donates to a swim club she belongs to that’s organized as a 501(c)(3) organization. The swim club was renovating its clubhouse, so she donated dollars specifically to help get this project completed. Another client gives to a hiking club because she’s an avid hiker. 

A Word About 501(c)(3) Organizations When Deciding Which Charitable Organizations to Donate To

Suppose you’re eligible for tax deductions for charitable giving. (Ordinally, you must itemize deductions on Schedule A of your Federal Tax return to receive a tax benefit.) In that case, you should ensure that the organization you donate to is a 501(c)(3) organization.

A 501(c)(3) organization is a tax-exempt nonprofit in the U.S. that must operate exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, literary, or educational purposes. It addition, the organization must not engage in political or lobbying activities or provide private benefits to any individual or group.

It’s also important to note that if you contribute money through crowdfunding platforms such as GoFundMe, Kickstarter, or Indiegogo, these donations are typically not tax deductible. That’s because the individual fundraising campaigns aren’t tax-exempt organizations. 

Investigating the Charitable Organizations You Donate To

There are several ways to investigate charities to ensure they’re using your charitable donations properly.

One well known charity evaluation organization is Charity Navigator, which provides ratings and financial information on thousands of nonprofits and assigns a rating based on their performance.

Another is GuideStar, which allows you to search for nonprofits by location, mission, or types of work. 

How Many Organizations Should You Donate To?

Lastly, many clients ask me if it’s better to give a large amount of money to one organization or spread their donations among several organizations. I’ve found that this is a personal decision.

Some people care about so many things that they want to spread their money widely. Meanwhile, others prefer to have a more significant impact on just a couple of organizations.

One thing I know for sure: try and give at times other than just the end of the year. The charities will appreciate it, plus you won’t get that anxious feeling that you haven’t done enough on December 31. In addition, if you write checks or take advantage of Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCDs), you’re more likely to meet the deadline to get a tax deduction in the year you donate.

Next: Giving Strategically

The first half of this blog series has focused on how much to give and which organizations to donate to. In part three, we’re going to explore various ways to give strategically, so you can make more of an impact with your donations while enjoying the associated tax benefits.

In the meantime, please visit our resources page for additional details on this topic, and stay tuned for more.

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Charitable Giving, Part 1: How Much Should You Give to Charity?

How Much to Give to Charity

This article is the first in a four-part blog series focused on charitable giving and will address the question: How much should you give to charity?

There’s a great need for charitable donations from private sources these days, and with those donations, the world can be a better place. If you have a desire to donate money but aren’t sure how much, to whom, when, and how to benefit from applicable tax laws, this blog series is for you.

How Much to Give to Charity Each Year

As a financial planner, clients often ask me for my recommendation on how much they should donate to charities each year. Because I understand my clients’ financial situation thoroughly, this is not an unusual question. I can provide a suggestion based on their cash flow or tax situation.

But with something as personal and individual as charitable giving, I prefer they determine the amount themselves.

What I’ve found helpful in guiding clients is sharing statistics on how much others give to charity. And as it turns out, there’s a psychological explanation as to why this is helpful.

It’s called “informational social influence,” and it occurs when people do not know the correct (or best) action to take. Instead, they look to the behavior of others as an important source of information and act accordingly.

How Much Do Others Give to Charity?

Americans are charitable, donating hundreds of billions of dollars annually to needy organizations. Although there are significant differences in how much Americans give, higher-income households tend to give a higher proportion of their income to charity than lower-income households (unsurprisingly). However, demographic factors, such as age, education, race, and geography, also come into play.

According to data from Giving USA Foundation, the average individual donation among all income levels in 2020 was 2.5% of income. But individual households earning over $200,000 per year gave a more significant percentage—on average, 4.5%.

According to the same report, households in the Northeast and Upper Midwest gave, on average, 3% to 4% of their income to charity. Meanwhile, households on the West Coast gave approximately 1% to 2% of their income to charity.

Of course, these are averages, and the actual percentages of income people in these regions donate depend upon many factors.

How Tax Deductions Impact Charitable Giving

Once I become familiar with my clients’ charitable giving goals, I include the discussion of “how much” in my annual tax planning meetings.

Why? Because the tax code provides incentives for individuals to make charitable donations by allowing them to deduct these gifts from their taxable income. Indeed, if you’re charitably inclined, you may be able to meaningfully reduce your tax burden each year.

Of course, there are rules and guidelines as to who can deduct such donations and to what extent. I will expand on these nuances later in this blog series.

In the meantime, I hope you find this information useful in determining how much you’d like to give to charity each year. Please check out our other resources for additional details on this topic and stay tuned for more.

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Strategic Charitable Giving: How to Make an Impact with Your Donations While Minimizing Your Tax Bill

Strategic Charitable Giving

Americans are some of the most generous people in the world. In 2021, Americans gave over $484 billion to charity, according to Giving USA’s 2021 Annual Report. More impressive is that individuals represent 67% of total giving, giving nearly $327 billion in 2021.

There are many reasons to give to charity, from feeling good to creating a legacy. Yet charitable giving can also be important from a financial planning perspective.

In this article, I’m sharing three charitable giving strategies to help you minimize your year-end tax bill.

Charitable Giving and Your Taxes

First, let’s review how charitable giving impacts your taxes.

Currently, taxpayers who itemize deductions can give up to 60% of their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) to public charities, including donor-advised funds, and deduct the amount donated on that year’s tax return.

You can also deduct up to 30% of your AGI for donations of non-cash assets. In addition, you can carry over charitable contributions that exceed these limits in up to five subsequent tax years.

You need to know your marginal tax rate to calculate your potential tax savings. Your marginal tax rate is the amount of additional tax you pay for every additional dollar earned as income. So if your marginal tax rate is 28% and you itemize, you’ll save roughly 28 cents for every dollar you give to charity.

How to Make a Bigger Tax Impact With Your Giving

Yes, you can write checks to your favorite charities throughout the year, and while your donations may be generous, this approach to giving isn’t the most tax-efficient. Here are some ways to give that are:

#1: Donor-Advised Funds

One of the most efficient ways individuals can donate to charity is through a donor-advised fund (DAF). A DAF is a registered 501(c)(3) organization that can accept cash donations, appreciated securities, and other non-cash assets.

One of the advantages of a DAF is that you can take a taxable deduction in the year you contribute to it, even if you haven’t decided which charities to support. You can then invest and grow your funds tax-free within your DAF until you decide how to distribute them.

And, even better than donating cash, you can donate non-cash assets like highly appreciated stock to a DAF and avoid paying the capital gains tax. This strategy can also help you diversify your investment portfolio without triggering an unpleasant tax bill. Plus, you can take an immediate deduction for the full value of the donation (subject to IRS limits).

#2: Bunching Charitable Donations

Bunching your charitable donations can be beneficial if your total allowable itemized deductions are just under the standard deduction. In 2022, the standard deduction for single taxpayers is $12,950 and $25,900 for married couples.

Example:

Let’s say you give $3000 a year to charity, and it doesn’t get you over the standard deduction amount. However, you could go over the standard deduction if you “bunched” your charitable contributions into one year. For example, in 2022, if you gave $9000 instead of $3000 you could itemize deductions and save tax dollars. Then, you would skip donating in the next two years and go back to the standard deduction. Then, in the third year, you would donate $9000 again.

The result will be more significant tax savings over multiple-year timeframes.

#3: Qualified Charitable Contributions

If you’re age 72 or older and have a traditional IRA, the IRS requires you to take a minimum distribution (RMD) from your account each year. In most cases, RMDs are taxable at your ordinary income tax rate. There’s also a steep penalty for not taking your RMD before the deadline.

Meanwhile, if you have other sources of income like Social Security benefits and possibly a pension, your RMD can push you into a higher tax bracket. That means you may pay more taxes than you would otherwise, even if you don’t need the extra income.

The good news is you can donate your RMD by making a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD). A QCD allows IRA owners to transfer up to $100,000 directly to charity each year and avoid taxation on the amount.

A QCD can satisfy all or part of your RMD, depending on your income needs. You can also donate more than your RMD, so long as you stay below the $100,000 limit. This strategy can be helpful if you want to reduce your IRA balance and RMDs in future years.

It’s important to note that the IRS considers the first dollars from an IRA to be your RMD until you take the total amount. So, make your QCD before you take any other withdrawals from your account if you want to realize the full tax benefit of this charitable giving strategy.

A Trusted Financial Advisor Can Help You Incorporate Charitable Giving Strategies into Your Financial Plan

Of course, this is not a comprehensive list of charitable giving strategies that can help you make a bigger impact with your donations while lowering your tax bill. Other giving and tax planning strategies may be more appropriate depending on your circumstances and goals.

A trusted advisor like Curtis Financial Planning can help you incorporate giving strategies into your financial plan, so you don’t miss out on valuable tax benefits. Please start here to learn more about how we help our clients and the other services we provide.

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Emotionally Charged Money: Inheritance

Image: money from heaven

Image: money from heavenYou may be one of the many Baby Boomers or  Gen-Xers who have received an inheritance or will in the future. Studies predict that the wealth transfer from the “Greatest Generation” to their heirs will total in the trillions. If you are or will be a beneficiary, it pays to prepare yourself, as no money is more emotionally charged than inherited money.

There can be several reasons why emotional thinking can outweigh rational thoughts when it comes to inheritance. If you received it from your parents, you may recall how hard they worked for it. Your dad toiled at the office and your mom took care of the home and kids. You remember how they rarely relaxed or took a vacation, because they wanted to create a good life for you and not be a burden to you in their old age.  You may feel unworthy of their largesse.

Or, an inheritance can create a rift between you and your friends or family who aren’t as fortunate. You may feel guilty about your new change in financial status. You may also feel shame about how other people, in general, have so much less than you.

My clients who have received inheritances talk about feeling anxious, relieved, worried, happy, sad, guilty, and elated. These are natural reactions and to be expected. Problems arise when emotions dictate how you spend, invest, and save the funds.

Tips for Managing an Inheritance

Take a moment to absorb some of these ideas to prepare yourself and handle this potentially life-changing event:

  • Talk to a trusted professional about your feelings about the inheritance. Process them as much as possible before taking any action.
  • Make a list of things/experiences you want to buy and be careful not to overspend.
  • Create a plan for charitable giving and learn about giving vehicles such as donor-advised funds.
  • Carefully way out the pros and cons of lending family or friends money.
  • Develop a plan for investing the funds so as to earn a good return.
  • Do some financial planning. This windfall may be just what you needed to fund your retirement.
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A Little Year End Tax Planning with Your Holiday Punch

HD-200911-r-pomegranate-punchOr,  8 Year End Tax-Related Deadlines and Things to Think About

With the busyness of the holiday season, it’s easy to forget about things like tax planning. After all, we’d rather focus on having fun with our friends and family! However, there isn’t much you can do to improve your tax situation after December 31st for 2015, so now is the time to do a little planning so as not to miss out on tax-saving or retirement saving opportunities and avoid penalties. (After all, the IRS has ways of knowing who has been naughty!).

1. Roth IRA Conversions: There were income limitations on converting regular IRA’s to Roth IRA’s, but no longer, now anyone can convert IRA’s to Roth’s as long as they are able and willing to pay the tax on the conversion. Why would you want to do this? Because converting to a Roth IRA will guarantee you will owe no income tax on the funds if withdrawn during retirement because you pay the tax now. For example, if your income dropped in 2015 due to a job change, you might consider converting some of your IRA to a Roth because you will be in a lower tax bracket and pay less taxes than you might in future years. The deadline for conversions is December 31, 2015, but you will want to do this by at least December 22nd to make sure the paperwork gets processed with your custodian.

2. Establishing a New Qualified Retirement Plan:  If you are self-employed and want to establish a qualified plan such as a 401(k), money purchase, profit-sharing or defined benefit plan, it must be set up by December 31st. Many people confuse this deadline with the SEP IRA deadline that can go into the next year, including extensions.

3. Max Out Qualified Plan contributions. If you contribute to a 401(k) or 403(b) at work and have not contributed the maximum and are able to, talk to your payroll department to increase your contribution before December 31st. For those under 50, the maximum contribution is $18,000 and for those over 50, the maximum contribution is $24,000. At the very least, try to contribute up to any employer match.

4. Take RMD’s (Required Minimum Distributions) on retirement accounts if you have reached age 70 ½. The minimum distribution rules apply to traditional IRA’s, SEP IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs, 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, 457(b) plans, profit sharing plans and other defined contribution plans. If you don’t take the distributions or don’t take enough out, you may have to pay a 50% excise tax on the amount not distributed as required.

5. Take MRD’s From Inherited IRAs. If you have inherited an IRA from someone other than a spouse, you must take minimum required distributions beginning in the year after the year of death of the original owner and by December 31st of that year. To calculate the MRD, the IRS has a Single Life Expectancy table and each year you would subtract one year from the initial life expectancy factor. Fortunately, there are on-line calculators to help you do this!

6. Review Your Charitable Contributions. If you itemize deductions and are charitably minded, you will want to donate what you plan to before December 31st . You may deduct an amount up to 50% of your adjusted gross income, but 20% and 30% limitations apply in some cases. Good to know: donations made by check are considered delivered on the day you mailed it.

7. Donate Highly Appreciated Assets To Charity. Any long-term appreciated securities, such as stocks, bonds or mutual funds may be donated to a public charity and a tax deduction taken for the full fair market value of the securities up to 30% of the donor’s adjusted gross income. In addition to the tax deduction, the donor avoids any capital gains taxes. Probably the easiest way to do this is to set up a donor-advised fund –it’s like a charitable savings account: a donor contributes to the fund as frequently as they like and then recommends grants to their favorite charity when they’re ready.

8. Do Some Tax-Loss Harvesting. This is the practice of selling a security that has experienced a loss. By selling the security and taking the loss, an investor can offset taxes on capital gains or up to $3000 on ordinary income. The sold security can be replaced by a similar one, maintaining the optimal asset allocation and expected returns. When doing this, watch out for the wash-sale rule: your loss is disallowed if, within the period beginning 30 days before the date of the loss sale and ending 30 days after that date, you acquire a substantially identical security.

And, don’t forget to take a sip of that punch!

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Short List for your Finances 2014

listThere are many actions you can take to improve your finances, and that’s sometimes the problem. I have compiled a short list of ideas that can make a real difference in your financial health. Copy and paste this short list into Evernote or other list-making software or  print it out and tape it to your fridge. Then check off the items as you complete them and celebrate with your favorite indulgence – mine would be a piece of high-quality chocolate or a glass of Pinot Noir!

1. Write Down Your Financial Goals. We all know that writing things down makes them more real. Just having ideas floating  around in our heads  doesn’t cut it. Quantified goals are more likely to be achieved, so be as specific as possible as to deadlines and numbers.  For example, “I want to increase my net income by 20% in 2014 through a combination of decreasing expenses and adding new clients,”or “I want to reduce my spending on dining out from $500 to $300 per month.”  Next, you can make a plan to tackle your specific goals.

2. Make a Plan to Tackle Your Goals.
 Big goals can seem less daunting if you break them down into action steps. Take your list of goals and write down a simple plan of action for each. For example, taking the first goal above, an action item could be to review all business expenses from 2013 and determine whether they are 1. necessary 2. you could find a cheaper alternative, or 3. you could get away with spending less. Make a commitment to tackle the action steps by scheduling them into your calendar. 

3. Review Your Retirement Saving Strategy.  Most of us are saving on a regular basis to a retirement plan through our employer or through a self-employed retirement plan, but not all of us are saving as much as we could. Review your current payroll deductions into your 401(k) or your IRA contributions and see if you can increase the contribution amount to this year’s limits. Time is as important as the amount of money you save – it pays to start earlier than later.

If you are contributing to a Roth IRA, congratulations! – you have taken advantage of an excellent retirement savings vehicle. If you follow all the rules, you will only pay tax on the money invested once – before you contribute to the Roth. After that, your contribution and earnings can grow tax free for years.

4. Call your Insurance Agent. If you have been paying your insurance premiums for auto, home, and liability coverage on automatic, take the time to call your insurance agent or shop your insurance to feel confident you’re getting the best deal and your coverage is adequate for your current life situation. You might be surprised to find out that you have been overpaying or are underinsured.

5. Make a Charitable Giving Plan. Giving to needy or inspiring causes is a wonderful thing – the act of giving uplifts us and benefits the recipient. It  can also have excellent tax advantages, so it pays to know the different ways to give. For example, a great way to donate to a charity is to use a Donor Advised Fund (DAF). DAF’s can be funded using appreciated securities rather than cash, the securities are then sold within the fund to avoid the capital gains tax. The tax deduction is taken in the year when the account is funded avoiding ongoing record-keeping.

6. Understand Your Parent’s Finances. As uncomfortable as it may seem, it’s really important to talk to your parents about their financial planning so you know where they stand financially now and when they die. Questions to get answers to:  Do they have a plan to pay for possible long term care expenses? Have they created wills and trusts so that their estate is distributed with the least amount of costs and hassle? Do they have Durable Powers of Attorney set up for healthcare and finances? Knowing the answers to these questions before your parents grow too old will reduce stress later and possibly save dollars.

I’ll stop now and give you a chance to get started on your short list! If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, please let me know by commenting, tweeting it, or posting it on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Pinterest and I will plan to write similar posts in the future.

 

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