Estate Planning

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 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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7 End-of-Year Tax Planning Tips for 2022

End of Year Tax Planning Tips for 2022

With the end of the year fast approaching, Tax Season may be the last thing on your mind. Yet in many ways, the final months of 2022 may be your last chance to reduce this year’s tax liability. To avoid overpaying Uncle Sam and preserve more of your hard-earned income, consider the following end-of-year tax planning tips for 2022.

To minimize your tax liability, consider these end-of-year tax planning tips for 2022:

Tip #1: Identify Changes to Your Tax Situation

In 2022, the standard deduction is $12,950 for single filers and $25,900 for married taxpayers filing jointly. The standard rule of thumb is if you can deduct more than the standard deduction amount in eligible expenses from your taxable income, you should itemize. Otherwise, it’s generally easier and more valuable to take the standard deduction. 

If your income and circumstances have been relatively stable since last year, you likely know already if you plan to itemize or take the standard deduction this year. However, if you’re on the fence, there are end-of-year tax planning strategies you can utilize to reduce your taxable burden.

For instance, consider pre-paying certain deductible expenses—for example, charitable donations or out-of-pocket medical expenses—this year so that itemizing makes more sense.

Let’s say you plan to donate $5,000 to charity each year for the next several years. If you have extra cash on hand this year, you may want to consider donating $10,000 or more to your charity of choice so you can itemize your deductible expenses. Then, next year, you can skip your regular donation and take the standard deduction.

The same is true for out-of-pocket medical expenses. If you know you have certain expenses looming for 2023, you can pay them this year to make the most of the associated tax benefit.

Tip #2: Harvest Capital Losses

Capital gains taxes can eat away at your investment returns over time—specifically in non-qualified investment accounts. Fortunately, the IRS allows investors to offset realized capital gains with realized losses from other investments.

That means you can realize profits on your top-performing investments while selling poor performers to reduce this year’s tax bill. If you have substantial losses, you may be able to completely offset your gains and potentially reduce your taxable income. And in years like 2022 when markets have struggled, you may have more losses than you think.

Keep in mind if you work with a financial advisor, you may not need to initiate this strategy on your own. Most fiduciary financial planners proactively take advantage of tax-loss harvesting to help clients with end-of-year tax planning.

Tip #3: Review Your Charitable Giving Plan

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 this 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.

When it comes to end-of-year tax planning, donor-advised funds (DAFs) can provide opportunities to meaningfully reduce your tax liability relative to other giving strategies. For example, if you plan to donate $10,000 each year to your favorite charitable organization, it may be more beneficial to take the standard deduction when you file your taxes.

On the other hand, you can front-load a donation of $50,000 to a donor-advised fund and request that the DAF distribute funds to your chosen charity each year for five years. In year one, you can receive a more favorable tax break by itemizing on your tax return. Meanwhile, you’ll still be meeting your charitable goals each year via the DAF. This strategy can be particularly beneficial in above-average income years.

And better yet, 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).

Tip #4: Look for Opportunities to Reduce Income

Maxing out your qualified investment account contributions is indeed important for meeting your future financial goals like retirement. However, this can also be a valuable end-of-year tax planning strategy.  

First, be sure to check the contribution limits on your employer-sponsored or self-employed retirement plans for 2022. You can also contribute up to $6,000 to an individual retirement account in 2022 (or $7,000 if you’re age 50 or over).  

In addition, individuals with qualifying high deductible health plans are eligible to contribute to a health savings account (HSA). An HSA can be a great way to save and grow your money on a tax-advantaged basis.

In fact, these accounts offer triple tax savings. Contributions, capital gains, and withdrawals are all tax-free if you use your funds for eligible healthcare expenses. And like qualified retirement accounts, you can deduct your contributions from your taxable income in most cases to reduce your overall tax liability.

Meanwhile, depending on your compensation plan, you may want to consider deferring part of your income to reduce your taxable income in 2022.

Employees with deferred compensation agreements typically pay taxes on the money when they receive it—not as they earn it. That means if your employer pays you a lump sum per your distribution agreement, you could potentially get hit with a hefty tax bill.

There are different ways to structure income from a deferred compensation plan. Your options typically depend on your agreement with your employer. The distribution schedule can usually be found in your plan documents. So, if you haven’t reviewed your plan details recently, you may want to revisit them during end-of-year tax planning to avoid any surprises.

Tip #5: Take Advantage of Lower Income Years and/or Down Markets with a Roth Conversion

The IRS allows individuals to convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA via a Roth conversion. A Roth IRA conversion shifts your tax liability to the present. As a result, you avoid paying taxes on withdrawals in the future. In addition, Roth IRAs don’t require minimum distributions.

With a Roth conversion, you pay taxes on the amount you convert at your current ordinary income tax rate. That’s why it can be a particularly powerful end-of-year tax planning strategy in tax years when your income is below average.

At the same time, a down market can be an opportune time to take advantage of a Roth conversion. Since account values typically decline in a negative market environment, so does the amount on which you pay taxes when converting to a Roth. Meanwhile, there’s greater potential for future appreciation and withdrawals that tax-free.

After you convert your traditional IRA to a Roth, any withdrawals you make in retirement will be tax-free. However, you must be over age 59 ½ and satisfy the five-year rule. And since Roth IRAs don’t have RMDs, you can leave your funds to grow tax-free until you need them.

While Roth conversions can be beneficial for many, they don’t make sense for everyone. Be sure to consult with a trusted financial advisor or tax expert before leveraging this strategy.

Tip #6: Strategically Transfer Wealth

If you expect to leave significant wealth to your heirs, proper estate planning is key. Fortunately, there are end-of-year tax planning strategies you can leverage to help minimize your estate’s potential tax burden.  

In many cases, gifting is one of the simplest ways to efficiently transfer wealth while reducing your estate. Each year, the annual gift-tax exclusion allows you to gift a certain amount (up to $16,000 in 2022) to as many people as you like without incurring the federal gift tax. Moreover, spouses can combine the annual exclusion to double the amount they can gift tax-free.  

Indeed, cash gifts are most common. However, you can also use the annual exclusion to transfer personal property or contribute to a 529 college savings plan. Alternatively, the IRS allows you to pay educational and medical expenses on behalf of someone else without incurring federal taxes. However, you must pay the institution directly.   

Trusts can also help you transfer wealth strategically while reducing your family’s taxable burden. However, trusts are varied and complex. It’s important to consult your financial planner or estate planning attorney to determine if a trust may be an appropriate end-of-year tax planning strategy.

Tip #7: Donate Your Required Minimum Distribution (RMD)

To keep people from using retirement accounts to avoid paying taxes, the IRS requires individuals to begin taking minimum distributions from certain qualified accounts once they reach a certain age. As of 2020, required minimum distributions (RMDs) kick in at age 72.

You can withdraw more than your RMD amount in any given year—but be prepared for the potential tax consequences. On the other hand, the IRS imposes a penalty of up to 50% if you fail to take your full RMD before the deadline.

Both scenarios can be costly. Fortunately, careful end-of-year tax planning can help you manage your RMDs to avoid high taxes and other penalties.

For example, if you don’t need the extra income, you can donate your RMD to charity. This is a tax planning strategy called a qualified charitable distribution (QCD). A QCD allows IRA owners to transfer up to $100,000 directly to charity each year.

QCDs can satisfy all or part of your RMD each year, depending on your income needs. You can also donate more than your RMD amount up to the $100,000 limit. And since QCDs are non-taxable, they don’t increase your taxable income like RMDs do.

It’s important to note that the IRS considers the first dollars out of an IRA to be your RMD until you meet your requirement. If you take advantage of this tax planning strategy, be sure to make the QCD before making any other withdrawals from your account.

For More End-of-Year Tax Planning Tips, Consult a Trusted Financial Advisor

This isn’t an exhaustive list of end-of-year tax planning strategies. However, these tips can help you determine if there are opportunities to reduce your taxable burden in 2022.  At the same time, a trusted financial advisor or tax expert can help you identify which strategies are right for you within the context of your overall financial plan.

To learn more about how Curtis Financial Planning helps our clients take control of their finances, please explore our services and client onboarding process.

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Estate Planning Documents Every Single Woman Needs

Estate planning documents for single women

Estate planning is an essential part of anyone’s financial plan. I’ll explain in this article why it’s critical for single women.

If you don’t have a proper plan in place, your state’s laws will dictate who receives the assets under your estate. State laws usually designate beneficiaries in this order: spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins. If you have children and die without a will, the state will decide who the guardian will be. This is all true even if you’re in a relationship without being legally married. 

Suppose you’re hoping to designate your possessions to a significant other, extended relatives, close friends, or charitable organizations. In that case, it’s critical to put together an estate plan. And more importantly, to appoint a person for your children’s guardianship, creating a will is a crucial step. Thankfully, this is easier than it sounds. The following is a list of primary estate planning documents and their purpose: 

Will or living revocable trust

Although these titles are often used interchangeably, wills and living trusts are two different documents. The most significant difference: both transfer an estate to designated heirs, but only trusts skip over the probate court. Plus, a will lays out your wishes for after you die while a living revocable trust becomes effective immediately and can be revised anytime while you are living. 

Suppose you are a woman with significant assets. In that case, a revocable living trust will keep your assets away from court-supervised distribution. If you have a more modest estate, a will may suffice.

A living revocable trust also helps your beneficiaries avoid the hassle and expense of a lengthy probate process. Living revocable trusts have benefits, but they cost more to create and require management. The choice between a will and a living trust is a personal one. Whichever path you take, it’s always a good idea to seek the advice of professional advisors. 

Healthcare proxy/durable medical power of attorney

As the name suggests, this type of power of attorney deals strictly with your health care decisions and medical treatments. With your healthcare proxy document, you’ll appoint an agent to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you’re incapable of making them on your own. This is an important responsibility, and it’s essential to choose someone you trust and be transparent with them on the specifics of your wishes. 

The financial power of attorney

While the medical power of attorney or healthcare proxy deals with health specifics, the financial power of attorney deals with financial matters. Your financial power of attorney document grants another individual the power to make financial decisions for you while you are alive but not capable of handling things yourself.

Your power of attorney is your legal representative for financial matters. Should you be hospitalized or incapacitated, they’ll handle financial tasks, like managing your bank accounts and paying your bills from a designated account. You can choose to designate a power of attorney that is effective immediately or kicks in after a specific event occurs (ex. coma, Alzheimer’s, mental disability, or an inability to communicate your wishes directly). 

The Challenge Of Naming Representatives

It is one thing to get the will, living trust, financial and healthcare powers of attorney created. The other challenge is to decide who will be your legal representatives. Married couples usually name each other, but being single, you need to decide who will handle your affairs and find out if they are willing to do it. If you have a will, you will need an executor, and if you have a living trust, you will need a successor trustee. Then you will need to choose your powers of attorney for health and finances. Most people choose from personal relationships, but it’s also possible to hire professionals for these roles. As you are preparing to start your estate planning, besides organizing your financial assets, it’s just as important to decide who will represent you.

If you’re a single woman and want to talk about your estate plan with a trusted financial planner, please connect with us. We are here to help.

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