For anyone who is looking at their charitable giving in 2021, there are some important things to know. In 2020 as the Coronavirus started, the government recognized the terrible impact the pandemic would have on charities. As a result, the CARES Act included several new tax benefits to encourage charitable giving in 2020.
- If you made a cash donation in 2020, you could deduct $300 from your tax return. This was “above the line”, which means you did not have to itemize your deductions to take this $300 deduction. (If your itemized deductions exceed your standard deduction, you could deduct more than the $300.)
- Normally, your cash donations are limited to 60% of your Adjusted Gross Income. The CARES Act increased this to 100% for 2020. (Excess donations could be carried forward for 5 years.) This means that if your income was $400,000, you could donate $400,000 and reduce your AGI to zero.
CARES Act Provisions Extended
Both of those benefits were only for 2020. But as Milton Friedman said, “there is nothing as permanent as a temporary government program.” So, the government has extended these two benefits under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021.
For 2021, you can still deduct $300 for cash donations as an above the line deduction. Unlike 2020, this is per spouse, so a married couple filing jointly can deduct $600 in 2021. And the 100% of AGI limit is also extended through December 31, 2021. Note that these apply only to “cash” donations and not to donations of stocks or goods. The limit for donating stocks remains 30% of AGI.
I do have to question whether you really would want to deduct 100% of AGI and take your taxable income to zero for one year. Let’s say you have $400,000 in annual taxable income, want to donate $400,000, and are married. Consider these two simplified scenarios. I’m using the 2021 tax rates for both years (we don’t know yet the exact income levels for 2022.)
- You donate $400,000 in year one. Your taxes are zero. The next year, your income is back to $400,000. In year 2, you would owe $84,042 in Federal Income Taxes.
- You donate $200,000 in years one and two. In both years, your remaining taxable income is $200,000. You would owe $36,042 in each year, for a total of $72,084 over two years. So, you actually would save $12,000 in taxes by spreading out your donations over two years, rather than doing 100% in one year. That’s because with a graduated tax system, taking your taxes to zero isn’t necessary. You pay only 12% on taxes up to $81,050.
Charitable Strategies for 2021
- If you do want to make a large donation, consider pairing it with a Roth Conversion. The donation could take your AGI to zero, and then you can choose how much of your IRA/401(k) you want to convert and pay those taxes today. Then, your Roth is growing tax-free.
- For many individuals or couples, the $300/$600 donation fully covers their charitable giving in 2021. Make sure you keep your receipts and donation letters! Most donors do not have enough deductions to itemize.
- You can still donate your appreciated securities and save on capital gains tax. Do this if your donations will remain under the 30% of AGI threshold. Even if you are only taking the standard deduction, at least you will avoid capital gains. If you itemize and exceed the 30% threshold, you can carry forward your donations for five years.
- Pack your donations into one year and establish a Donor Advised Fund (DAF). You get the upfront tax deduction and can then distribute money to charities in the years ahead. This is a good strategy if you are having a year with very high income, such as from selling a business or large asset.
- If, on the other hand, you anticipate that your tax rate will be going up, spread out your donations or hold off to future years. This could be due to your income going up, tax increases from Washington on the wealthy, or the sunset of current tax rates after 2025.
- If you are over age 70 1/2, you can give from your IRA tax-free. If you are 72, this counts towards your RMD. While the CARES Act eliminated RMDs for 2020, they are back for 2021. You can make a Qualified Charitable Donation (QCD) of up to $100,000 a year from your IRA.
Tax Smart Giving
No one gives to charity just for the tax benefits. We have causes and organizations we want to support. Giving back is a way of showing gratitude for our success, helping others, and being a positive contributor to making the world a better place. When we have an Abundance mindset, giving with purpose is a joy. Still, if we can be smart about our charitable giving in 2021, there can be significant tax savings. That could mean not only lower taxes for you, but ultimately, more money can go to charities in the years ahead.
Since our founding in 2014, Good Life Wealth Management has donated 10% of profits to charity each year. Additionally, we offer a Matching Gift Program to our clients each fall, in which we match $200 of donations to their favorite charity.