Giving Strategies, Now and Later

If you have a significant estate and are thinking about how to give money to charity or individual beneficiaries, you might want to consider if it would be possible to make some of those gifts during your lifetime. Today, we are going to look at the tax benefits or implications of different large gift strategies.

A gift to charity from your estate will reduce your your taxable estate. However, with the estate tax threshold presently at $11.4 million per person, most people will never pay any estate taxes. This was not the case 15 years ago when the estate tax threshold was just $1.5 million. For married couples, the threshold is doubled to $22.8 million. So if your past estate plan was based on estate tax avoidance, it may be time to update your plans and revisit your charitable strategies.

Charitable donations remain eligible as an itemized deduction, although many tax payers will not have enough deductions to exceed the 2019 $12,200 standard deduction ($24,400 married). However, if you are contemplating a large charitable donation, you can deduct up to 60% of your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) when making a cash donation to a public charity. (This was increased from 50% under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.) If making a donation of non-cash property, such as appreciated shares of stock, the limit is 30% of AGI. In both cases, you can carry forward any excess donation for five years.

Here are seven principles for giving to charities and to individuals, such as your children or grandchildren:

1. If you have stocks or funds with a large gain, you can give those shares to charity, get the full tax deduction and avoid capital gains tax. The charity will not pay any taxes on the shares they receive and sell.

2. If you leave an IRA to a charity, that is name a charity as a beneficiary of your IRA rather than a person, they will pay no tax on receiving your IRA.

3. For individual beneficiaries of your estate, they will have to pay income tax on inheriting your IRA. Presently, there is a Bill which has passed the House which will eliminate the Stretch IRA. However, beneficiaries will receive a step-up in cost basis on inherited taxable accounts. The most tax efficient split is to leave your Traditional IRA to charity and your taxable assets and Roth IRAs, to your heirs. Then neither will pay income taxes on the assets they receive.

Read More: 7 Strategies If the Stretch IRA is Eliminated

4. If you are over age 70 1/2, you can make up to $100,000 a year in gifts from your IRA as Qualified Charitable Distributions, which count towards your RMD. You do not have to itemize to use the QCD.

 Read More: Qualified Charitable Distributions From Your IRA

5. You can give $15,000 a year to any individual; this is called the annual gift tax exclusion. A couple could give $30,000 to an individual. This includes your adult children. Additionally, you can directly pay medical or educational expenses for any individual without this limit. 

Where many people are confused: exceeding the gift tax exclusion does not automatically require you to pay a gift tax. It simply requires filing a gift tax return, which will reduce your lifetime Gift/Estate tax limit, which again is $11.4 million per person (2019). For example, if you give someone $17,000 this year, the $2,000 over the $15,000 limit will be subtracted from your $11.4 million estate tax exemption when you die.

6. If you want to create college funds for your grandchildren or other relatives, you can fund up to five years upfront into a 529 Plan without exceeding the gift tax exemption. That is $75,000 per beneficiary, or up to $150,000 if coming from both Grandma and Grandpa. You can retain control of the funds, even change the beneficiary if desired, and the money grows tax-free for qualified higher education expenses. 

Read More: 8 Questions Grandparents Ask About 529 Plans

7. You can make a large donation to a Donor Advised Fund to receive an upfront tax deduction and then make small donations in the years ahead. For example, it would be more tax efficient to make a $100,000 donation into a DAF and make $10,000 a year in charitable distributions for 10 years from the DAF, than to make regular $10,000 donations each year for 10 years. 

Read More: Charitable Giving Under The New Tax Law

Even if you know all of this information, I think many potential donors are still looking for more flexibility in their giving plans. What if you need money later? How much should you keep for your own expenses and needs? Creating a comprehensive retirement analysis is an essential first step, and then we can help you consider other more advanced giving strategies.

There are many ways of structuring charitable trusts which can split assets and income between the creator of the trust, a charity, and/or beneficiaries. Generally, the donor is able to receive an upfront tax deduction for the present value of a gift, based on their expected lifetime or duration of the trust. The present value is calculated using your age and a specific discount rate, known as the Section 7520 rate, which is published monthly by the IRS. It is based on intermediate treasury bonds and is currently 2.2% for trusts created in September 2019. This rate is down from 3.4% from last August. 

With a very low interest rate being used for the discount rate today, it is quite unappealing to establish a Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT). The low rate means that the tax deduction is very small compared to trusts that were established when the rate was higher. That’s unfortunate, because a CRT is an ideal structure: the creator receives income from the trust for life (or a set period of years) and then the remainder is donated to the charity when you pass away (or at the end of the term). 

A more effective structure for a low interest rate environment is a Charitable Lead Trust (CLT). In this type of trust, a charity receives income for a period of years (say 10 years) and then any remaining principal is distributed to your beneficiaries, free from gift or estate taxes. This might hold some appeal for tax payers who would be subject to the estate tax and who do not need or want income from some portion of their assets. But it doesn’t offer much appeal to donors who want income or flexibility from their trusts. 

If you are thinking about charitable giving or where your money might eventually go, let’s talk about which strategies might make the most sense for you. 

Charitable Giving Under The New Tax Law

Starting in 2018, it is going to be much more difficult to deduct your Charitable Donations. That’s because the standard deduction will rise from $6,350 (single) and $12,700 (married) in 2017 to $12,000 and $24,000 in 2018. You will need to exceed this much higher threshold to deduct your charitable gifts.

It will be even more difficult to reach those levels because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) is also capping your state and local taxes (property, income, and sales) to $10,000. And they completely eliminated your ability to deduct “miscellaneous” expenses including unreimbursed employee expenses, home office expenses, tax preparation, and investment advisory fees.

Let’s take a look at a hypothetical scenario for a married couple:

In 2017, a typical year, let’s say you have $12,000 in local taxes, $4,000 in mortgage interest, $10,000 in charitable donations, $5,000 in unreimbursed employee expenses, and $6,000 in investment and tax preparation fees. (Let’s assume these miscellaneous amounts are the amounts above the 2% of AGI threshold.) Your total itemized tax deduction would be $37,000 for 2017. That’s well above the standard deduction of $12,700.

In 2018, you spend exactly the same amounts. However, under the TCJA, your local tax deduction is capped at $10,000. You keep the mortgage interest deduction of $4,000 and the $10,000 in charitable donations. The $5,000 in unreimbursed employee expenses and the $6,000 in investment and tax preparation fees are both disregarded. Your new tax deduction would be $24,000.

$24,000 is also the amount of the standard deduction for a married couple, so you are in effect getting no tax benefit for any of your spending, relative to someone who had ZERO local taxes, mortgage interest, or charitable donations. That doesn’t sound like a very good deal to me. The IRS expects that the number of taxpayers who itemize will fall from around 33% to 10%.

That poses a problem for charitable giving, because many people will in effect no longer be able to get any tax benefit at all. For people who do regularly give, it’s discouraging. Nonprofit organizations worry that this might reduce how much people are able to give.

We can help you potentially get more of a tax deduction if you can plan ahead for your charitable giving. Here’s how: by using a Donor Advised Fund (DAF). A DAF is a non-profit entity which will hold an account for you, to give grants to charities of your choosing when you instruct them. When you make a deposit into a DAF, you receive a tax deduction that year, even if the funds are not distributed until later years.

Let’s go back to our original scenario and imagine that you plan to give $10,000 a year to charity for the next five years.

Original scenario: You have $24,000 in total deductions each year, same as the standard deduction. Total over 5 years: $120,000, same as every other married couple.

Scenario Two, with a DAF: In year one, you make a $50,000 donation to the Donor Advised Fund and then give out $10,000 a year to your charities as planned. Your total itemized deduction in year one is $64,000. In the following years, you only have $14,000 in itemized deductions, so elect to take the standard deduction of $24,000 (years 2-5). Total over 5 years: $160,000. That’s $40,000 more than the first scenario, even though you still donated the same $10,000 a year to charity. If you are in the 33% tax bracket, you’d save $13,200 in taxes by establishing a DAF in this example.

With a DAF, your gift is irrevocable, however, you can change which charities receive the money and when. Or you can leave the money in the account to invest and grow for later. If you pass away, the DAF is excluded from your taxable estate, and you designate successors such as your spouse or children, who can decide on when and how to distribute money to charities.

If you risk losing your ability to deduct your charitable donations under the TCJA, let’s talk more about the Donor Advised Fund and how it might work in your situation. You can also gift appreciated securities, such as stock or mutual funds, to the DAF and not have to pay capital gains tax on those assets when you fund the DAF. That can give you a double tax benefit.

As your Financial Advisor, I can help you establish a Donor Advised Fund that will be held at our custodian, TD Ameritrade, using the Renaissance Charitable Foundation. This means your account will still be held with your other accounts and professionally managed to your objectives. While a DAF is clearly more cost effective than establishing a Private Foundation with under $1 million in assets, even many ultra-wealthy families find that a DAF can accomplish their philanthropic goals with less expense, compliance headaches, and time commitment.

One other option to get a tax benefit on your charitable donations: If you are over age 70 1/2, you can make a charitable donation directly from your IRA in place of your Required Minimum Distribution. See my previous article on the Qualified Charitable Distribution. The QCD reduces your above-the-line income, so you do not have to itemize to receive a tax benefit for your donation.

Charitable giving is near and dear to our hearts at Good Life Wealth Management. We donate 10% of our gross profits annually to charity and will continue to do so as we grow. Charitable giving is never just about the tax deduction, of course. But if we can stretch those dollars further, we have an opportunity to make an even bigger impact with the donations we make.

Are Your Tax-Deductions Going Away?

Last week, we discussed the current tax reform proposal in Washington and discussed how it would reduce incentives for homeowners two ways: by increasing the standard deduction and by eliminating the deduction for state and local taxes, including the deduction for property taxes. Recall that itemized deductions only are a benefit if they exceed the amount of the standard deduction, currently $6,350 single or $12,700 married.

While the legislation has yet to be finalized, it appears increasingly likely that we are on the eve of the most significant tax changes in 30 years. The proposals are slated to take effect in 2018, which means that if they are approved, there is still several weeks in 2017 to make use of the old rules.

For many Americans, your taxes will be lower under the current proposal. The biggest tax cuts, however, would go to corporations, with a proposed reduction from 35% to a maximum of 20%. That’s the proposal, but the final version may be different. The advice below is based on the current GOP plan; we would not advocate taking any steps until the reforms are in their final version and passed.

1. Itemized Deductions. The proposal would increase the standard deduction from $6,350 (single) and $12,700 (married) to $12,000 and $24,000. As a result, it is believed that instead of 33%, the number of taxpayers who itemize will fall to only 10%. If you have itemized deductions below $12,000/$24,000, you will no longer receive any benefit from those expenses in 2018.

  • Consider accelerating any tax deductions into 2017, such as property taxes, charitable donations, or unreimbursed employee expenses.
  • Itemized deductions for casualty losses, gambling losses/expenses, and medical expenses will be repealed.
  • Many miscellaneous deductions will disappear, including: tax preparation fees, moving for work (over 50 miles), and unreimbursed employee expenses.
  • Investment advisory fees, such as those I charge to clients, will still be tax deductible. However, these miscellaneous deductions only count when they exceed 2% of AGI, which will be more difficult to achieve with so many other deductions disappearing.
  • The $7,500 tax credit for the purchase of a plug-in electric vehicle will be abolished. If you were thinking of buying a Chevy Bolt or Nissan Leaf, better do so now! If you are on the wait list for a Tesla Model 3, you probably will not receive one before the credit disappears. Read more: “Is Your Car Eligible for a $7,500 Tax Credit?”

2. Real Estate. The Senate version we discussed last week had completely eliminated the deduction for property taxes and state/local taxed paid. Luckily, this has been softened to a cap of $10,000 for property taxes.

  • If your property taxes exceed $10,000, you might want to pay those taxes in December as part of your 2017 tax year. If you pay in January 2018, you would not receive the full deduction.
  • The proposal also caps the mortgage interest deduction to $500,000, and for your primary residence only. This is a substantial reduction. Currently, you can deduct interest on a mortgage up to $1 million, and you can also deduct mortgage interest on a second home, including, in some cases, an RV or yacht.
  • Many owners of second homes will likely try to treat these as investment properties, if they are willing to rent them out. As a rental, you can deduct taxes and other costs as a business expense. See my article: “Can You Afford a Second Home?”

3. Tax Brackets. The proposal reduces the tax brackets to four levels: 12%, 25%, 35%, and 39.6% (the current top bracket remains). These brackets are shifted to slightly higher income levels, so many taxpayers will be in a lower bracket than today or pay less tax. Those in the top bracket, 39.6%, who also make over $1 million, will have their income in the 12% range boosted to the 39.6% level. So don’t think this proposal is excessively generous to high earners – many will see higher taxes.

The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) will be abolished, so if you have any Minimum Tax Credit carryforwards, those credits will be released. The 3.8% Medicare Surtax will unfortunately remain in place, even though Trump has previously promised to repeal it. Capital Gains rates will remain at 0%, 15%, and 20% depending on your tax bracket, and curiously, these rates will be tied to the old income levels, and not to the new tax brackets.

If passed, the tax reform bill will substantially change how we deduct expenses from our taxes. Those with simple returns may find that their tax bill is lower, but for many investors with more complicated tax situations, the proposed changes may require that you rethink how you approach your taxes.

We will keep you posted of how this unfolds and will especially be looking for potential ways it may impact our financial plans. It has often been said that the definition of a “loophole” is a tax benefit that someone else gets. Unfortunately, simplifying the tax code and closing these deductions is bound to upset many people who will see their favorite tax benefits reduced or removed entirely.

How to Give Away Money

It shouldn’t be difficult to give money away, but there are many ways we can help improve outcomes for families who have more than enough assets to last a lifetime. While estate planning is important, let’s make your money go further and have a greater impact by creating a giving plan for while you are alive.

If you are philanthropically inclined, have a favorite charity, or just want your children or grandchildren to benefit from your blessings, we can help you plan how to best distribute your money, minimize taxes, and safeguard your future. Here are seven tips to get started.

1) Put yourself first. It should go without saying that you should not give away a significant amount of your wealth if there is any question as to whether you have sufficient funds to last a lifetime. With increasing longevity and rising costs of healthcare, it is not difficult to burn through a million or two over a 25-year retirement.

We begin with a retirement analysis that includes your philanthropic goals, and evaluates the likelihood your funds will cover your lifetime. The more guaranteed sources of income you have – Social Security, Pensions, Annuities, etc. – the more we can distribute other capital without worries of loss of income. The purchase of an Annuity can give you the confidence to disburse cash during your lifetime without fear of market risk, sequence of returns, or longevity.

We generally do not recommend that retirees aim to impoverish themselves to qualify for Medicaid. States have a 60-month look-back period that determines if you have given away money. In some cases, Medicaid planning may make sense, but we prefer to plan for abundance.

2) Understand the Gift Tax Annual Exclusion. Each year, you can give $14,000 (2017) to any person under the gift tax exclusion. This is well known, but most people don’t understand that you do not necessarily have to pay a tax if you exceed this amount; rather you are required to file a gift tax return, and your gift (over $14,000) reduces your lifetime gift and estate tax exemption, currently $5.49 million per individual.

Although most estates will not exceed these levels, we do know that there are many politicians in Washington who want to lower the estate exemption. So it’s difficult to predict what the exemption will be in 10 or 20 years. The easiest approach is to stay under the $14,000 annual exclusion. Remember that a couple may, combined, give $28,000 to an individual or $56,000 to another couple, such as a daughter and son-in-law.

Additionally, there are medical and educational exceptions to the gift tax. You can pay college tuition or medical bills for anyone, and those amounts are not subject to a gift tax. The best approach is to pay those bills directly to the providers, and not write a check to the recipient, to avoid any implication of a gift.

3) Give now, rather than leave everything in your will. By making donations and gifts today, you can:

  • receive a tax deduction for charitable giving. If you’re in the 28% tax bracket, giving $10,000 a year now could save you $2,800 on your taxes.
  • see your gifts make a difference for your family, causes, and institutions immediately. Your gifts may be more helpful to your children today rather than when they are 55 or 65.
  • discover how those monies will be spent, and learn who will be responsible with a large sum of money. Leaving a large inheritance through a will sometimes backfires, causing reckless spending. Starting a gifting program early may identify these issues and provide planning and education, or identify the need for trustees who can help ensure money is used prudently.
  • avoid the fights, misunderstandings, and vastly expensive lawsuits that so frequently occur with large estates. Don’t cause future problems for your spouse or children by leaving them a mess or a distribution that creates anger and divisions. This is so common and yet most parents think it will never happen to their family.

4) Give appreciated securities to charity rather than cash. You can donate shares of stock, mutual funds, or other assets to charity and avoid paying capital gains tax on the gains on those investments. Besides avoiding capital gains, you also get to deduct the full value as a charitable donation, as eligible. The charity will sell the donated securities immediately, but not owe any taxes to Uncle Sam. It’s a great way to be more efficient in your charitable giving. It saves you taxes, which ultimately means you will have more money to donate and do good.

5) Leave money to charity through your IRA rather than through your will. If you leave a $500,000 IRA to an individual, they will owe income taxes on any distribution, which could eat up $200,000 of the account, or more, if you have state income taxes. If you leave the same IRA to a charity, they will pay no taxes on the account, and would receive the full $500,000 immediately.

Instead, leave a taxable brokerage account to your children; they will receive a step-up in cost basis on those investments and therefore will likely have little or no capital gains on the sale of those assets. Your kids will be so much better off receiving taxable assets rather than the same number of dollars from your IRA.

Change your mind? If you write a charity into your will, and later want to change the amount or name a different charity, you will have to get a whole new will. But if you use your IRA for your charitable bequests, all you have to do is update the IRA beneficiary form, which is quick and free.

6) 529 plan for Grandchildren. Want to help your grandchildren be successful in life, pursue their career goals, and not be saddled with crippling student loans? Consider 529 college savings plans, which will get assets out of your taxable estate and enable tax-free withdrawals for qualified higher educational expenses.

If one beneficiary does not need the account, you can change the beneficiary to another person. You can retain control of this money, while creating a legacy for the future success of your grandchildren, great-grandchildren, or beyond.

Given a choice of having money in a taxable account or a tax-free account, you’d probably prefer the tax-free option, so I am baffled why more wealthy grandparents are not using 529 plans. The younger your grandchildren are, the longer time you will receive tax-free growth. Start early.

7) Insurance. Retirees can protect their ability to fund their giving goals by purchasing long-term care insurance. This can help ensure they do not deplete their assets or have to choose between adequate care and fulfilling their other financial goals.

If you intend to leave $1 million to your alma mater, church, or other organization, it may make sense to purchase a permanent life insurance policy specifically for that goal. Then you can preserve your other assets for your spouse or children while guaranteeing your gift to that institution. Or you could do the reverse – give money annually to charity and leave life insurance to your children or a trust. Individuals receive life insurance proceeds tax-free.

We’ve only just scratched the surface of what is possible to enable you to most efficiently disburse your money and assets. There are a lot of pitfalls that could be avoided with rigorous planning. Many of these strategies will benefit you over a long period of time, which means you’d be smarter to start these at age 58 rather than 78. Don’t procrastinate! Living the Good Life means that abundance finds joy in seeing the benefits our giving can have on the world.

Charitable Giving Rules and Strategies

Is Charitable Giving part of your financial plan? It is part of ours. At Good Life Wealth Management, we donate a minimum of 10% of pre-tax profits annually. We believe that charitable giving is the ultimate expression of financial freedom. Having the ability to help others and make the world a better place, without fear of running out of resources for ourselves, is perhaps the best definition of financial independence. So many people have helped us get to where we are today, it is only right that we look to make a difference through our work, our time, and our financial support.

The IRS rules behind deducting your donations are not well understood by most taxpayers. There are strategies which can make your giving dollars go farther. Even if you have been making charitable gifts for many decades, chances are that you will learn something new in this article.

1) Qualified Charities. If you are wondering whether your donation to a particular organization is tax-deductible, check the IRS database: Exempt Organization Select Check. There are some organizations, such as political parties or candidates, fraternal organizations, chambers of commerce, or lobbying groups, which are not eligible for tax-deductible donations. Donations to individuals are not tax deductible, either.

2) Deduction limits. Charitable donations are part of itemized deductions. If you take the standard deduction, you are not getting any tax benefit from your charitable giving. If this is the case, try alternating years of itemized and standard deductions. Aim to “stuff” all your itemized deductions into one year. For example, you can pay your property taxes in January and then again in December, which puts two years of deductions into one year for tax purposes. Do the same with your charitable giving

There are limits to how much you can deduct, based on on your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI). If your donations are more than 20% of your AGI, you need to know these rules:

  • For most charities, you can deduct donations up to 50% of AGI.
  • If you donate Capital Gain Property, the limit is 30%.
  • For certain charities, including private foundations, veterans’ organizations, and non-profit cemeteries, the limit is 30%.
  • Capital Gain Property donated to 30% organizations is limited to 20% of AGI.
  • If you exceed these limits, the good news is that the excess will carry forward for the next five years.

Lastly, your itemized deductions – including charitable donations – may be reduced under the Pease limitations for high income earners.

3) Cash Donations. Cash donations under $250 may be substantiated with a cancelled check or credit card statement. Donations over $250 require an acknowledgement from the organization. Please note that if you receive anything in return for your donation (event tickets, T-shirt, etc.), the value of the goods or services received must be subtracted from the value of the donation. Most tickets to charity events, raffles, or contests are non-deductible.

4) Non-Cash Donations. Non-Cash Donations are an area of scrutiny for the IRS, and the record keeping requirements are more strict. You are limited to the fair market value of goods donated, and generally, not your cost basis in the items donated.

  • Under $250. A receipt from the organization, including a “reasonably detailed description” of the property. You may determine the value, but need to document how you calculated the value.
  • $250-$500. You must have a receipt from the organization, including the value of the items donated.
  • $501-$5,000. In addition to the requirements above, you must document how you acquired the property, when, and your cost basis. If you are donating an item to a charity auction, the receipt from the organization should indicate the amount that the item sold for, which could differ significantly from your opinion of value.
  • Over $5,000. You must also obtain a written appraisal from a qualified, independent appraiser.

5) Appreciated Securities. If you are planning on making larger donations, it may be worthwhile to donate appreciate securities (shares of stock, mutual funds, etc.) rather than making a cash donation. You still get the full value of your donation (and the charity gets the full amount), but you also will avoid paying capital gains tax on those securities. Since the charity is a tax exempt organization, they pay no capital gains when they sell your securities.

For example, consider a donation of $10,000. You could donate cash, or a $10,000 of a fund. Yous cost basis in the fund is $4000, so you would have a gain of $6000. At a 15% capital gains rate, you would avoid $900 in capital gains. If you are in the top bracket, you pay 23.8% for long-term capital gains, so you would save $1,428 in this example.

If you want, you can put the $10,000 cash you were planning to donate into your brokerage account and immediately repurchase your shares. There’s no waiting period or wash sale on donating gains! Now you have made your donation as planned, avoided some capital gains, and still have the same number of shares, but have reset your cost basis higher. Win-win-win.

6) IRA RMD. Last year, Congress made permanent the rules on Qualified Charitable Distributions from your Individual Retirement Account. If you are over age 70 1/2, you can make a distribution directly from your IRA to the charity of your choice, in fulfillment of your Required Minimum Distribution. I wrote in detail about who should use this benefit here: Qualified Charitable Distributions From Your IRA.

7) Donor Advised Fund (DAF). Also called a Charitable Gift Fund, a DAF is a charitable fund that allows you to make a tax deductible donation today, invest those funds, and distribute money to charities of your choice in the future. The DAF is itself a public charity, so your creating and funding an account is tax-deductible. It is also permanent and irrevocable, so plan carefully! Once funded, you can purchase various investments, such as cash, mutual funds, or other securities.

A DAF is great if you have significant windfall in one year – for example, through the sale of a business or real estate – and want to plan ahead for future giving. For example, you could put $100,000 into the fund, and receive a $100,000 deduction this year. You can subsequently make donations for the next 20 or 25 years, if you wanted to. A DAF is often a better solution than setting up a private foundation for family giving. If you have a significant financial event, you may be pushed into the top tax bracket of 43.4%. If that happens, every $1000 you put into a DAF will save you $434 in taxes. If you were ultimately planning to give that money to charity in the future, it would be crazy to not look at keeping more of your money out of the hands of the IRS today.

While the gift to the DAF is irrevocable, you still control the disbursements from the account, so you can decide when, to whom, and how much you give. You may love a charity today, but 10 years from now may find another that you feel is more deserving. This may be preferable to donating a significant amount to one charity in a single year. A DAF is also a great way to involve your children or grandchildren in your family’s philanthropy.

Certainly the purpose of Charitable Giving is not to get a tax-deduction. But if the government is going to give us financial incentives to encourage our donations, we should take advantage of those opportunities. Significant tax savings today means that you will have more money left over to donate in the future. Why pay 15% to 43.4% (or 50%+ in California, New York, and other states) tax on each dollar you donate?

Many people prefer to leave gifts to charity through their will. While this has the advantage of making sure you do not run out of money while you’re alive, you lose the benefit of reducing your income taxes today. If you have more than enough money, it may be preferable to give while you are alive, to enjoy seeing the good your money can do. That will give you better tax benefits, and also avoids problems with your will.

I know of a deceased individual (not a client) who planned to leave several million to charity and “only” $1 million to each child. The children are contesting the will and besides tying up the money for years, attorney’s fees will end up reducing the proceeds by at least $1 million. This tragic situation of a contested will is all too common, but could be avoided with better planning and communication. That’s where professional advice can help.

How can we help you with your charitable planning?

Qualified Charitable Distributions From Your IRA

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For several years, taxpayers have had an opportunity to make Qualified Charitable Distributions, or QCDs, from their IRA. This was originally offered for just one year and then subsequently was renewed each December, an uncertainty which made it difficult and frustrating for planners like myself to advise clients. Luckily, this year Congress made the QCD permanent. Here is what it is, who it may benefit, and how to use it.

A QCD is a better way to give money to charity by allowing IRA owners to fulfill their Required Minimum Distribution with a charitable donation. To do a QCD, you must be over age 70 1/2 at the time of the distribution, and have the distribution made payable directly to the charity.

If you are over 70 1/2, you must take out a Required Minimum Distribution from your IRA each year, and this distribution is reported as taxable income. When you make a qualified charitable contribution, you can deduct that amount from your taxes, through an itemized deduction. The QCD takes those two steps – an IRA distribution and a charitable contribution – and combines them into one transaction which can fulfill your RMD requirement while not adding to your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) for the year.

The maximum amount of a QCD is $100,000 per person. A married couple can do $100,000 each, but cannot combine or share these amounts. For most IRA owners, they will likely keep their QCD under the amount of their RMD. However, it is possible to donate more than your RMD, up to the $100,000 limit. So if your goal is to leave your IRA to charity, you can now transfer $100,000 to that charity, tax-free, every year.

The confusing thing about the QCD is that for some taxpayers, there may be no additional tax benefit. That is to say, taking their RMD and then making a deductible charitable contribution may lower their taxes by exactly the same amount as doing a QCD. Who will benefit from a QCD, then? Here are five situations where doing a QCD would produce lower taxes than taking your RMD and making a separate charitable contribution:

1) To deduct a charitable contribution, you have to itemize your deductions. If you take the standard deduction (or would take the standard deduction without charitable giving), you would benefit from doing a QCD instead. That’s because under the QCD, the transaction is never reported on your AGI. Then you can take your standard deduction ($6,300 single, or $12,600 married, for 2016) and not have to itemize.

2) If you have a high income and your itemized deductions are reduced or phased out under the Pease Restrictions, you would benefit from doing a QCD. The Pease Restriction reduces your deductions by 3% for every $1 of income over $259,400 single, or $311,300 married (2016), up to a maximum reduction of 80% of your itemized deductions.

3) If you are subject to the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). The AMT frequently hits those who have high itemized deductions. With the QCD, we move the charitable contributions from being an itemized deduction to a direct reduction of your AGI.

4) If you are subject to the 3.8% Medicare Surtax on investment income. While IRA distributions are not part of Net Investment Income, they are part of your AGI, which can push other income above the $200,000 threshold ($250,000, married) subject to this tax.

5) If your premiums for Medicare Parts B and D are increased due to your income, a QCD can reduce your AGI.

You can make a QCD from a SEP or SIMPLE IRA, provided you are no longer making contributions to the account. You can also make a QCD from a Roth IRA, but since this money could be withdrawn tax-free, it would be preferable to make the QCD from a Traditional IRA. 401(k), 403(b), and other employer sponsored plans are not eligible for the QCD. If you want to do the QCD, you would need to rollover the account to an IRA first.

Charitable giving is close to our heart here at Good Life Wealth Management. We believe that true wealth is having the ability to fearlessly help others and to use our blessings to make the world a better place. If that’s your goal too, we can help you do this in the most efficient manner possible.

Giving: What’s Your Plan?

Dinner Table

Charitable giving is a natural product of financial success. It is truly rewarding to be able to support people and organizations you believe in and help them to become successful and make our community and world a better place. A person is truly rich if they can give to others without fear of running out of money for themselves. And that’s why I am always amazed and inspired by my clients and friends who give generously, who tithe, and who do so with breathtaking confidence. The miser who can’t part with a single dollar may be able to accumulate, but hoarding or living in fear is the opposite of the financial peace we seek. Indeed, subscribing to an abundance mentality means that you can share your blessings with others and fully experience the joy of giving.

You may have questions about how to best achieve your charitable ambitions in conjunction with your other financial goals. If you have you ever asked yourself any of these questions, we have the answers and expertise to help you.

  • How much can we give to charity each year and still meet our goals for retirement and college savings?
  • How much can we give to family or friends without having to file a gift tax return?
  • What is the best way to give money to grandchildren? UTMA, 529 College Savings Plan, Children’s Trust, or other methods? What are the financial aid implications of my gift to a grandchild?
  • What tax benefits would we receive for donating appreciated securities, instead of donating cash, to our favorite charities?
  • Are we candidates for a Donor Advised Fund, a private foundation, or a family trust? How does a Donor Advised Fund work?
  • We’ve had a windfall year (sale of business, inheritance, etc.). How can we maximize our current year tax deductions and allow for future charitable bequests?
  • How can I provide for my spouse, if something should happen to me, and still be sure to leave something for my children or favorite charity. Which are the best accounts to leave to my spouse, children, or charities? And what tax implications will there be for my estate and beneficiaries?

These are all important considerations for a comprehensive financial plan, and while there is no one-size-fits-all answer, there are many tools and techniques which can help you make the most of your giving. Whether you’ve been investing for 5 years or 50 years, we’re here to give you the expert advice on how to achieve your giving goals as part of your overall financial plan.

Because we believe generosity is the pinnacle of financial independence, Good Life Wealth Management will donate a minimum of 10% of its profits annually to charitable organizations. For 2015, our primary recipient will be Operation Kindness, the largest and oldest no-kill animal shelter in North Texas.