Year-end strategies for charitable giving

Excerpted from FIDELITY VIEWPOINTS – 10/04/2017

Consider these tax‐savvy strategies that can help you make the most of your giving this year.

As the holidays approach, many people look for ways of combining their desire to help the causes they believe in with their desire to save on taxes. For the charitably inclined, there are strategic ways of giving that can accomplish both goals.

In the giving mood? Here are some strategies to consider that can help you make the most of your giving this year.

1. Give appreciated securities, rather than cash
Donations made by cash or check are, by far, the most common methods of charitable giving. However, contributing stocks, bonds, or mutual funds that have appreciated over time has become increasingly popular in recent years, and for good reasons.1

Most publicly traded securities with unrealized long‐term gains (meaning they were purchased more than a year ago and have increased in value) may be donated to a public charity, without the need to sell them first. When the donation is made, the donor can claim the fair market value as an itemized deduction on his or her federal tax return—up to 30% of the donor’s adjusted gross income (AGI). Other types of securities, such as restricted or privately traded securities and donations to nonpublic charities, may also be deductible, but additional requirements and limitations may apply.

When the securities are donated, no capital gains taxes are owed because the securities were donated, not sold. The greater the appreciation, the bigger the tax savings will be. Here is a hypothetical example: A couple, Bill and Margaret, purchased a publicly traded stock 10 years ago for $20,000, and it is now valued at $50,000. Let’s assume their taxable income places them in the 20% capital gains tax rate and they don’t have any long‐term capital losses available to them to utilize. If they sell the stock first and then donate the after‐tax proceeds to a public charity, they will pay a federal long‐term capital gains tax of $6,000 on the $30,000 of gains, leaving $44,000 ($50,000 − $6,000) for their charity, and they should then be able to claim the $44,000 donation as a federal tax deduction.

If, however, Bill and Margaret donate the stock directly to the charity, the tax calculation is based not on the gain but on the amount donated, and their tax deduction increases to $50,000. As a result of using this method, their charity receives an additional $6,000. One additional consideration: If you have long‐term appreciated assets with an unknown original value, donating the assets directly to charity can save you the time and trouble of finding out the original basis and paying the applicable capital gains tax.

2. Consider using a charitable donation to offset the tax costs of converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA
Even with higher top income tax rates, many investors are considering converting from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. In addition, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 made it possible for active employees to convert a 401(k), 403(b), or 457(b) plan account to its Roth counterpart within the same plan.

The most essential difference between traditional retirement savings vehicles (whether they’re IRAs or workplace plans) and the Roth versions is that with the former, contributions are usually tax deductible in the year they are made and can grow tax-deferred within the account; the contributions and earnings are then taxed at “the back end” (i.e., upon withdrawal). Roth IRA contributions are not tax deductible. You can withdraw contributions you made to your Roth IRA anytime, tax- and penalty-free. However, you may have to pay taxes and penalties on earnings in your Roth IRA.2

Roth accounts may make sense if you believe your current tax rate is lower than it will be in the years you’ll make withdrawals; however, there are many other factors that must be evaluated to determine what makes sense in your individual situation. (For more on Roth conversions, read Viewpoints on Roth IRA conversions.)

Any time you convert a traditional retirement savings account into a Roth, you will owe taxes on any pre-tax amounts converted. Depending on the amount converted and your tax rate, the taxes on the Roth conversion can be significant.

Converting in a year in which you can claim a large tax deduction, such as a charitable deduction, can be helpful in offsetting the conversion taxes. By taking a close look at your individual situation, it may make sense to develop a strategy of using a charitable deduction to offset conversion taxes. Developing such a strategy may give you an opportunity to give to a charity while also reducing your taxes.

3. Consider a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) from an IRA
The qualified charitable distribution (QCD) option emerged after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and was made permanent by Congress in 2015.

If you are at least age 70 ½, have an IRA, and plan to donate to charity this year, another consideration may be to make a QCD from your IRA. This action can satisfy charitable goals and allows funds to be withdrawn from an IRA without any tax consequences. A QCD can also be appealing because it can be used to satisfy your required minimum distribution (RMD).

Generally speaking, QCDs may be useful in situations where the charitable deduction could not be fully utilized– either because your itemized deductions (including the charitable contribution) fall below the threshold of the standard deduction in the first place, or because your charitable contribution is so large that it exceeds the 30%- or 50%-of-AGI contribution limits and must be carried forward. QCDs may also be useful for high-income clients who are subject to phaseouts on their itemized deductions.

QCDs may be most appealing if you have few other deductions or if you are already close to your charitable deduction limitations. Because the tax-free QCD is never reported as a deduction it is not counted against the charitable limits.

Alternatively, if you are subject to an RMD and have a desire to contribute to a charity, you could take the RMD proceeds as a taxable distribution and use them to make a charitable donation. Your IRA distribution would then be reported as income, but the subsequent charitable contribution using the proceeds from the RMD would generally offset the tax consequences—to the extent that the limits and phaseouts allow it.

Certain charities are not eligible to receive QCDs, including DAFs, private foundations, and supporting organizations as described in IRC Section 509(a)(3) (i.e., charities carrying out exempt purposes by supporting other exempt organizations, usually other public charities). You are not allowed to receive any benefit in return for your charitable donation. For example, if your donation covers your cost of playing in a charitable golf tournament, your gift would not qualify as a QCD. Some smaller charities may not be equipped to handle QCDs and may prefer to receive your contributions via your DAF.

Finally, note that QCDs are limited to $100,000 in 2017, so if your RMD is larger than that, you might still need to take a conventional distribution in addition to your QCD.

Tip: Seek professional advice about QCDs. Visit Fidelity’s Learning Center for more on QCDs.

Once again, before undertaking any of these giving strategies, you should consult your legal, tax, or financial adviser. But, properly employed, each of the strategies represents a tax‐advantaged way for you to give more to your favorite charities.

Important Disclosures
*Past performance is not an indicator of future results. This material is not financial advice or an offer to sell any product. The statements contained herein are solely based upon the opinions of Elevage Partners, LLC (“Elevage”). Elevage is a registered investment adviser. More information about the firm can be found in its Form ADV Part 2, which may be requested by calling (877) 922-8243 or visiting The information contained herein is derived from sources we believe to be reliable, but which we have not independently verified. Elevage assumes no responsibility for errors, inaccuracies or omissions in this information. Elevage reserves the right to modify its current investment strategies and techniques based on changing market dynamics or client needs. The information provided in this report should not be considered a recommendation to purchase or sell any particular security. There is no assurance that any securities discussed herein will remain in an account’s portfolio at the time you receive. It should not be assumed that any of the securities transactions, holdings or sectors discussed were, or will prove to be profitable, or that the investment recommendations or decisions Elevage makes in the future will be profitable or will equal the investment performance of the securities discussed herein.

Leave a Comment