How to Donate to Charity Directly from Your Retirement Account and Save on Taxes

If you’re the right age and plan to give to charity, here’s one great way to amplify your gift.

Generally, those over 70 1/2 have until year’s end to take required money out of their Individual Retirement Accounts. It’s called required minimum distribution, and it must be taken.

Instead of withdrawing and paying income tax, however, you can send up to $100,000 untaxed directly to charity.

Many IRAs are eligible for these charitable donations — including a traditional IRA, a rollover, an inherited IRA. Here are a few of the requirements:

You must be 70 1/2 or older.

The maximum annual dollar amount that qualifies for such a donation is $100,000. For couples filing taxes jointly, the spouse can also make a qualified donation from his or her own IRA within the same tax year, up to the $100,000 limit.

For the donation to count toward the current year’s required minimum distribution, funds must come out of your IRA by Dec. 31.

What kinds of charities qualify? The charity must be a 501(c)(3) organization, eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions. Some charities do not qualify, such as private foundations and donor-advised funds.

There are two big victories with qualified charitable donations: You lower your overall taxable income — adjusted gross income — and the money you donate to charity directly is not taxed.

So should you do it? Jen Fox, president of wealth management at Bryn Mawr Trust, says she first does a cash-flow analysis with clients to determine whether to do the qualified charitable deduction and from which account.

“Sometimes it’s better to wait and bunch charitable deductions, so we model that out for every benefit,” she said.

Why are qualified charitable donations a popular idea? Due to changes introduced by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, many retirees now take the standard deduction when filing taxes ($12,000 for singles; $24,000 for couples). With the higher standard deduction, for some, it no longer makes sense to itemize deductions.

In such cases, qualified deductions, which do not depend on itemization, may be a terrific alternative.

“This allows you to remain charitable and lower your taxable income, while simultaneously utilizing the higher standard deduction,” said Duane Morris in its 2019 year-end tax guide and outlook.

The process can take a few weeks, so best to start now if you want to donate for 2019.

If you plan to make a qualified charitable donation, make sure to pick the right asset to give. It’s an important decision, according to Tony Oommen, charitable planning consultant from Fidelity Charitable, based in Chicago.

“Most people give cash, and charities are asking for cash to put to use. Yet cash is the most expensive asset to give,” he said.

Most donors unwittingly trigger taxable income by selling securities and then giving the cash.

“Instead, it’s sometimes better to give appreciated stock or bonds, because if you itemize, you don’t have to personally realize capital gains taxes. You can give to charity, and giving stock or other securities is just way more tax efficient. You’re giving a presale, pretax asset. You really amplify your charitable intent.”

Make sure you get a letter acknowledging your donation, said James McGrory, tax accountant and adviser with Drucker & Scaccetti in Center City.

Vanguard, Fidelity, and most brokers provide a form where the taxpayer can indicate the following:

—The money transferred is a one-time charitable distribution, with the charity name and amount.

—There should be no federal or state tax withholding.

—A check should be mailed to the taxpayer to forward to the charity (with a cover letter of instructions).

—The letter indicates that the charity acknowledges the date of the contribution. Tax returns can’t be filed without this letter of acknowledgment.


(Article written by Erin Arvelund)