Taxpayers who routinely make annual donations to charity face a new hurdle: They may no longer be able to deduct their gifts.
Why not? Because the number of taxpayers who itemize their deductions—including charitable donations—is expected to decrease by roughly two-thirds1 as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA), which doubled the standard deduction to $12,200 in 2019 for individuals and $24,400 for married couples filing jointly.
The effects may already be taking hold: The percentage of households that itemized their charitable contributions declined from 21% in 2017 to just 9% in 2018, according to estimates from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.2
“Tax benefits are a secondary motivation for many donors—but they’re still a motivation,” says Kim Laughton, president of Schwab Charitable, the nonprofit donor-advised-fund provider sponsored by The Charles Schwab Corporation to facilitate client giving.
The good news is that for many the tax benefits of charitable giving remain—provided you know how to navigate the new tax landscape. Here’s a look at how the TCJA has made giving more advantageous in some ways and less so in others, and how taxpayers can continue to benefit both others and themselves.
“The TCJA did not cap or eliminate the charitable deduction, which shows that lawmakers were not looking to penalize donors,” Kim says.
In fact, in some ways the tax law actually enhances the value of the charitable deduction by allowing high-income earners to take even larger charitable deductions than in the past. For example:
- It increases the amount of deductible cash contributions taxpayers can make to charities, from 50% of their adjusted gross income to 60%.
- It eliminates the Pease limitation, which capped how much taxpayers could claim in the way of itemized deductions if their incomes were over certain thresholds.
Several provisions in the TCJA make charitable giving considerably less advantageous from a tax perspective.
In addition to the doubling of the standard deduction, tax rates have been lowered for five of the seven income brackets—and brackets have also shifted, meaning in many cases more income will be taxed at a lower rate. Both of these developments mean taxpayers will capture less tax savings from their charitable contributions.
What’s more, a $10,000 cap on the deduction of state and local taxes (SALT) has resulted in a higher tax bill for many residents of high-tax states such as California and New York. This not only reduces their disposable income but also makes it that much harder to exceed the standard deduction and therefore itemize their charitable contributions. (Even those who do itemize are unlikely to see as significant a tax savings as they did in the past, because many deductions—including alimony payments and unreimbursed business expenses—were reduced or eliminated as part of the TCJA.)
That said, many taxpayers subject to the standard deduction can still benefit from their charitable donations, so long as they go about it in a slightly more methodical way.
The joys of bundling
“Most people who give don’t do so in order to get something in return—they’re philanthropically inclined,” Kim says. Even so, how can taxpayers benefiting from the new tax law also get back some of the tax advantages of their charitable contributions? One word, Kim says: “Bundling.”
Essentially, this means combining perhaps several years’ worth of donations into a single tax year so that—along with your other deductions—you exceed the standard deduction. (You’d take the standard deduction in the interim years.)
For example, imagine a couple who earmarked $10,000 for charity in 2018. That plus the rest of their deductions added up to $19,000—far more than the standard deduction of $12,700 in 2017 but far less than the post-TCJA standard deduction of $24,000 in 2018.
To offset the loss of their charitable tax deduction, they decided to hold off on their 2018 cash contribution and bundled two years’ worth of charitable donations—$20,000—in 2019. Adding in their $9,000 in other deductions will exceed the standard deduction of $24,400 in 2019, allowing them to itemize and capture a significant tax savings.
Of course, bundling multiple contributions into a single year can feel daunting if you’re not sure how much you want to give and to whom. So to build some flexibility into your giving plan, you may wish to set up a donor-advised fund account, which allows you to donate a lump sum in the current tax year, invest the funds for future growth and parcel out the money to qualified charities over time.
These accounts also make it easier to donate bonds, exchange-traded funds, mutual funds, stock and other investments—and potentially deduct the full fair market value without having to pay tax on any capital gains.
“For a lot of charities, it’s very cumbersome to receive a share of stock here and a share of stock there—and some aren’t equipped to accept such gifts at all,” Kim says. “Donating appreciated assets to a donor-advised fund, on the other hand, is seamless, with fund administrators handling all the processing and reporting requirements.”
What’s more, the money can continue to appreciate once invested in a donor-advised fund account, which means the potential for even greater giving down the road.
Of all the itemized deductions available to taxpayers, the charitable deduction is perhaps the most flexible. Donors can control the amount, timing and type of donations in order to maximize their impact—to both the charity and themselves. “To give may be better than to receive,” Kim says, “but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take full advantage of the tax code.”
1“Tables Related to the Federal Tax System as in Effect 2017 through 2026,” The Joint Committee on Taxation, 04/23/2018. | 2“TPC Microsimulation Model, version 0217-1,” Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, 2018.
What You Can Do Next
Read more insights about incorporating charitable giving into your tax planning in the wake of the new tax law.
Learn more about maximizing your charitable impact with a Schwab Charitable donor-advised fund account.