FINANCIAL PLANNING is, for the most part, straightforward. You want to save enough for the future and then avoid a shortfall by investing those savings wisely. Pretty much every other topic in the world of personal finance—from asset allocation to paying taxes to safe withdrawal rates—can be viewed through the lens of those two overall goals.
But there’s one topic that isn’t straightforward at all, and that’s philanthropy. It’s not straightforward because it runs counter to those two fundamental goals.
AMERICANS ARE a generous people. They gave $471 billion to charity in 2020, according to Giving USA. Of that sum, 69% was contributed by individuals like you and me, as opposed to foundations or corporations, plus another 9% took the form of bequests.
Are you charitably inclined? Donor-advised funds can offer a tax-efficient way to make financial gifts, allowing folks to fund their own giving foundation and then direct money to charities for years to come.
“THERE IS A VERY fine line between ‘hobby’ and ‘mental illness’,” according to humorist Dave Barry.
Some years ago, we had a weekend place—a cabin on acreage—which we greatly enjoyed, even if it did come with challenges. One thing I especially enjoyed: taking the kids on nighttime walks to see how many critters we could spot. That led to an interest in flashlights, and I collected a bunch of them. That, in turn, led to a keen interest in pocketknives.
MY MOM AND DAD split up when I was seven years old. Money was an issue for the rest of my childhood. Mom was rarely able to work fulltime and, according to her, child support and alimony were never enough.
When I started working a newspaper stand at age 12, I was expected to give 25% of my daily take for rent. Mom also demanded that I save at least 10%. Depending on the headlines,
IF YOU’RE IN YOUR 70s or older and you are charitably inclined, it’s time to get acquainted with one of your best financial friends: the qualified charitable distribution, or QCD.
A QCD is a distribution that’s made directly from your IRA to an organization eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions. A QCD counts toward your annual required minimum distribution, or RMD. But unlike a regular RMD, the QCD won’t add to your taxable income for the year—a potentially huge advantage.
GIVING GIFTS delivers significant emotional and health benefits, or so says the research. But I find much depends on how the actual giving takes place.
My best giving lesson occurred many years ago. At a rural busstop on the island of Crete, off the coast of Greece, I sat next to an old local woman dressed in ragged clothing and torn shoes. Neither of us spoke the other’s language. She carried with her a small bag of fresh peaches and motioned for me to take one.
WHEN I WAS IN the workforce, it was easy to give to charity. Now that I’m semi-retired, it seems like more of a struggle—for four reasons:
Because I’m no longer employed fulltime, I can’t donate through payroll deduction, which used to make giving simple and automatic.
Leaving fulltime employment often results in reduced or uncertain income, and sometimes both. Today, I find it harder to know how much I can afford to give.
Retirement heightens thoughts of leaving a legacy to children and other heirs.
JUST BEFORE Thanksgiving in 2017, a heartwarming story hit the news. A young woman from Philadelphia named Katelyn McClure had run out of gas on the highway and found herself stranded. By chance, a homeless veteran named Johnny Bobbitt was nearby and, in an act of selflessness, he gave McClure his last $20 to buy gas.
After making it home safely, McClure wanted to express her gratitude, so she set up a GoFundMe page to help Bobbitt get back on his feet.
MANY OF MY CLIENTS volunteer to perform chores for religious institutions and other charitable organizations. I remind them that volunteers qualify for tax breaks. Their itemized deductions include what they spend to cover unreimbursed out-of-pocket outlays—though there are limits to the IRS’s generosity.
I caution clients not to count on deductions for the value of the unpaid time that they devote to charitable chores. Let’s say the prevailing rate for the kind of services they render is $100 per hour and they spend 100 hours to render those services during the year in question.
PERHAPS YOU’VE heard the expression, “there’s no free lunch.” The idea is, you usually don’t receive something for nothing. Whether it’s with money or with time and labor, you almost always “pay” one way or another.
It’s an interesting concept—but whoever coined the phrase clearly never looked at the U.S. tax code, which is full of free lunches. Today, we’ll discuss one example, which may be of interest to the charitably inclined.
One of the most talked about changes in the new tax law is a provision that alters how deductions are treated.
MANY OF MY CLIENTS make donations to their favorite philanthropies in the final months of each year. With lower tax rates in the offing, this could be a good year to make such gifts—especially for those who have appreciated property to donate.
Many clients reflexively write checks, as that’s the easiest way to qualify their gifts for charitable deductions. But before they reach for their checkbooks, donors who want to make major gifts—and also lose less to the IRS—will do themselves a favor if they first familiarize themselves with other often-overlooked ways to contribute.