Tax guide

Donating to a Charity

Updated for filing 2021 tax returns

Can I get a tax break for charitable donations?

Absolutely—you can get a tax break for donating all sorts of things to a qualified charity or organization, from used household items to collectibles, clothes, and even property. Expenses that build up because of volunteering activities are also deductible.

Qualified charitable organizations

When donating, make sure it's to a qualified charity. Charities must meet IRS requirements in order to receive tax-deductible donations. The charities may be one of the following types:

  • Religious
  • Charitable
  • Scientific, literary, and educational
  • Dedicated to the prevention of cruelty to children or animals

For a full list of charities, and to search for specific organizations, use the IRS's Exempt Organizations Select Check.

Keeping a record of charitable donations

When donating, make sure you get a receipt or acknowledgment from the charity. You won't be able to claim a deduction for your contributions unless you have a receipt to back it up.

This is especially true for any donation—cash or goods—worth over $250. For those, you must also have a written acknowledgment from the organization that notes any goods or services provided in exchange for your contribution.

The receipt or acknowledgment should have the following:

  • Name of charity
  • Your name
  • Date of donation
  • Fair market value of donation
  • Value of any goods or services you received in return for your donation

Note: For tax year 2021, you could qualify for an above-the-line deduction worth up to $300 (up to $600 for married filing jointly) for cash contributions to qualifying organizations. Since it's above-the-line, you could claim this tax break even if you take the standard deduction; just make sure to keep receipts of your cash donations.

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Donating cash

If you plan on donating money—whether it's by cash, check or credit card—you’ll need a receipt, especially if you donate more than $250.

In that case, you'll also need a note from the organization as listed above.

For more information about donating to charities, see IRS Publication 526.

Donating goods and property

Items like used clothing and household items in good condition can be donated, and the deduction will be determined by fair market value (generally what the item would sell for at a consignment or thrift store).

Some charities, like the Salvation Army and Goodwill, have a donation value guide, but most don’t. For more information, check out IRS Publication 561.

Depending on the value of your donation, you may have to have it professionally appraised before donating it. Items like jewelry, collectible cars, art, and antiques may or may not need appraising.

Donating motor vehicles, like cars or boats, worth over $500 means you'll need to attach a Form 1098-C to your tax return when you file. The charity you donated to should send the form within 30 days of the donation or within 30 days after it was sold by the organization.

Deducting volunteer work

You may have had some unreimbursed expenses while volunteering throughout the year, and some of those expenses could be deductible—provided that the primary purpose of the expense was for the charitable organization and its work.

You can deduct costs for required uniforms, stamps or stationary, and even mileage. Any unreimbursed lodging, meals, or transportation expenses required as part of your service can be deducted, as long as the reason for the expenses are for the charity and are not personal.

As with donating goods, keep any receipts or paperwork in order to prove your deduction.

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