Your guide to charitable tax deductions

Most people can deduct at least $300 to $600 of charitable donations made in 2021.

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Donations and other gifts to charitable organizations are generally tax deductible. The charitable contribution tax deduction has historically been available only to taxpayers who itemize their deductions, but there is a $300 deduction that people who take the standard deduction can claim in 2022 (for their 2021 taxes). Married couples filing a joint return can deduct up to $600. If you’re itemizing, income limits have also been changed so that you can deduct an amount worth up to your 2021 income.

Key Takeaways

  • For the taxes you file in early 2022, anyone who claims the standard deduction can take a charitable deduction worth up to $300 (or $600 if married and filing jointly).

  • The normal charitable contribution deduction is an itemized deduction worth up to 100% of your AGI for 2021 taxes.

  • Always keep a record of your charitable giving, especially if you have individual donations worth at least $250.

How to deduct charitable contributions

There are two main ways to deduct charitable contributions on your 2021 taxes, which you file in early 2022:

  • The temporary $300 charitable deduction ($600 if you’re married and filing jointly)

  • The much higher charitable contributions deduction that requires you to itemize.

The above-the-line charitable deduction

For the taxes you file in early 2022, anyone who claims the standard deduction can also deduct up to $300 of charitable donations, or up to $600 if married and filing a joint return. This deduction, which is a type of above-the-line deduction, was created as a response to the coronavirus pandemic and will expire next year unless a new bill is passed to renew it.

The itemized charitable contribution deduction?

The charitable contribution deduction allows you to deduct charitable donations worth up to 100% of your 2021 adjusted gross income (AGI), but it’s a type of itemized deduction. Itemizing became less common after the 2017 tax changes and most people are better off taking the standard deduction instead of itemizing. So for 2021 taxes, most people don’t have access to the charitable contribution deduction and are limited to the $300 above-the-line deduction.

Related: Who benefited most from the 2017 Trump tax cuts?

How to deduct charitable contributions

There are two main ways to deduct charitable contributions on your 2021 taxes, which you file in early 2022:

  • The temporary $300 charitable deduction ($600 if you’re married and filing jointly)

  • The much higher charitable contributions deduction that requires you to itemize.

The above-the-line charitable deduction

For the taxes you file in early 2022, anyone who claims the standard deduction can also deduct up to $300 of charitable donations, or up to $600 if married and filing a joint return. [1] This deduction, which is a type of above-the-line deduction, was created as a response to the coronavirus pandemic and will expire next year unless a new bill is passed to renew it.

The itemized charitable contribution deduction?

The charitable contribution deduction allows you to deduct charitable donations worth up to 100% of your 2021 adjusted gross income (AGI), but it’s a type of itemized deduction. Itemizing became less common after the 2017 tax changes and most people are better off taking the standard deduction instead of itemizing. So for 2021 taxes, most people don’t have access to the charitable contribution deduction and are limited to the $300 above-the-line deduction.

Related: Who benefited most from the 2017 Trump tax cuts?

How much is the charitable tax deduction?

For your 2021 income taxes, the maximum charitable deduction is worth up to $300 ($600 for married couples) if you claim the standard deduction, and the itemized deduction for charitable contributions is worth up to 100% of your adjusted gross income. Any excess donation amount that you can’t claim this year, you can carry over to deduct on your futures taxes for up to five years.

The 100% AGI limit is a provision created during the COVID-19 pandemic and will expire if not renewed by Congress. The limit before COVID-19 was 50% of your AGI. Learn more about how COVID-19 will affect your 2021 taxes.

Limits for certain property

In certain cases, there are further deduction limits of 20% or 30% of your AGI. This could apply for certain organizations and certain types of property donations, like items held in a trust but used by a charitable organization. For more guidance on these limits, read IRS Publication 526.

Who can claim the $300 charitable contribution deduction?

The $300 above-the-line deduction is available to basically all taxpayers in 2022 if they take the standard deduction, and it’s worth up to $600 for a married couple.  There are no other requirements, though you may not be able to claim it if you file Form 1040-NR.

Who can claim the itemized charitable contribution deduction?

To claim the itemized charitable deduction, you need to itemize deductions by completing Schedule A with your tax return. Anyone who itemizes can claim the charitable tax deduction, though itemizing isn’t worth it for many taxpayers.

Should you itemize deductions?

You should generally itemize if your total itemized deductions are worth more than your standard deduction. So whether or not you should itemize really depends on the other types of deductions you can claim and how much they’re worth.

Here are the other types of itemized deductions:

For reference, here are 2021 standard deduction values. People who are legally blind or 65 or older also qualify for an additional standard deduction.

2021 standard deductions

Filing statusStandard deduction for 2021Standard deduction for 2022
Single$12,550$12,950
Married filing jointly$25,100$25,900
Married filing separately$12,550$12,950
Head of household$18,800$19,400
Qualified widow(er)$25,100$25,900

What is a qualifying charity?

Only qualified organizations are eligible for tax deductions when you donate to them. Just because a group is a nonprofit doesn’t mean that they’re eligible and political organizations generally aren’t eligible. Individuals also aren’t eligible for charitable donations, so donating to someone (like to help pay a person’s medical bills) would not qualify for a deduction.

If you’re unsure whether a charity qualifies for the deduction, ask them before donating. They should be able to provide you with their tax ID, which you can then look up using the IRS’ Tax Exempt Organization Search tool. Each qualified organization has a unique, nine-digit federal tax ID called an Employer Identification Number (EIN).

Common types of qualified charitable organizations can include churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Goodwill Industries, Red Cross, Salvation Army, United Way, fraternal orders, veterans' groups, certain cultural groups, nonprofit hospitals, medical research organizations, and most nonprofit educational organizations. [2]

Which donations qualify for the deduction?

A qualifying contribution is generally something that you give away without the expectation of receiving something of equal value in return. Eligible charitable donations can fall into two basic categories: cash and noncash items.

Cash contributions you can deduct

A cash contribution is any money you give to an organization, whether you pay with physical cash, a check, by credit card, or through some other third-party service. You can generally claim the entire amount of your cash donations but if you received something in return for the donation, you can only deduct the amount you gave that’s in excess of the value of what you received.

If you buy something from a charity, like at a charitable auction, you can claim a deduction for the price you paid that’s in excess of the item’s fair market value. So if you pay $100 for a painting that’s worth $40, you can deduct $60. However, you must be able to prove that you knew the value of the item before buying it. If a charity published an estimate of an item’s value before auctioning it off, having that reported value is likely enough to determine your eligible tax deduction. [3]

Noncash contributions you can deduct

Noncash charitable contributions include any physical items you donate — like a car, clothes, or furniture — in addition to anything that isn’t cash — like investments or cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.

The value of noncash donations is generally the item’s fair market value. The IRS defines fair market value (FMV) as the price “a willing buyer would pay a willing seller when neither has to buy or sell and both are aware of the conditions of the sale.” In plain English, FMV is the price at which no one feels like they’re getting ripped off. Some organizations offer guidance on determining FMV, like the Donation Value Guide from the Salvation Army. For more valuable contributions you may need a third-party appraisal.

If the charity sells the car, you can only write off (deduct) the amount that it was able to get for selling the car, even if the charity got less than the fair market value.

How to claim a charitable deduction on your taxes

If you’re claiming the above-the-line charitable deduction, all you need to do is write the amount of your charitable contributions (up to the limit) on line 12b of your 2021 Form 1040.

If you’re itemizing and claiming the charitable deduction, fill out the "Gifts to Charity" section of Schedule A by entering the amount of money or the value of items that you donated. There are some extra steps if you made individual donations worth at least $250, plus an extra form to fill out if you had donations of $500 or more.

Always keep a record of your donations in case you ever have to go through an IRS audit. If an organization doesn’t give you a receipt, ask for one. A copy of your credit card statement or bank statement may also be enough if it’s clear who received the payment.

Steps for donations worth $250 or more

For gifts of $250 or more — whether they’re cash or noncash donations — you need a statement from the charity confirming how much you gave and whether or not you received anything in return.

If you did get something in exchange for your donation, you can only deduct the amount you donated that’s worth more than the value of what you received. As a simple example, if you donate $20 for a charity sandwich, and the actual value of the sandwich is $5, you can only write off $15.

It’s important to clarify that the $250 threshold is for an individual donation, not the total from separate donations. The IRS gives a good example: If you donate $25 to your church every week, each weekly donation counts as a separate gift. Even though your total donations for the year would be $1,300, you wouldn’t need to get a statement from the church about what you gave because none of your individual donations was $250 or more.

Steps for donations worth more than $500

Anyone who made a noncash donation worth more than $500 will need to fill out IRS Form 8283. You don’t need this form for cash donations (including payments you made via check or credit card).

Form 8283 requires more information about the item you donated and its condition. For example, if you donate a car, you’ll need to provide information like its year, make, model, and mileage.

There’s also a section on Form 8283 that you need to fill out if you’re claiming a donation of more than $5,000 for a single item. You usually need an appraiser to validate the cost of the donation in that case.