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Tips for Donating a Car to Charity

Car Donate
A charity that uses a donated vehicle for transportation or hauling goods obviously benefits directly from such a donation. However, in many cases donated cars will be sold en masse, either by the charity itself or by a dealer to raise funds for the charity. In the case of a dealer, the charity generally receives a flat fee per car, sometimes as little as $45 per car.

It's easy to donate a car to charity if all you want to do is get rid of it. Simply call a charity that accepts old vehicles, and it will tow your heap away.

If you want to maximize the benefits for both the charity and yourself, however, it's more complicated. Until 2005, it was easy for taxpayers to deduct the entire "fair market value" of a donated vehicle from their taxable income, reducing the taxes they'd have to pay to the Internal Revenue Service. (The IRS defines fair market value as "the price a willing buyer would pay and a willing seller would accept for the vehicle, when neither party is compelled to buy or sell and both parties have reasonable knowledge of the relevant facts.")

Listed below are tips for donors who would like to donate a car to charity. Beware that the donor's tax deductions for car donations may be limited to the price at which the charity sold the car.

To receive the maximum tax deduction on your car donation, and to receive the satisfaction that the full value of the car benefits a charitable purpose, give it to a charity that will use the vehicle in its operations or will give it to a person in need. Otherwise, your tax deduction will not be based on the fair market value, but will be limited to the amount of money the charity receives from the sale of your car. If the charity you are donating to does sell the vehicle, ask what percentage of the proceeds they receive. See Car Donations: Taking Taxpayers for a Ride for more.

Allowing taxpayers to deduct the full fair market value for all those donated vehicles cost the IRS a lot of dollars, however, so the agency tightened the rules. Today, you can only deduct a vehicle's fair market value under very specific conditions. We're going to walk you through those conditions, with the usual proviso that you should discuss these issues with your tax prepared before you act. Also note that if your state or locality also levies income taxes, other rules may also apply.

You Must Itemize Your Return If you want to claim fair market value for your car donation to reduce your federal income taxes, you must itemize deductions. An enrolled agent is a tax expert who can represent clients before the IRS.

Ask if the charity accepts car donations directly, without involving a third party. If possible, drive the vehicle to the charity instead of using a towing or pickup service. This will allow the charity to keep the full amount of any proceeds from selling the car.

Make sure the charity is eligible to receive tax deductible contributions. Ask for a copy for your records of the organization’s IRS letter of determination which verifies its tax exempt status.

Be sure that you get a receipt from the charity for your car donation.

Be aware that non-cash donations are one of the most common triggers to an audit by the IRS, so you’ll want to document the value of the car and keep records of it.

Car For Charity

If you've always filed 1040EZ tax returns and you plan to keep filing them, you won't be able to deduct any amount for the car donation. You can file a regular 1040 tax form and itemize, even if the donated auto is your only deduction. That's usually not the best choice, however, unless you like paying a lot more taxes to the IRS than you must.

"For tax purposes, because a donation is a deduction from your income, the tax benefit relates to your tax bracket," Midwood says. "It's not a dollar-for-dollar item."

Here's the math: Suppose you are in the 28 percent tax bracket. Your donated car's value, and thus the deduction, is $1,000. "The $1,000 deduction will save you $280," Midwood says. If you're in the 15 percent tax bracket and you donate a car worth $1,000, it will only reduce your taxes by $150.

If instead you take the standard deduction, which in 2012 was $5,950 for a single individual or $11,900 for a married couple filing together, you save thousands of dollars over filing an itemized return only for the purposes of detailing your car donation.

The only way that donating a car nets you any tax benefit is if you have many deductions, and if their total sum, including the car, exceeds your standard deduction.

If the car is worth more than $500, the donor must complete Section A of IRS Form 8283 and attach it to their tax return. Donors are required to file with his/her tax return a written acknowledgement from the charity. If the charity sells the car, the charity must provide the donor with a certification that the car was sold at "arms length" between unrelated parties and the sale price of the car within 30 days. In this case, the donor's tax deductions will be limited to the total amount the charity sold the car for. If the charity does not sell the car, it must provide the donor with a receipt within 30 days of the contribution. The charity may also be required to provide certification to the donor stating how it plans to use or improve the car and stating that it promises not to sell or transfer the car. Penalties are imposed on charities that provide fraudulent acknowledgements to donors.

If the car is worth $5,000 or more, an independent appraisal is necessary. The donor must also fill out Section B of IRS Form 8283. For cars worth less than $5,000, use the Kelley Blue Book, the Hearst Black Book, or a guide from the National Auto Dealers Association (NADA) to determine the market value. Make sure you use the correct figure for the date, mileage, and condition of your car. Picking the highest figure for your car model and year without taking into account other factors may not pass muster with the IRS.

Take pictures of the car and save receipts for new tires or other upgrades to verify its value.

Remember, it is the donor, not the charity, who is obligated to value the car and who will pay the penalties if an IRS challenge finds your figure inaccurate.

You also can call an IRS toll-free number: (877) 829-5500. If you do this, you'll have to listen to some recorded information about tax forms that probably don't apply to you. You'll then be given the option to "Press 2" to talk to a customer service rep about exempt organizations. Note that the waits can be quite long: up to 30 minutes.

You can always donate as much as you want to charities, but the IRS limits how much you can claim on your tax return. "Charitable donations can't exceed 50 percent of your gross income"

Tips Donating Car for Child
Another Approach to Car "Donation"
Besides giving your car directly to a charity, there is another way your vehicle can help a charity and also maximize your tax benefits: You can sell the vehicle yourself and donate the proceeds.
"If the qualified organization is going to sell the vehicle in order to receive cash, then it would make sense for an individual to sell the vehicle to a private party to maximize the amount of cash proceeds," Midwood says.

"Privately selling the vehicle might generate larger cash proceeds than if the organization were to sell the vehicle, she says. "The donor would then make a cash contribution to the organization."

Selling any car can be a hassle and selling one that's on its last legs poses challenges of its own. How you proceed depends on your goal. Are you focused on getting rid of a junker with minimum effort and you'd look at the tax deduction as a nice bonus? Then donating your car makes good sense.

If your goal is to maximize your tax deduction, carefully review the steps here and then make your decision. Whatever you decide to do, parting with your old car could help a nonprofit carry out its mission. And it also might make room in your garage for a new car.
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