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May 22, 2018

How can investors make tax-effective charitable contributions under the new laws?

Everyone is still digesting the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017 and its potential impact on their future tax bills. “Everyone,” of course, includes investors, because they’ll need to reexamine their approach to many facets of their portfolio.

Among the law’s components that they’ll likely look at closely is charitable giving. Indeed, the tax-planning changes this part of the law involves will be of particular importance to many investors and will require a thorough review.

Specifically, TCJA increases the standard deduction to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for joint filers. Individuals over age 65 can deduct an additional $1,300, or $2,600 for joint filers. And the allowance for state and local income and sales and property taxes, which in the past have been effective ways to boost your itemized deductions, will now be limited to $10,000.

Therefore, unless a taxpayer can exceed the standard deduction amount, he or she will see no tax savings for charitable contributions. This change will drastically reduce the number of households that claim charitable giving as an itemized deduction on their returns.

Coupled with this deduction change is one in tax rates and brackets, meaning that most people’s income will be taxed at a lower rate in 2018. In addition, the federal estate tax exemption has been raised to $22.4 million from $11.2 million for a couple.

All assets above this level will be taxed at 40 percent at the federal level, once those assets are eventually passed to nonspouse heirs. The upshot? Based upon the value of your estate, there was much greater motivation for you to gift assets to charity in 2017 than there’ll be in 2018.

The qualified charitable distribution (QCD), however, is one way for investors to counteract some of these detrimental effects of the tax code changes. A QCD allows investors above age 70ó to donate money to charities directly from their IRAs. Total annual QCDs from all IRAs cannot exceed $100,000 per individual. Spouses can make up to $100,000 of QCDs.

A QCD will also count toward satisfying an individual’s required minimum distribution for that tax year. In addition, since the IRA owner does not directly receive the distribution, it will be excluded from his or her taxable income, unlike what happens with a typical IRA withdrawal. This will create another opportunity for tax savings, even if the taxpayer’s itemized deductions do not exceed the standard allowance.

What options are available for those under age 701/2? We are still recommending the use of donor-advised funds. With a donor-advised fund, an investor transfers appreciated stock into an account designated for charitable giving. For example, someone may have purchased 100 shares of Apple at $50 per share. If Apple is currently priced at $175, a 100-share gift would be valued at $17,500. The donor would then receive a $17,500 deduction without having to realize what otherwise would have been a $12,500 gain.

Not only would this donor avoid a substantial capital gain, but there could be further tax benefits if the gift helped him or her exceed the standard deduction.

What’s more, donor-advised funds provide added convenience by doing much of the work for you. And they allow you to make a substantial gift immediately, which you can grant to charities over a number of years. In other words, you can take your time allocating your donations, as the charitable contribution is technically made the moment you transfer the stock or cash into the fund.

Simplifying the tax code is rarely part of new legislation, and charitable giving is one of countless elements for investors to consider. It is vital to periodically review possible strategies with your investment advisor and accountant to choose the best course of action. This year, such reviews will be particularly crucial given the magnitude of TCJA’s impact on our tax laws.

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