- Tax season is upon us, and it’s time to figure out if and how changes brought by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will affect you. Bear in mind that adjustments have been made in each of these areas:
- Individual tax income brackets and tax rates
- Standard deduction (doubled)
- Personal exemptions (eliminated)
- Child credit (increased)
- Itemized deductions (adjusted, limited, eliminated)
- Mortgage interest (capped)
- State and local tax exemptions (capped)
- New pass-through income deduction (for qualifying small-business owners)
- Estate tax exclusion (increased)
Recently, the IRS announced it will not penalize taxpayers who underpaid their estimated taxes for 2018 (through W-4 withholding or estimated quarterly payments) — as long as they paid 85 percent of what they owe. Depending on your circumstances and the complexity of your return, it may be a good idea to consult with a tax professional to complete your 2018 taxes as well as help develop a plan for next year. 2
How to Vet a Charity
If you are inclined to make charitable donations, be aware that there are a million-plus legitimate charities that Americans can support, but countless other “charities” that are fraudulent shell organizations. Frequently, they use similar names to purposely trick contributors into thinking they are well-known charities. Before you give, make sure your chosen organization is not only legit but aligned with your values and the way you believe a charity should be run.1
This is no small task, as charitable organizations aren’t always as transparent as they might be. Many times, their financial records available to the public can be years out of date. Even if they are current, not many people can analyze financial documents with clear understanding. Plus, it’s not always clear what acceptable metrics can be used to compare against charitable organizations’ financial proclivities. In fact, some of the more trustworthy charities may direct more of their donations to their stated cause rather than updating their website with clear and accurate information. This presents a quandary for the uninformed giver, as good charities may spend more time helping others while slick, sophisticated-seeming organizations may use donations less efficiently.
It’s important to be an informed giver, whether writing a check for thousands of dollars or dropping change in a local fundraising jar. Vigilant vetting is an important part of philanthropy. Be sure to get the full name of the prospective charity soliciting your money, because the first and easiest line of defense is to conduct a Google search using the name of the charity plus words like “scam” or “complaint.” For more in-depth investigating, check out the following government and charity watchdogs to research a specific organization:
- IRS Exempt Organizations Select Check
- Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance
- Charity Navigator * Forbes’ annual list of 100 largest U.S. charities
- Forbes’ annual list of 100 largest U.S. charitie
- State charity regulator office
As for general guidelines, it’s a good idea to have in mind the cause or charity you’d like to support rather than be swayed by a cold solicitation. If you do get a call, email or mail request from a charity with which you’re not familiar, don’t feel rushed into making a contribution. There’s no reason a legitimate charity should try to pressure you to pledge money before you have a chance to do your own research; it should be willing to take donations at any time.
Bear in mind that many legitimate charities contract with outside telemarketers to make these types of calls, so a portion of your contribution will go to pay that marketing organization. Consider if that’s how you’d like your charitable gift to be used.
The Charitable Contribution Deduction
The good news is, starting this year, taxpayers may now deduct charitable donations totaling up to 60 percent of their adjusted gross income. The bad news, however, is that because the new legislation increased the standard deduction, fewer filers will list itemized deductions. In other words, your itemized deductions will need to exceed your standard deduction on your 2018 return to claim charitable donations.
- $12,000 for single filers
- $24,000 for married filers
With new limits on how much you can deduct on mortgage interest and state and local taxes, it is likely that far fewer people will itemize deductions this year. While large donors may continue to benefit from the charitable deduction, smaller donors may need be content with that feeling of good will.
Content prepared by Kara Stefan Communications
Kay Bell. Bankrate. Nov. 7, 2018. “Here’s how to get a tax deduction for charitable giving.” https://www.bankrate.com/finance/taxes/get-a-tax-deduction-for-charitable-giving-1.aspx. Accessed Jan. 18, 2019.
Andy Friedman. The Washington Update. Jan. 1, 2018. “Tax Reform Accomplished: How Does the Legislation Affect Investors and Businesses?” http://www.thewashingtonupdate.com/white-papers/public-white-papers/tax-reform-accomplished-how-does-the-legislation-affect-investors-and-businesses/. Accessed Jan. 18, 2019.
Allyson Versprille and Laura Davison. BenefitsPro. Jan. 16, 2019. “IRS won’t penalize confused taxpayers following changes to code.” https://www.benefitspro.com/2019/01/16/irs-wont-penalize-confused-taxpayers-following-changes-to-code/. Accessed Jan. 18, 2019.
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