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What Charitable Contributions Can I Deduct for Tax Purposes? 
by kmhagen July 12, 2005

Deductible charitable contributions for U.S. federal income tax purposes are voluntary donations or gifts made to organizations that are religious, charitable, educational, scientific, or literary in purpose, or that work to prevent cruelty to children or animals. You may be able to deduct cash contributions or the value of property you donate, expenses paid for a student living with you, and your out-of-pocket expenses in working as a volunteer. In order to claim a deduction for charitable contributions, you must file Form 1040 and itemize deductions on Schedule A.

In order to be able to claim a tax deduction for a charitable contribution, the contribution must have been made to what the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has defined as a “qualified organization”.  There are many types of organizations that qualify, based on their purpose and the work they do.

Qualified Organizations

Some examples of qualified organizations include:

  • Churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, and other religious organizations
  • CARE, Goodwill Industries, Red Cross, Salvation Army, United Way, and other non-profit charitable organizations
  • Most non-profit educational institutions, including the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, colleges, museums, and daycare centers available to the general public
  • Fraternal orders
  • Veterans organizations
  • Non-profit hospitals and medical research organizations
  • Non-profit volunteer fire companies
  • Public parks and recreation facilities
  • Civil defense organizations
  • Federal, state, and local governments, if the gifts are solely for public purposes.

Checking an Organization’s Status

If you have any question as to whether a contribution is deductible, you can check with the organization itself.  They should be able to provide you with verification of their charitable status.  In order to become qualified, an organization must apply to the Internal Revenue Service.  The IRS maintains a list of qualified organizations, which can be found in its Publication 78.  A printed version may be available in public libraries, or there is a search tool available on the Internal Revenue Service website.

Contributions You Can Deduct

In general, you can deduct donations or gifts in cash or property that you make to a qualified charitable organization.  If you give property, you can normally deduct the property’s fair market value at the time of the donation.  There are limits (described below) that apply in the case of certain types of property.  You can also deduct certain out-of-pocket expenses in performing volunteer work, and you may be able to deduct a certain amount of expenses you incur if you have a student living with you.

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