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Charitable Donations -- More Than Just Writing Checks

If your contributions to charity begin and end with check writing, you may be missing out on some satisfying volunteer opportunities -- and a few tax deductions. IRS rules allow you a number of tax breaks for contributions other than cash that you make to qualified organizations.

Getting There and Back

You may deduct the costs of going to and from a location where you volunteer your services. You may also deduct the costs of driving for the organization -- for example, to pick up or deliver items. To compute your deduction for charitable driving, use the standard mileage rate of 14 cents per mile for 2021, per the IRS, or deduct the actual cost of your gas and oil. Either way, parking fees and tolls are also deductible.

Recoup Your Expenses

Out-of-pocket expenses you pay in giving services to a qualified organization may count as a charitable donation if you're not reimbursed for them. You cannot deduct your personal expenses, such as child care costs, even if they are necessary for you to volunteer. You may, however, deduct the costs of buying and cleaning a uniform you're required to wear while volunteering if it is not suitable for everyday use.

No Time to Volunteer?

Many charities accept noncash donations. Giving investments that have increased in value can be a smart tax move. Instead of selling the investment and paying capital gains tax, donate it to a qualified organization. If you held the investment for more than one year, you generally can deduct its fair market value at the time of the donation. Remember that you'll need a receipt from the organization to claim a tax deduction, and other records also may be required.

Some Restrictions

Contributions must be made to qualified organizations that meet IRS guidelines. Not sure? The IRS has an online tool, the Exempt Organizations Select Check, that can help. Or call IRS Tax Exempt and Government Entities Customer Account Services at 1-877-829-5500.

Things you can't deduct include contributions to a specific individual; the value of your time or services; personal expenses incurred while volunteering, such as the cost of meals (unless you must be away from home overnight); and appraisal fees to determine the value of donated property.

Consult your tax advisor for more information on charitable donations.