3 ways to offset a high-income year with charitable giving

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If you’re expecting to have a high-income year—due to a large bonus or equity compensation or because you will be realizing gains from long-term investments—you could be heading toward a bigger tax bill than you were expecting. But good news: as you think about charitable giving this year, you might have additional opportunities to help reduce your taxes—while maximizing your support for your favorite nonprofits during this time of need.

1. Think beyond cash as a donation

Instead of selling your non-cash assets like stock and mutual fund shares and donating the after-tax proceeds, it may be advantageous to donate these assets directly to charity. You’ll get two significant benefits, as long as you’ve owned the assets for more than a year. You’ll generally be eligible to claim a tax deduction in the amount of the full fair market value, and neither you nor the charity will pay any taxes on the gain. Because of this, you will be able to give as much as 20% more to charity than had you sold the asset and donated the after-tax proceeds. You also can donate stock that has significantly appreciated, and then buy more of the same stock, essentially “resetting” the cost basis at a higher amount.

Does your company participate in long-term incentive plans? While equity awards can provide significant income, they can also create unexpected tax consequences once exercised or vested. Consider leveraging previous years’ vested shares or other long-term appreciated assets for charitable giving as a smart way to reduce your tax exposure. 

Learn more about the benefits of donating long-term appreciated assets

2. Max out your deduction with a combined gift

A charitable gift that combines cash and long-term appreciated securities may create a larger deduction than contributing securities alone. 

Donations of publicly traded stocks, bonds or mutual funds that you’ve held for more than a year are generally deductible at fair market value, and current year deductions can be in amounts up to 30% of your adjusted gross income (AGI).  Meanwhile, when you donate cash, generally you can give up to 60% of your AGI and deduct the contribution in the current year.

If you make contributions of both cash and stock, the IRS has an ordering mechanism in place to determine which deductions are taken first and to what extent. It’s also possible to carry forward any unused deductions for up to five years.

“If you’re having a high-income year, it is the time to make sure you’ve fully taken advantage of all possible deductions,” said Brandon O'Neill, vice president and charitable planning consultant at Fidelity Charitable. “For the charitably inclined, maxing out your deductions is a strategy that could make a lot of sense and is worth discussing with your tax advisor.”

3. Consider a donor-advised fund for charitable giving

Whether you choose to donate cash equivalents, stock or other appreciated assets, a donor-advised fund is a simple and efficient way to make a donation quickly and be eligible for a tax deduction this year. Rather than scrambling to write out checks or transfer stock to multiple charities, you can make a single donation to set up a donor-advised fund, like the Giving Account at Fidelity Charitable. 

A donor-advised fund is a dedicated charitable account used for the sole purpose of supporting charities you care about. You become eligible for a tax deduction on contributions to Fidelity Charitable, which is a public charity. Then, you’re able to support any IRS-qualified public charity on the timetable that best suits you by recommending grants from the account to the charities you care about. The fund also can be invested for potential growth, possibly resulting in even more money for charity.

This can also be a great strategy for people who may be thinking about retirement. By front-loading giving to a donor-advised fund while you’re still in your high income-earning years, you’ll be able to both get additional tax savings when you need them—and pre-fund your charitable giving during retirement, when income may be lower.

It is also useful for anyone with a significant capital gains event or experiencing a high-income year and needing a little more time to decide which charities to support. “It is a great, great vehicle for the 99% of the population out there who do charitable gifting, and they make it very easy to gift,” said Elda Di Re—a partner at Ernst & Young with a focus on tax, financial and charitable planning—in an interview on PBS’s WealthTrack.

Learn more about the benefits of donor-advised funds

Avoid the end-of-year scramble and support your favorite charities now

To be eligible for a tax deduction this year, contributions must be completed by December 31. However, it can take longer to contribute some types of assets than others, so be sure to plan ahead and begin the process early. It is more critical than ever to think generously and strategically about charitable giving—to maximize your tax benefit and your support of the charities you care about most. 

Want to take advantage of tax-smart giving methods this year to make the most of your donation?

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How Fidelity Charitable can help

Since 1991, we have been a leader in charitable planning and giving solutions, helping donors like you support their favorite charities in smart ways.

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