How potential tax reform in 2021 could affect your charitable giving

Tax papers, glasses and calculator

If you’re like most people, you give to charity because you want to make an impact on the world or support a cause you care about. But how much and when you give is typically a financial decision. Tax incentives may help you to give more than you could otherwise and provide even more resources to causes you care about.

That’s why it can be valuable to stay on top of potential legislative changes like those proposed by the Biden administration—especially as you create a strategic long-term plan for giving this year and in years to come.

Of course, there are still many unknowns with any tax or economic reforms. While we may have an idea of which proposals the Biden administration wants to pursue, the slim Democratic majorities in Congress mean that enacting major changes may be challenging. If they do move forward, you can expect to see many of these ideas evolving with further debate, modification and negotiation among elected officials, the Treasury Department and the IRS.

Regardless of what the future holds, donors should review their current tax strategy to make sure they take advantage of existing planning opportunities. Consider meeting with your financial advisor or CPA to discuss how charitable giving can take your holistic financial plan to the next level.

Tax proposals related to charitable giving

From campaign trail proposals and legislative packages such as the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan to the formal, detailed outline in the “Greenbook,"1 President Biden has proposed several ideas that may come up for debate in the coming months. While the details may change based on the political realities of today, examining these ideas can still help inform your charitable giving this year.

1. Increase in tax rates

The Biden administration has proposed an increase in tax rates for high-income earners—namely, those earning more than $400,000 annually. The highest income tax rate could return to 39.6% from its current 37%.

Impact on charitable giving:

Higher marginal tax rates could make the benefits of charitable giving more significant by increasing the value of the tax deduction compared to a similar contribution made under current rules. Charitable giving could become an even more important strategy for taxpayers looking to maximize their itemized deductions and lower their overall tax liabilities.

2. Increase in capital gains tax rate

The Biden administration has also proposed a sharp increase in taxes on capital gains. Taxpayers are subject to capital gains tax when selling appreciated securities held for more than a year. Biden’s plan proposed treating capital gains like ordinary income for taxpayers with an income above $1 million. Along with the current 3.8% tax on net investment income, this change would increase the top capital gains tax rate for those taxpayers from 23.8% to 43.4%.

Impact on charitable giving:

When donors contribute long-term appreciated assets to charity, they may be able to minimize capital gains tax owed. Donors are eligible to deduct the full fair market value of the contributed property but are not taxed on that unrealized appreciation. With an increase to the capital gains tax rate, this tax benefit could become even more significant. Donors may continue to be eligible to take a fair market value tax deduction on their contributions.

For the many investors who have highly appreciated securities in their portfolios after a long bull market, a charitable donation could represent an even more significant tax savings.

3. Changes that could affect estate planning

Biden proposed repealing the tax provision that allows a step-up in basis on inherited assets to their full fair market value upon death. Under the current law, any appreciation on a property from the time it was originally acquired until the decedent’s death permanently escapes capital gains tax. Proposed legislation would impose a tax on certain transfers of appreciated property including property transferred at death (with some exceptions).

Impact on charitable giving:

Changes to the rules related to inherited property make it more important than ever for high-net-worth individuals to actively engage in estate planning in order to reduce potential future tax liabilities.

Estates are entitled to a deduction for charitable donations. Many high-net-worth individuals plan to offset estate taxes with a financial plan that includes charitable giving—both by reducing the size of their estates prior to death and by including charitable beneficiaries in their estate plans.

Depending on the details of the elimination of the step-up in basis, beneficiaries who inherit appreciated property may be more incentivized to donate that property to charity. Charitable planning could become more important to these taxpayers, but more information is needed to understand the potential ramifications.

4. Changes to corporate taxes

Proposed legislation also includes changes to corporate taxes that may have a downward impact on business owners and investors. Proposals include a corporate tax rate increase from 21% to 28%, changes to some international taxes and a new minimum corporate tax floor of 15%.

Impact on charitable giving:

Charitable tax deductions for businesses vary depending on business type, but increases in marginal tax rates could make corporate philanthropy more valuable in the years ahead. Business owners should consult with a trusted tax advisor to consider how their financial situation could be affected.

While each proposal is presented here separately, it’s important to consider the full picture of how they could combine. Be sure to seek guidance from a financial advisor or CPA to understand how any rules that become law could affect your individual situation.

Sunsetting current provisions

As we contemplate the next four years, it is also important to consider what could happen if the Biden administration is unable to navigate their proposals through Congress successfully.

Many of the provisions in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 are temporary and are set to expire after 2025 unless they are extended or repealed. This means that changes to how Americans pay taxes could be coming within the next few years—whether or not Biden’s proposals become law.

For example, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act doubled the standard deduction—which significantly shrank the pool of taxpayers who itemize their tax deductions each year. If the standard deduction is halved again, many more taxpayers will be in the position to take advantage of the deduction for charitable gifts. As another example, the 2017 law increased the deduction limit on cash contributions from 50% of a taxpayer’s adjusted gross income (AGI) to 60%. Dropping the limit back to 50% of AGI would limit the benefit of some taxpayers’ charitable gifts.

Sunsetting provisions in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would have a significant effect on how donors approach giving—but it would be several years before these changes occur, so donors have a long lead time to consider their potential strategy.

Conclusion

Potential tax reforms present both opportunities and challenges related to charitable tax planning strategies. While these proposals remain just that for now, it could be a good time to check in with your financial advisor or CPA to assess your current situation and to understand how your charitable giving could be affected under the proposed rules.

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