What records should I keep when claiming deductions?

Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Q: What records do I need to keep or receive from a charity to deduct my contributions when I file my 2017 taxes?

A: The records you need depend on the type and the size of the gift. It’s important to keep the right records in your files, so you don’t lose the deduction if you’re audited.

“The IRS is unforgiving on charitable contributions. If you don’t have the right pieces of paper, you don’t get the deductions,” says Bill Fleming, a managing director with accounting firm PwC.

Here is the documentation you will need, based on the type of gift:

Cash gifts of less than $250: Keep a canceled check, credit-card receipt, bank record or acknowledgement from the charity showing the date and amount of the contribution. Keep your pay stub showing any contributions you made through payroll deductions.

Gifts of $250 or more: You’ll need a written acknowledgment from the charity, including the amount and date of your contribution. “And the receipt has to have the magic words on it — ‘no goods or services were received,’” Fleming says. If you do receive goods or services in exchange for your donation — tickets to an event, for example — the charity’s acknowledgment must include an estimated value of the gift, which you would subtract from the deduction you’re claiming. (You don’t have to subtract the value of a token gift, such as a coffee mug.)

Non-cash donations: A charity will provide a form acknowledging a gift of clothes or furniture, but it’s up to you to determine the value. You can deduct the fair market value of the items, which is what you would get for the items based on their age and condition if you sold them.

Gifts of items worth more than $5,000: You generally need an appraisal valuing items worth more than $5,000, in addition to an acknowledgement from the charity. For more information, see IRS Publication 561, “Determining the Value of Donated Property.”

Charitable mileage and travel: You can generally deduct expenses for your travel while performing services for a charity, including 14 cents per mile driven as well as parking fees and tolls.

Out-of-pocket charitable expenses: You can deduct the cost of items you buy for a charity. Keep receipts of those expenses and the date and reason for the purchase.

Qualified charitable distributions from an IRA: If you’re older than 70 1/2, you can give up to $100,000 each year tax-free from your traditional IRA to charity. It counts as your required minimum distribution but isn’t included in your adjusted gross income.

You’ll receive a Form 1099-R from your IRA administrator reporting your IRA distributions for the year. But it won’t specify how much was a tax-free transfer to charity, so it’s important to keep a letter from the charity acknowledging the donation.

Kimberly Lankford is a contributing editor to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to moneypower@kiplinger.com.

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