Are you inspired to donate more to charity this year, but you’re not quite sure how much to give? There are so many causes that need our support. Hunger, food insecurity, social justice, racial inequality, climate change, fair elections, cure for Alzheimer’s, cure for cancer, refugees, girl’s education, the list goes on. You feel called to give more to charity, but you also don’t want to stretch your finances too thin.
This article will guide you in your discernment on how much you should donate to charity.
How much does the average person donate to charity?
The average person donates about $5,931 per year to charity. That’s close to $500 per month. This figure was calculated using the 38 million tax returns filed during the 2017 tax year, the most recent year for which data is available. The actual amount that people donate to charity is more than $5,931 since not all donations are captured in tax returns.
It varies by income too. Those whose income was between $100,000 and $200,000 donated $4,371, while those who made $250,000 or more donated $22,484 to charity. Even Americans who are in the lowest income bracket (under $15,000) gave money too, about $1,550 on average.
It gets more interesting when we compute the percentage of income that Americans give to charity.
|Income Range (AGI)||% of income given to charity|
As we can see, the more money people make, the less they give to charity as a percentage of their income!
Is it better to give to one charity or many?
If you feel strongly about just one issue, then you can choose to focus your charitable efforts on that one charity. But if the spirit moves you to help with many causes, that’s great too.
What you may want to consider is donating on a monthly recurring basis. This helps charities plan their programs better if they know the number of donations to expect.
I personally give to about 10 charities, whose work I’ve come to believe in.
How much should you budget for charity?
Start with 1% of your income, then work your way up. If you make $100,000 a year, that’s $1,000 per year going to a public charity, or $20 per week. That’s very doable.
If you want to match the donation of the average American in your income bracket, you can slowly move it up to 3% of your income. Continuing with our example above, that’s $3,000 per year or close to $60 per week.
If you’re still working on paying off a personal or a student loan, you may decide to focus on that first, before increasing your budget for charity.
I currently give about 5% of my income to charity. I’m continually inspired to give more as we work with clients who share the same passion.
How much can you donate to Charity?
There is no legal limit on how much you can donate to charity. You can donate your entire savings and property to charity if you feel called to take a vow of poverty or live a truly minimalist life.
But there is a limit on how much you can deduct from your taxes, which we discuss below.
Is there a limit on charitable donations for 2021?
For 2021, you can deduct cash donations of up to 100% of your adjusted gross income, if it was made to a qualifying public charity. This is temporary, as a result of the Consolidated Appropriations Act signed into law in December 2020. Gifts to donor-advised funds (discussed below) are not eligible for this special election.
Are all donations tax-deductible?
Not all donations can be deducted from your tax return. If you gave money to a homeless person or to a friend to help cover medical costs or funeral expenses, these are not tax-deductible. You cannot deduct donations from a political campaign. If you donated money to a nonprofit for advocacy or lobbying purposes, these are not tax-deductible.
Most donations to 501(c)(3) charitable organizations and churches qualify for tax deductions. Go to the IRS’s online Tax Exempt Organization Search to see if an organization is tax-exempt and eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions.
Can I deduct mileage for volunteer driving?
To be deductible, you must have volunteered to a qualifying charity, you weren’t reimbursed, and the travel expense was incurred primarily due to the volunteer work. For example, if you went on a week-long vacation and volunteered for a few hours, you cannot deduct your vacation travel expenses.
You cannot deduct the monetary value of your time volunteering to a public charity.
How much of a donation is tax-deductible?
In general, you can deduct up to 60% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). So if your AGI is $100,000, you can choose to donate $60,000 to a qualifying public charity and be able to deduct all of that from your taxes.
This limit may be reduced to 50%, 30%, or 20% of your AGI, depending on the type of property you give and the type of charity you give it to. For example, with stock donations, the limit drops to 30% of AGI.
For 2021, you can deduct cash contributions made to a qualifying public charity of up to 100% of your adjusted gross income. This is not necessarily a good tax planning move, but you could if you wanted to.
Keep in mind, to avail of these tax deductions, you need to itemize your deductions.
However, for 2021, even if you are not itemizing and instead take the standard deduction, you can still deduct up to $300 in cash donations to qualified charities.
How to claim tax-deductible donations on your tax return
- Tally up all your donations to qualifying charities. I personally keep a spreadsheet to make it easier to track. Make sure you exclude donations made to political campaigns, lobbying work, and other non-qualified donations.
- Input your total donations to qualifying public charities in your tax software. Under Deductions, you should see a line item on charitable donations. Input all other deductions, if any.
- Decide between using Standard Deduction and Itemized Deductions. If you’re using tax return software, it will recommend which is better for you. It’s typically advantageous to itemize your deductions if you have a decent amount of mortgage interest, state & local taxes, and charitable donations combined. You only get to claim tax-deductible donations if you are itemizing your deductions (except for 2021).
- Keep all receipts and proof of donations. The IRS requires proof of all donations big or small.
How much can you claim for donations without receipts for 2021?
The IRS needs proof for all your qualifying donations.
For cash donations less than $250, you must keep either a receipt, a bank or credit card statement, or written communication from the charity. It needs to contain the date, amount, and name of the charity.
For cash donations of $250 or more, you need a written statement from the charity containing the following information:
- Name of the charity
- Amount of cash contribution
- A statement that no goods or services were provided by the organization, if that is the case, or the services consisted entirely of intangible religious benefits.
How much can you claim in charitable donations without getting audited?
If the total charitable donations you claimed are significantly more than the average in your income bracket, the IRS might get curious and perhaps audit you. Based on the table above, most Americans give 3% to 5% of their income to charity. If you claimed to give 20% of your income, the IRS might think something’s fishy. However, if your donations are legit, this hopefully won’t stop you from giving more to charity.
Another way to catch the IRS’s attention is to give a significant noncash donation. That’s because taxpayers can potentially inflate their value.
What are donor-advised funds?
Donor-advised funds can be a tax-efficient way to give money to charity. Let’s say you’d like to donate $5,000 this year, but you haven’t decided yet which charities you’d like to donate to. If you set up a $5,000 donor-advised fund, you can take the full deduction now and decide in the future where you’d like the money to go.
Donor-advised funds can be an effective tool for tax planning. You can choose to put money in a donor-advised fund during years when your tax bracket is particularly high, in order to lower your taxable income.
If you’d like to donate anonymously, donor-advised funds can also help you accomplish that.
Through a donor-advised fund, you can also potentially grow your donation, tax-free. You can choose from conservative, moderate, or aggressive investment options.
There are fees associated with setting up a donor-advised fund. The investment funds charge fees (called expense ratios), and there usually are administrative fees.
You can set up donor-advised funds at many reputable financial institutions.
How much should you donate to charity?
It’s a personal choice. The average American gives about 3% to 5% of their income to charity. If your mortgage is your only debt, and you’re already sufficiently saving for your future, you may have the capacity to give more.
In the end, it may come down to your values, your financial situation, and how strong you’d like to align your money with your values. We are inspired by clients who want to donate to charity.
Alvin Carlos, CFP®, CFA is an investment advisor and fee-only financial planner, in Washington, D.C that works with clients across the country. He has a Master’s degree in International Relations from SAIS-Johns Hopkins. Alvin is a partner of District Capital, a financial planning firm designed to help 30s and 40s professionals achieve their financial goals through smart investing, reducing taxes, retirement planning, and maximizing their money. Schedule a free discovery call to learn how we can help elevate your finances.