The U.S. Tax Court issued a decision concerning tax deductions of charitable contributions in Thad Deshawn Smith v. Commissioner of the Internal Revenue, October 2, 2014. The case is a great way to discuss what the IRS and Tax Court require as far as documentation.
Mr. Deshawn attempted to deduct a whopping $27,277 in noncash charitable contributions in 2009. He donated clothes, electronics, etc to AMVETS. AMVETS wrote Mr. Deshawn blank “tax receipts”. Have you ever noticed this practice when donating to Goodwill? Goodwill just hands you a blank receipt. Well that practice does not cut it.
The critical failure was that the receipts did not specify the items donated. Mr. Deshawn made a valiant effort to document the donation by creating spreadsheets. However, because there was no evidence that the spreadsheets were submitted (hint – signed) by AMVETS, no deduction was allowed.
Here is some technical background.
Contributions of $250 or More:
Section 170(f)(8)(A) provides that an individual may deduct a gift of $250 or more only if he substantiates the deduction with a contemporaneous written acknowledgment of the contribution by the donee organization. This acknowledgment must:
- include “a description (but not value) of any property other than cash contributed”;
- state whether the donee provided
any goods or services in exchange for the gift; and
- if the donee did provide goods or services, include a description and good-faith estimate of their value. Sec. 170(f)(8)(B); sec. 1.170A-13(f)(2), Income Tax Regs.
The acknowledgment is “contemporaneous” if the taxpayer obtains it from the donee on or before the earlier of:
- the date the taxpayer files a return for the year of contribution; or
- the due date, including extensions, for filing that return. Sec. 170(f)(8)(C).
Contributions exceeding $500
For noncash contributions in excess of $500, taxpayers are required to maintain reliable written records with respect to each item of donated property. Sec. 1.170A-13(b)(2) and (3), Income Tax Regs.
These records must include, among other things:
- the approximate date the property was acquired and the manner of its acquisition;
- a description of the property in detail reasonable under the circumstances;
- the cost or other basis of the property;
- the fair market value of the property at the time it was contributed; and
- the method used in determining its fair market value. Sec. 1.170A-13(b)(2)(ii)(C) and (D), (3)(i)(A) and (B), Income Tax Regs. The taxpayer must include with his return “a description of such property and such other information as the Secretary may require.” Sec. 170(f)(11)(B).
Contributions Exceeding $5,000
For contributions of property (other than publicly traded securities) or similar items of property valued in excess of $5,000, the taxpayer must generally satisfy the substantiation requirements discussed previously and must also:
- obtain a “qualified appraisal” of the items; and
- attach to his tax return a fully completed appraisal summary. Sec. 170(f)(11)(C); sec. 1.170A-13(c)(2), Income Tax Regs.;