Instead, find a charity’s mailing address on its Web site, cut a check and send it. Better yet, because New Year’s Day is just around the corner, make a donation online. Most charities are set up to process online payments.
● Consider the benefits of donating appreciated stock, rather than cash. You get a full deduction for the value of the donated stock, and you will never owe capital gains on the appreciation.
If you donate shares valued at $1,000 that you bought years ago for $500, you get to claim a tax deduction for the full $1,000.
●Follow carefully the IRS’s stringent rules. First, remember you are only entitled to a charitable deduction if you itemize your deductions and if the recipient has nonprofit status.
For a contribution of less than $250, a returned check from a charity will suffice as proof of giving. Otherwise, you need documentation from the charity — a receipt or letter.
To deduct gifts of clothes or household items, you need a receipt. And if you give items you think should be valued at more than $5,000, an appraisal is required and you’ll need to get a signature from the charity on your tax return.
If you use a credit card to make your charitable contribution, it will still be considered a 2011 contribution even though you won’t get your bill until next year.
However, if you made a pledge this year but the contribution won’t change hands until next year, you aren’t allowed to claim the donation on your 2011 tax return.
Above all, advisers say, keep good documentation of your giving. Then, you can sit back and enjoy knowing that you’ve given generously, that you will benefit from a tax deduction when you file your return in April, and that you have no worries if the IRS comes knocking.
Hube is a columnist for the Fiscal Times, an independent news organization that provides original reporting and analysis on fiscal and economic matters.