As we move into the final quarter of the year, the pace of solicitations for contributions to a wide variety of charitable causes inevitably will quicken. This is understandable -- the professionals who run the various fund drives know that people are more giving during the holiday season; and they also know that we're more aware of tax matters near the end of the year, and therefore more susceptible to the lure of one more tax deduction.
I don't want to sound like old Scrooge; I contribute a reasonable share of my income to a number of worthy causes, and recommend you do the same if your budget can stand the strain. But please use good judgment in determining where and to what extent your dollars will go.
This is not a consumer column; but you should know that there are agencies (including the local Better Business Bureaus) that will provide information on the extent to which most charities comply with some guidelines, such as the filing of financial statements and the percentage of collections that end up being used for the professed purpose rather than for fund-raising and other administrative costs.
More to the point, I remind you that no matter what tax bracket you are in, the tax saving never reaches 100 percent. That is, even if you're in the top bracket and live in a high-tax state, you can't save more than perhaps 60 percent of what you contribute. So a $100 donation still costs you at least $40 out of pocket.
But there are ways to enhance the value of your gift without increasing the dollar cost to you. For example, have you ever thought of naming your church, synagogue or other favorite charity as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy? For an annual premium of perhaps a couple of hundred dollars a year (which itself gives rise to a Schedule A deduction), the organization you named can get a substantial payoff at your death.
The simplest method for multiplying the power of your contribution -- and a technique that often is overlooked -- is the donation of appreciated securities. Let me demonstrate with an example. Say you own 100 shares of XYZ Corp., which you bought in 1982 at a cost of $1,000. As a result of your sterling investment judgment, these shares have appreciated to a current value of $3,000.
If you were to sell the stock now, you would have a long-term capital gain of $2,000 (disregarding broker commissions). If your combined federal and state income tax bite is 50 percent, that $2,000 profit would cost you $400 in taxes (50 percent of 40 percent of the long-term gain).
Look at what happens if, instead of selling the shares, you donate them to a qualifying charity. First, you save the $400 in taxes -- you do not have to report any gain when you contribute appreciated securities. But you can claim the market value -- the whole $3,000 -- as a contribution on Schedule A of your tax return.
That $3,000 donation translates, in your 50 percent tax bracket, to an actual dollar savings of $1,500. So in return for the original $1,000 cost of the stock, you now pick up a tax reduction of $1,500 and also save the $400 it would have cost you if you had sold the stock. And your favorite charity has an undiluted $3,000 contribution in its collection box.
If you had indeed sold the stock and pocketed the proceeds, you would of course have $3,000 -- minus the $400 tax cost and minus the $1,500 tax savings the contribution would have given you. So you would have ended up with $1,100 more than by playing the benefactor role.
But I think it's a pretty good assumption that you might want to make some kind of contribution anyway. By going the appreciated securities route, you can provide $3,000 to the charitable organization at what turns out to be an $1,100 cost to you. And that sounds like a deal you ought to consider.
Q: Can you tell me if trustee fees qualify as the kind of income that can be put into a Keogh plan?
A: Bad news. Trustee fees represent income that must be reported on your income tax return, usually as "other income." But unless you're a professional trustee, the fees do not qualify as self-employment income from a trade or business. They are not subject to self-employment tax and do not qualify for a Keogh plan.