Q: Perhaps you will address this matter in your column, because many of your readers no doubt are affected by it. Maryland has frozen all withdrawals at some S&Ls. Assuming that interest accumulates but depositors are prohibited from withdrawing it for the rest of this tax year, what is the IRS position on reporting interest to which the taxpayer has no access?
A: Although the IRS is considering this problem, it has not yet reached a definitive position for publication.
But, I have a position -- or at least an opinion. If withdrawals still are totally frozen on Dec. 31, then I believe you will have no responsibility to report any interest credited to your account after the date of the freeze, in accordance with the theory of "constructive receipt" (which says you must report income in the year in which it is received or becomes available to you). Because the interest in question is not available to you in 1985 -- even if it is credited to your account -- it should not be considered 1985 income.
On the other hand, interest credited to your account through May (i.e., before the freeze) is likely to be considered taxable 1985 income because at the time it was credited, the money could have been withdrawn even though you elected to leave it in the account.
By the same logic, if we're talking about a certificate of deposit whose terms do not permit withdrawal of interest before maturity, then none of the interest credited would be taxable income until it was made available for withdrawal.
If your funds are in an S&L where withdrawals are not completely frozen but only limited in amount ($1,000 a month, for example), then the interest credited to your account probably is taxable 1985 income, at least up to the cumulative limit of allowable withdrawals.
The IRS District Office in Baltimore is seeking a resolution of this question from IRS headquarters. Nancy Ross had an excellent news story on this subject in the financial section of The Post on Saturday, Oct. 5. (You may be able to find a copy, possibly on microfiche, in your local library.) There probably will be a follow-up article when a final decision is made.
Q: Here's a question you didn't cover in your column on tax-deferred utility dividends. What if, instead of selling my reinvested shares, I gave them to my church or some other charity? Could I claim a deduction for the market value of the shares on my tax return?
A: I didn't cover the question because I didn't think of it -- but of course a donation of the accumulated shares to your favorite charity is a possible alternative. So I asked the experts at the Internal Revenue Service. Turns out the answer parallels the answer to the preceding question: The IRS did not have a position on it.
But, again, I have an opinion. It seems pretty clear that when you make a gift that would be capital-gain property if you were to sell it, you may claim its fair market value as a charitable contribution. This rule doesn't seem to change even if your basis is zero.
Of course, the gift would have to meet all the usual restrictions. You would have to hold the property long enough to qualify for capital-gain treatment -- a year and a day, in the case of reinvested utility dividends. And your total contributions could not exceed the limit of 50 percent of adjusted gross income for the year (30 percent in certain cases).
IRS Publication 526, "Charitable Contributions," provides further details. If you want a formal answer to your question, explain the circumstances in a letter to the IRS and request a ruling. Write to the Associate Chief Counsel (Technical), Internal Revenue Service, Room 2579, 1111 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20224.
The IRS announced recently that the interest rate charged on tax underpayments and paid on overpayments and delayed refunds will be reduced from 11 percent to 10 percent effective Jan. 1. The rate is adjusted semiannually.