Bud and Mary Albert joined a procession of donors yesterday when they pulled up at Salvation Army head-quarters at 526 First St. NW.
"It's the end of the year," Mary Labert said as she lugged four boxes of fairly stylish clothing inside. "And it comes off our taxes. I figure it adds up to a few hundred dollars (in deductions) a year."
The Alberts' donations added to a flood of end-of-the-year contributions which have been arriving at Salvation Army headquarters for the past several days as people rushed to meet the deadline. Last night at midnight, the tax year ended.
"This is the busiest time of the year," said Leonard R. Smith, the intake clerk for the Salvation Army center. "Everybody wants to get the donations and get the credit for the income taxes.They're getting rid of stuff that's sitting around and serving us a purpose as well."
Over the weekend, several hundred donors showed up at the center, which normally handles between 35 and 50 donors a day, Smith said. A group from one neighborhood called to say they would be arriving with a rental truck full of odds and ends. Saturday, one man brought in his car and left it. Yesterday a woman arrived with a motorcycle.
"I don't think it's uncommon for people to look around at year's end for a deduction," said Leon Levine, a spokesman for the Internal Revenue Service. "Now this type of thing is not the sign of sophisticated tax planning, but I'm not knocking it."
"I think (the last minute rush) applies to your larger contributor generally," said Al Lawson, fund raising chief for Children's Hospital of the District of Columbia, who admits December is the hospital's best month for donations.
Arthur K. Mason, a tax lawyer, said taxpayers begin looking for all sorts of loopholes and deductions as the end of the year approaches.
Some businesses postpone the opening of their mail to avoid listing the enclosed checks as income for that year, he said, and some people who pay their local taxes in instalments make the January payment in December so it's deductible in the old year.
"You get a surge of envelopes coming in for taxes that aren't due until two weeks later," said Mason.
Ellis Evans of Fairfax City, whose wife, Leslie, is expecting a baby any day now, said this weekend that the two of them discussed the possibility of inducing labor so the baby would be born in 1978 in time to bring a handsome tax break.
They eventually dropped the idea as too risky and not worth the $750 deduction. But, although they have accepted the idea they'd have a 1979 baby, Evans still insisted "It'd be nice if it could happen before then."
Mason, the tax lawyer, said such practices are not unknown, and that some couples get temporarily married or divorced at year's end for tax purposes, or sell stocks at a loss. Some practices, he said, "may be in proper," but most of the year-end rush seems to involve giving to charity -- and getting a receipt for it.
The Salvation Army, for example, offers donors a form on which to list the items given and their condition, poor, air or good. But the donor must work out the value of the deduction with the IRS, and the Salvation Army won't assing a price.
"Fair market value," said IRS spokesman Levine when asked how goods are priced for deductions." If you go by the book, that means what a willing buyer will give a willing seller if neither is under a compulsion to buy or sell."
"The IRS isn't in business to nickel-and-dime people to death," he said. "Our kind of concern comes when you take in the suit you bought 10 years ago for $100 and insist it's worth $75 today. Come on, now."
Suits, in fact, seemed to be a popular gift at the Salvation Army center. "It's where you don't like the style or something," said Bud Alber, who brought several of them. "What are you going to do, throw it away At least this way somebody uses it."
Stacked among the suits at the center were pots, pans, sweaters, hats, a new raincoat, five automoble tires, a bathroom cabient, a mannequin, dress shirts and an electric train set.
"Im not sure if anybody knows how much (last-minute giving) there is," said Levine. "It's perfectly legal to get the deductions you're entitled to." CAPTION: Picture, Donor James Demas, is helped by Salvation Army Clerk Leonard Smith, By Margaret Thomas, The Washington Post