Could A Donor-Advised Fund Save You Money On Taxes?

By Ash Toumayants

Do you remember the days when you could give generously to others and get a nice tax break as an added benefit? Even if you didn’t donate money for the sole purpose of saving on your taxes, it was a nice perk come tax time. Unfortunately, the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, with its higher standard deduction, causes a whole lot of people to lose out on all tax benefits associated with charitable giving. 

Thankfully, you can still receive tax benefits for your charitable giving. How? Enter donor-advised funds.

How The Tax Cuts And Jobs Act (TCJA) Affects Charitable Giving

If you are charitably inclined, you are probably used to itemizing your deductions. However, with the increased standard deduction and the limit on deductions for state and local taxes, you may have not received as much of a tax benefit for your giving last year as you have previously. 

Let me show you an example. Let’s assume that for both 2017 (pre-TCJA) and 2018 (post-TCJA) you and your spouse paid:

  • $8,000 in state and local taxes
  • $7,000 in property taxes
  • $6,000 in mortgage interest
  • $10,000 in charitable gifts

For 2017, your itemized deductions would total $31,000, which is $18,300 more than the standard deduction of $12,700 for a married couple. 

However, for 2018, your itemized deductions would only total $26,000 because you can only deduct up to $10,000 of the state and local taxes you pay under the new law. Also, the new standard deduction for a married couple was $24,000 for 2018, so your itemized deduction only totaled $2,000 more. Basically, you only get a tax benefit for a fifth of your charitable giving.

What Is A Donor-Advised Fund?

This is why donor-advised funds (DAF) are gaining popularity. A DAF acts as a philanthropic savings account. You put money into it for the purpose of giving to charity and let it sit there until you are ready to give. Unlike a savings account, though, all contributions are irrevocable. Once you put an asset into a DAF, you can’t take it back. 

Because you can’t take back your contributions, they are considered complete charitable gifts and immediately tax-deductible. You can take the tax deduction right away even if you wait several years to pass the money on to charity. Though you don’t technically retain ownership when you put money or assets into a DAF, you are still able to guide, request, and recommend where the money goes. You get to name your DAF account, advisors, successors, and beneficiaries, and the holder of the DAF makes the ultimate decision on where the funds go. If you’re worried about letting go of control of your money, know that most DAF-holders will honor donor wishes as long as the recommendation complies with legal and tax requirements and grant-making policies.

What Are The Tax Benefits Of A Donor-Advised Fund?

DAFs offer several tax benefits. First, you get to take an immediate deduction when you contribute, even if the money has yet to be given to the charity of your choice. Any limit to the deduction you’re allowed to take depends on what kind of assets you contribute to the DAF.

Publicly traded securities are a popular asset to contribute to a DAF. This is because you can avoid paying long-term capital gains taxes and still deduct the fair market value of the securities (if held over a year). If you buy a security at $100 and put it in a DAF when it’s worth $200, you get to deduct $200 of charitable giving without paying taxes on the $100 in gains.

Contributions of long-term capital gain property, like appreciated securities, can be deducted up to 30% of adjusted gross income (AGI). For all other contributions, including cash, you can deduct up to 60% of your AGI. If your contributions exceed your deductible limit, you can carry them forward to the next tax year.

Also, all contributions can be invested within the DAF to grow tax-free. Once assets are in a DAF, they belong to a charity and are therefore exempt from taxes. 

How Are Donor-Advised Funds Used?

Let’s return to our previous example and assume all your spending numbers will be the same for the years 2019 and 2020. The 2019 standard deduction for a married couple is $24,400 and we will assume it stays the same for 2020. If you continue to give and itemize as usual, then you will have itemized deductions of $26,000 each year. That means you only receive a tax benefit for $1,600 of your giving each year ($26,000 itemized minus the $24,400 standard deduction) and your total deductions over the two years are $52,000.

Now instead, imagine that you open a donor-advised fund in 2019 and contribute $20,000 to it to cover your charitable giving for 2019 and 2020. In 2019, you will have itemized deductions of $36,000. Then, in 2020, you can simply take the standard deduction since you have no charitable giving to report. Your total deductions over the two years will be $60,400.

By utilizing a donor-advised fund, you end up with $8,400 more in deductions over the course of two years. If you are in the 24% tax bracket, that’s a tax savings of over $2,000. If you donate appreciated securities to the DAF, your tax savings will be even greater because you will not face capital gains tax on the disposal of the assets.

Are You Ready To Save Money With A Donor-Advised Fund?

Donor-advised funds make it possible to continue receiving a tax benefit for charitable giving even with the new higher standard deductions. If you are a generous giver and want to learn more about how a donor-advised fund can save you money on taxes, call 814-325-9806 or email hello@strongtowerpa.com. Or, if you prefer, you can now quickly and easily click here to request a meeting using our online system

About Ash

Ash Toumayants is a financial advisor and the founder of Strong Tower Associates. For over a decade, he has helped hardworking people across Central Pennsylvania prepare for retirement. Fueled by a passion for helping people see through the veil of confusion that shrouds the financial world, his goal is to educate his clients so they can make more sound choices regarding their financial future. A Penn State graduate, he currently lives in State College with his lovely wife, Noelle, and their four adorable children. Learn more by connecting with Ash on LinkedIn or emailing hello@strongtowerpa.com.

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