Deductible Donations for Non-Itemizers in 2020

A tax deduction is not the only reason to donate to the charity of your choice. Many people are happy to give to charity, even if no tax savings is involved. Donating to charity and paying less in taxes would make those people extra happy. So, the special provision of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act for non-itemizers to make deductible charitable donations of up to $300 will make those generous people ecstatic.

Non-itemizers are taxpayers who take the standard deduction instead of itemizing deductions on their federal income tax return. Nearly nine in ten taxpayers take the standard deduction because it results in lower taxable income and lower income tax. However, only taxpayers who itemize their deductions can typically deduct donations to a qualified charity.

Under one of the CARES Act provisions, individual taxpayers who take the standard deduction can claim a deduction of up to $300 for cash donations made to a qualified charity during 2020. Unless it’s extended, the deduction disappears in 2021. “Cash donations” means those made by check, credit card or debit card. Donations of securities, household items, or other property are not included.

Not all donations to organizations that do good work in the community are tax deductible. The organization must be considered a qualified tax-exempt entity by the IRS. Before making a donation, check the Tax Exempt Organization Search (TEOS) tool on IRS.gov to make sure that the organization is a qualified tax-exempt entity, and that donations are eligible for a tax deduction.

Check Publication 526, Charitable Contributions, and the TEOS tool for more information about qualified charities, donation limits, and how to report donations on your federal income tax return. More information about the special tax deduction for cash donations up to $300 in 2020 is at https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/special-300-tax-deduction-helps-most-people-give-to-charity-this-year-even-if-they-dont-itemize. That site also has the special recordkeeping rules for claiming a tax deduction for a charitable donation.

The CARES Act, passed by Congress last spring, included several temporary tax provisions that may not be well known. One was designed especially for people who do not itemize deductions on their income tax return and who donate to a qualified charity. The deduction of up to $300 for cash donations made to a qualified charity is only available during 2020, unless extended by Congress. Non-itemizers will want to jump on this one-time opportunity to donate to charity and pay less in taxes.

Retirement Distributions and the CARES Act

Tax rules prevent you from stashing away your pre-tax retirement money indefinitely to avoid paying taxes. Some of the rules about pre-tax retirement accounts have changed multiple times, making it a real challenge to keep up. Age and distribution rule changes for annual Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from traditional Individual Retirement Account (IRA) and other pre-tax retirement plan distributions are particularly head-spinning.

An RMD is just what it sounds like – a required distribution that is calculated and paid annually based on the taxpayer’s age and pre-tax retirement plan balances. The RMD amount is included in taxable income. The good news – there are online tables to help to calculate the RMD amount that must be taken every year. The bad news – a 50% penalty is assessed by the IRS if the minimum RMD is not taken by the deadline (e.g., April 1, 2020, for tax year 2019). Quite a strong incentive to follow the RMD rules.

Back in December 2019, the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (aka “SECURE Act”) was signed into law. The SECURE Act changed several important aspects of distributions from traditional (pre-tax) IRAs, 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, and other pre-tax retirement plans. For example, the age when RMDs must start increased from 70½ to 72. See my December 11, 2019, blog post http://www.searlebzllc.com/2019/12/ for details about SECURE Act changes.

Well, because of COVID-19, portions of the December 2019, the law related to RMDs didn’t stand for long. On June 23, 2020, the IRS announced that, per the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act, the RMD is waived for 2020. Taxpayers over 72 who had already taken her or his RMD for 2020 from a pre-tax retirement account has until August 31, 2020, to roll the funds back into the account. Ordinarily, RMD rollbacks need to be done within 60 days of the distribution.

The IRS is also giving taxpayers a couple of other breaks by not counting the RMD repayment toward the rule that prohibits more than one rollover per 12-month period and the restriction on rollovers for inherited IRAs. Nice breaks but more to track. 

Some of the rules about pre-tax retirement accounts have changed multiple times, like RMDs from pre-tax retirement plans that changed twice in less than a year! Keeping up can be hard. Sure, you can hire a tax professional to help you out, but you don’t have to. The best place for all the latest tax information is free and always available – www.irs.gov!