tax tips

6 FAQs About 529 College Savings Plans

College is a large expense and one worth planning for, especially if you want your future college graduate to start their lives with minimal debt. One common way to prepare for such an expense is to open a 529 college savings plan.

Photo by Ruijia Wang on Unsplash

Photo by Ruijia Wang on Unsplash

What is a 529 plan?

College savings 529 plans are state-sponsored savings accounts that offer both tax and financial aid benefits.

What states run a 529 program?  

Almost every state has a 529 program, each with different perks and benefits. You can pick based on perks and you don’t need to live in the state you opened the account in.

You can look at 529 plan options using this tool from SavingforCollege.com.

What are the two types of college 529 plans?

There are two types of 529 plans, they are:

  • College savings plans – This plan is similar to a Roth 401k or Roth IRA by allowing you to contribute after-tax income in the form of mutual funds and other types of investments. There are a number of investment options to choose from and the 529 account will go up and down and value according to those investment choices. The money is this account is available for tuition, books, and often housing.

  • College prepaid tuition-  This plan can be used to pre-pay all or part of the costs of an in-state public college education. Sometimes, they can be converted for use at private or out-of-state colleges.

What are the perks of using a 529 savings plan?

Each state provides slightly different incentives for its 529 programs. But some of the overall benefits include:

  • Large income tax breaks (for federal and often state taxes)

  • The donor stays in control of the account until its use

  • They’re low maintenance

When can you start them?

You can start one of these savings plans at any time. Most 529 programs are “set it and forget it” meaning the investments come straight out of your paycheck or bank account.

Where can I learn more about college 529 plans?

There are a lot of online resources for comparing and ranking different 529 programs. You can reference one of these, or reach out to your friendly neighborhood tax professionals. We can help you select the best option for you.

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6 Tax Deductions That Went Extinct in 2018

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The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was called one of the largest tax overhauls in 30 years. It went into effect at the beginning of 2018, which means taxpayers are starting to feel the impact now. Some households will benefit from it, others will not. Here are some deductions that have been eliminated or reduced.

Moving Expenses
Unless you or a spouse is in the military and is currently on active duty, you won’t be able to take any deductions for moving. In the past, those who moved for a job and paid the moving cost could deduct most of their expenses.

Personal Deductions
Deductions for personal exemptions, which can be worth $4,050 for each exemption, were eliminated and replaced with a larger standard deduction and an expanded child tax credit.

Paying Alimony
If you’re paying alimony on a divorce finalized before December 31, 2019, then you can deduct those payments one last time.

Unreimbursed Job Expenses
This fell into the category of miscellaneous itemized deductions, an area that has been greatly reduced by the latest tax laws. It means that anything an employee pays for while on the job and doesn’t get reimbursed for, is not deductible.

State and Local Taxes
You used to be able to fully deduct any amount of state or local taxes. Now that cap is set at $10,000 meaning those with high state income and property taxes will get much less back.

Tax Preparation Fees
Tax preparation fee deductions were eliminated as part of the miscellaneous fees. This is will occur from 2018-2025. That means you cannot deduct payments to accountant, tax prep firms, or tax preparation software.

Ensuring Your Year-End Donations Are Tax-Deductible

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Westchester NY accountant Paul Herman of Herman & Company CPA’s is here for all your financial needs. Please contact us if you have questions, and to receive your free personal finance consultation!

Many people make donations at the end of the year. To be deductible on your 2017 return, a charitable donation must be made by December 31, 2017. According to the IRS, a donation generally is “made” at the time of its “unconditional delivery.” But what does this mean?

Is it the date you write a check or charge an online gift to your credit card? Or is it the date the charity actually receives the funds? In practice, the delivery date depends in part on what you donate and how you donate it. Here are a few common examples:

Checks. The date you mail it.

Credit cards. The date you make the charge.

Pay-by-phone accounts. The date the financial institution pays the amount.

Stock certificates. The date you mail the properly endorsed stock certificate to the charity.

To be deductible, a donation must be made to a “qualified charity” — one that’s eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions. The IRS’s online search tool, “Exempt Organizations (EO) Select Check,” can help you more easily find out whether an organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. You can access it at https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/exempt-organizations-select-check. Information about organizations eligible to receive deductible contributions is updated monthly.

Many additional rules apply to the charitable donation deduction, so please contact us if you have questions about the deductibility of a gift you’ve made or are considering making. But act soon — you don’t have much time left to make donations that will reduce your 2017 tax bill.

IRS Says No Decision Yet On 2018 Filing Season Dates

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by Mike Godfrey, Tax-News.com, Washington

No date has yet been set for the filing of individual tax returns in 2018, despite rumors to the contrary, according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

In a statement on November 3, 2017, the agency confirmed that it is currently updating its programming and processing systems for the coming tax year, as well as continuing to monitor legislative changes that could affect the 2018 tax filing season.

These include the possible renewal of 36 “extender” tax provisions that expired at the end of 2016, which cover renewable energy tax incentives, a couple of homeowner provisions, and a variety of miscellaneous minor provisions including tax credits for electric vehicles, special expensing allowances for media productions, and employment tax credits for Native Americans.

“The IRS anticipates it will not be at a point to announce a filing season start date until later in the calendar year,” it said in a statement. “Speculation on the internet that the IRS will begin accepting tax returns on January 22 or after the Martin Luther King Jr Day holiday in January is inaccurate and misleading; no such date has been set.”

The 10 best tips to prepare for the 2017 tax season

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2017 tax filing season, tax tips

It’s hard to believe the 2017 tax season is already here, and you’ll be getting the information you need to settle up your 2016 tax return with Uncle Sam. Take advantage of the tax benefits available to you throughout the year.

First, think about getting organized. It’s important to have one place — a large envelope or a file folder — where you can accumulate tax information as it arrives. When it is finally time to fill out the tax return, a lot of information is required and every detail counts in making it a smooth process.

Read on for 10 savvy tips for tax-filing season.

1. Maximize retirement plan contributions

If your employer offers a 401(k) or other type of deferred pension plan, make every effort to contribute the maximum amount allowable — especially if your employer matches your contribution. Otherwise you are leaving money on the table that could benefit you in your retirement. Think of the employer match as an immediate 100 percent return on your money. Even if there is no match, all of the funds are tax-deferred and grow tax-free.

If your employer does not offer a retirement plan, then consider making a contribution to a traditional individual retirement account or a Roth IRA. The former potentially offers a tax deduction for the year the contribution is made, but both offer tax-deferred gains.

2. Adjust your withholding

Check your year-to-date withholding and consider changing the taxes withheld if you are expecting a large refund.

This is especially important if you are claiming the earned income tax credit, or EITC, or the additional child tax credit. Why? The IRS is now required by law to hold all refunds on those returns until Feb. 15. The new law was put into place to allow the agency additional time to detect and prevent tax fraud.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a statement: “It’s a personal choice if you want to have extra money withheld to get a bigger tax refund, but you have options available if you prefer to have a smaller refund next year and more take-home money now.” You will need to complete Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, to adjust the amount of taxes withheld and submit it to your employer.

3. Protect your identity

Speaking of tax fraud, if you received an Identity Protection PIN, or IP PIN, in the past, then you must provide this number on your tax return not only this year but on all future tax returns. An IP PIN is a six-digit number assigned to eligible taxpayers that helps prevent fraudulent returns from being filed under your Social Security number. Remember, the IP PIN is your friend in getting the IRS to accept your tax return. However, this is no ordinary IP PIN, as it changes every year. You read that correctly: every year! If you do not receive the notification in the mail, you will need to go to the IRS website to retrieve it.

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4. Get what’s yours

According to the IRS, one out of every five workers fails to claim the very valuable earned income tax credit. If you worked and earned less than $53,505 in 2016 (the limit will be $53,930 in 2017), then use the EITC Assistant tool to determine if you qualify for the credit. You must file a return in order to receive the credit. Don’t miss out on this!

5. Declutter and reap a tax break

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to simplify and declutter your life, now is the time to get going. You can make money by donating all of those things you no longer need or want in your life. There are many charitable organizations that accept items other than cash such as clothing, books, electronics and other household items. The deduction is limited to the item’s fair market value, and the items must be in good condition or better to be deductible. If the value of the noncash items is more than $500, then you must file Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions, and fill it in with some details. But it is well worth the effort.

6. Cash in on scholarly tax breaks

If you, your spouse or dependents had higher education costs in 2016, there may be some tax savings for you. In fact there are multiple benefits available. The only difficult part is figuring out which one works best in your situation.

Basically there are three different benefits: the American opportunity credit, the lifetime learning credit and the tuition and fees deduction. There are various requirements that may limit the benefit, but the IRS once again offers a useful tool: the Interactive Tax Assistant tool to help you find your way through the maze. You should receive Form 1098-T, Tuition Statement, from your school with the information required by the IRS to complete Form 8863, Education Credits.

7. Get health coverage in order

Make sure you know what you need to report to the IRS on your health insurance. The shared responsibility provision requires that you and your family have minimum essential coverage or qualify for a health coverage exemption. Otherwise, you must make an individual shared responsibility payment for all months that you didn’t have coverage or an exemption.

Most taxpayers just need to do one thing: Check the box that indicates you had health care coverage for all of 2016. If that is not the case or you received advance payments of the premium tax credit on the marketplace, then you may need to fill out Form 8965, Health Coverage Exemptions, and Form 8962, Premium Tax Credit, to complete your tax return. For more information, visit the IRS page on the Affordable Care Act.

8. Know the rules about foreign accounts

Have a foreign bank account? Was the balance in the account(s) greater than $10,000 total? If the answer is yes to both, then you need to file what’s commonly referred to as an “FBAR,” a foreign bank account reporting form. The new name is FinCEN Report 114, FinCEN being an acronym for Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. As the name has the word “crime” in it, that should light a fire under your seat to make sure you’re in compliance as the penalties are very high for failing to report.

The requirements don’t stop there. If you maintain very high balances in your foreign accounts, you’ll have to file IRS Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets.

Also, if you meet certain thresholds of ownership in any foreign corporations or partnerships, or if you are the beneficiary of a foreign trust, you should be aware of the complex reporting requirements in those instances. Just a few of the pertinent forms are: Form 5471, Information Return of U.S. Persons With Respect to Certain Foreign Corporations; Form 3520, Annual Return to Report Transactions With Foreign Trusts and Receipt of Certain Foreign Gifts, Form 8621, Information Return by a Shareholder of a Passive Foreign Investment Company or Qualified Electing Fund. All are available at the IRS website.

9. Be generous without tax repercussions

Every so many years, the IRS changes the annual exclusion for gifts that you can give without having to file a gift tax return. If you gave more than $14,000 in cash, property or gifts to anyone, you must report the gift on Form 709. If you are married, you can give a combined $28,000 and remain under the radar.

Note that this applies to the person giving the gift; if you are receiving a gift, congratulations — you don’t have to do anything. That is, unless you receive a gift from a non-U.S. person. If you happen to receive such a gift that is greater than $100,000, you will have to report this on the IRS Form 3520.

10. Be smart when you file

When filing your return, the quickest and easiest way to receive your refund is to electronically file your return and use direct deposit. If you owe money, use IRS direct pay from your checking or savings account. And whatever else you do, please make sure you keep a copy of your filed tax return. Believe me, it saves so much trouble in so many ways in the event you do happen to need it.

Paul S. Herman CPA, a tax expert for individuals and businesses, is the founder of Herman & Company, CPA’s PC in White Plains, New York.  He provides guidance and strategies to improve clients’ financial well-being.

Standard Mileage Rates for 2015

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2015 Mileage Rates & Employer Health Insurance Reimbursements

Rather than keeping track of the actual cost of operating a vehicle, employees and self-employed taxpayers can use a standard mileage rate to compute their deduction related to using a vehicle for business. Likewise, standard mileage rates are available for computing the deduction when a vehicle is used for charitable, medical or moving purposes.

The 2015 standard mileage rates for use of a vehicle are 57.5 cents per mile for business miles (up from 56 cents per mile in 2014), 23 cents per mile for medical or moving purposes, and 14 cents per mile for rendering gratuitous services to a charitable organization.

The business standard mileage rate is considerably higher than the charitable and medical/moving rates because it contains a depreciation component. No depreciation is allowed for the charitable or medical/moving use of a vehicle.

In addition to deductions based on the business standard mileage rate, taxpayers may deduct the parking fees and tolls attributable to the business use of an automobile, as well as interest expense relating to the purchase of the automobile and state and local personal property taxes. However, employees using a vehicle to perform services as an employee cannot deduct interest expense related to that vehicle. Also, if the vehicle is operated less than 100% for business purposes, the taxpayer must allocate the business and non-business portion of the allowable taxes and interest deduction.

Employer Reimbursements of Individual Health Insurance Policies

For plan years beginning after 2013, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) institutes so-called market reform provisions that place a whole host of new restrictions on group health plans. The penalty for violating the market reform restrictions is a punitive $100-per-day, per-employee penalty; or $36,500 per employee, per year. With a limited exception, these new market reform provisions significantly restrict an employer’s ability to reimburse employees for premiums paid on individual health insurance policies, referred to as employer payment arrangements.

Employer payment arrangements

Under employer payment arrangements, the employer reimburses employees for premiums they pay on their individual health insurance policies (or the employer sometimes pays the premium on behalf of the employee). As long as the employer (1) makes the reimbursement under a qualified medical reimbursement plan and (2) verifies that the reimbursement was spent only for insurance coverage, the premium reimbursement is excludable from the employee’s taxable income. These arrangements have long been popular with small employers who want to offer health insurance but are unwilling or unable to purchase group health coverage.

Unfortunately, according to the IRS and Department of Labor (DOL), group health plans can’t be integrated with individual market policies to meet the new market reform provisions. Furthermore, according to the DOL, an employer that reimburses employees for individual policies (on a pretax or after-tax basis) has established a group health plan because the arrangement’s purpose is to provide medical care to its employees. Therefore, reimbursing employees for premiums paid on individual policies violates the market reform provisions, potentially subjecting the employer to a $100 per-day, per-employee ($36,500 per year, per employee) penalty.

Limited exception for one-employee plans. The market reform provisions do not apply to group health plans that have only one participating employee. Therefore, it is still allowable to provide an employer payment arrangement that covers only one employee. Note, however, that nondiscrimination rules require that essentially all full-time employees must participate in the plan

Bottom line. While still technically allowed under the tax code, employer payment arrangements, other than arrangements covering only one employee, are no longer a viable alternative.

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What should you do if you still have an employer payment plan?

First of all, don’t panic. You are not alone. The impact of the market reform provisions to these plans has come as a great surprise to many small business employers, not to mention the tax practitioner community, and we believe there is reasonable cause to keep the penalty from applying for earlier payments. However, it is important to discontinue making payments under the plan and rescind any written documents. Also, any reimbursements made after 2013 should be classified as taxable wages.

Acceptable alternatives

Because of the ACA market reform requirements, employers are basically precluded from subsidizing or reimbursing employees for individual health insurance policies if there is more than one employee participating in the plan. Employers can, however, continue to do any of the following:

· Provide a tax-free fringe benefit by purchasing an ACA-approved employer-sponsored group health plan. Small employers with 50 or fewer employees can provide a group health plan through the Small Business Health Options Plan (SHOP) Marketplace. A cafeteria plan can be set up for pretax funding of the employee portion of the premium.

· Increase the employee’s taxable wages to provide funds that the employee may use to pay for individual insurance policies. However, the employer cannot require that the funds be used to pay for insurance — it must be the employee’s decision to do so (or not). The employer can claim a deduction for the wages paid. The wages are taxable to the employee, but the employee can claim the premiums as an itemized deduction subject to the 10%-of-AGI limit (7.5% if age 65 or older).

If you have any questions, please give us a call.

Herman and Company CPA’s proudly serves Bedford Hills NY, Chappaqua NY, Harrison NY, Scarsdale NY, White Plains NY, Mt. Kisco NY, Pound Ridge NY, Greenwich CT and beyond.

Details of the President’s State of the Union Tax Proposals

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President Barack Obama used Tuesday’s State of the Union address to announce that he will propose tax increases for higher-income individuals and provide tax relief for middle-class taxpayers. Ahead of the speech, the White House provided details of what the president plans to propose, which it characterized as simplifying the Internal Revenue Code, eliminating loopholes, and helping “middle class families get ahead and grow the economy.”

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Specific proposals on the president’s wish list include:

  • Eliminate the step-up in basis for assets that are transferred at death, treating transfers at death as realization events for capital gains tax purposes;
  • Raise the top tax rate on capital gains and dividends to 28%, which would be imposed on taxpayers with incomes over about $500,000;
  • Impose a 7-basis-point fee on the liabilities of large financial institutions to discourage “excessive borrowing”;
  • Create a $500 second-earner tax credit for families in which both spouses work (5% of the first $10,000 of the lower-earning spouse’s income; credit would phase out for couples with incomes between $120,000 and $210,000);
  • Modify various child care tax incentives, including increasing the earned income tax credit (EITC) for childless taxpayers, increasing the EITC phaseout level, making permanent EITC increases that are scheduled to expire after 2017, tripling the maximum child and dependent care credit and making the income cutoff $120,000, and eliminating child care flexible spending accounts;
  • Consolidate and expand education tax benefits, including making the American opportunity tax credit permanent and folding the lifetime learning credit into it, increase the refundable portion to $1,500, and make it available to more students; and
  • Reform retirement tax incentives, including automatically enrolling workers in IRAs, requiring employers to allow more part-time workers to participate in their retirement plans, and providing a cap of about $3.4 million in an IRA.

The White House did not provide a timeline for when legislation embodying these proposals would be introduced. Since both houses of Congress are now controlled by Republicans, any proposal by the president will face a steep uphill climb.

Article: The Tax Advisor

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Tax Calendar Q1 2015

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Your 2015 Tax Calendar Is Here.

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January 15

• Individual taxpayers’ final 2014 estimated tax payment is due unless Form 1040 is filed by February 2, 2015, and any tax due is paid with the return.

February 2

• Most employers must file Form 941 (“Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return”) to report Medicare, Social Security, and income taxes withheld in the fourth quarter of 2014. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return.

• Employers who have an estimated annual employment tax liability of $1,000 or less may be eligible to file Form 944 (“Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return”).

• Give your employees their copies of Form W-2 for 2014. If an employee agreed to receive Form W-2 electronically, have it posted on the website and notify the employee.

• Give annual information statements to recipients of certain payments you made during 2014. You can use the appropriate version of Form 1099 or other information return. Form 1099 can be filed electronically with the consent of the recipient.

• File Form 940 (“Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return”) for 2014. If your undeposited tax is $500 or less, you can either pay it with your return or deposit it. If it is more than $500, you must deposit it. However, if you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return.

• File Form 945 (“Annual Return of Withheld Federal Income Tax”) for 2014 to report income tax withheld on all nonpayroll items, including backup withholding and withholding on pensions, annuities, IRAs, etc. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 11 to file the return.

• File Form 943 (“Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return for Agricultural Employees”) to report Social Security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2014. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return.

March 2

• The government’s copy of Form 1099 series returns (along with the appropriate transmittal form) should be sent in by today. However, if these forms will be filed electronically, the due date is extended to March 31.

• The government’s copy of Form W-2 series returns (along with the appropriate transmittal Form W-3) should be sent in by today. However, if these forms will be filed electronically, the due date is extended to March 31.

March 16

• 2014 income tax returns must be filed or extended for calendar-year corporations. If the return is not extended, this is also the last day for calendar-year corporations to make 2014 contributions to pension and profit-sharing plans.

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New Law Creates Tax-Favored Savings Accounts for Disabled Taxpayers

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As part of the larger tax extender legislation passed on Tuesday, Congress approved the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014 (H.R. 647), which will allow disabled individuals to save money to pay for their disability expenses in tax-favored accounts, called ABLE accounts. The House of Representatives passed the measure on Dec. 3, by a vote of 404–17, and it now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The purpose of the bill is “[t]o encourage and assist individuals and families in saving private funds for the purpose of supporting individuals with disabilities to maintain health, independence, and quality of life” and “[t]o provide secure funding for disability-related expenses on behalf of designated beneficiaries with disabilities that will supplement, but not supplant, benefits provided through private insurance,” Medicaid, and other sources (H.R. 647, §101).

The bill adds a new Sec. 529A to the Code, under which a qualified ABLE program will be exempt from taxation (except for unrelated business income tax). A qualified ABLE program is a program run by a state that allows a person to make contributions for a tax year, for the benefit of an eligible individual, to an ABLE account established for the purpose of meeting the qualified disability expenses of the designated beneficiary of the account. A state’s ABLE program must limit designated beneficiaries to one account and must allow accounts to be opened only for residents of that state or a contracting state.

Eligible individuals must file a disability certification with the IRS or meet certain criteria for blindness or disability under the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. §1382).

Contributions must be made in cash, and the program must limit annual contributions to the amount of the annual gift tax exclusion in effect for that tax year.

The ABLE program must provide separate accounting for each designated beneficiary, and designated beneficiaries and contributors must not be able to direct the investment of contributions or earnings in the account.

Distributions from the account will not be included in the designated beneficiary’s gross income as long as they do not exceed the beneficiary’s qualified disability expenses. If they do exceed the beneficiary’s qualified disability expenses, the amount otherwise includible in gross income will be reduced by an amount bearing the same ratio to that amount as the expenses bear to the distributions.

Funds in ABLE accounts will also be disregarded for purposes of various federal means-tested programs.

Once signed by the president, the bill will take effect for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2014

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Supersizing your charitable contribution deductions

You might want to consider three charitable giving strategies that can help boost your 2014 charitable contribution deduction. DeathtoStock_SlowDown3

1. Use your credit card. Donations charged to a credit card are deductible in the year charged, not when payment is made on the card. Thus, charging donations to your credit card before year end enables you to increase your 2014 charitable donation deduction even if you’re temporarily short on cash or just want to put off payment until later.

2. Donate a life insurance policy. A number of charities are asking their donors to consider donating life insurance policies rather than (or in addition to) cash in order to make substantially larger gifts than would otherwise be possible. The advantage to donors is that they can make a sizable gift with relatively little up-front cash (or even no cash, if an existing policy is donated). The fact that a charity may have to wait many years before receiving a payoff from the gift is typically not a problem because charities normally earmark such gifts for their endowment or long-term building funds.

If handled correctly, a life insurance policy donation can net the donor a charitable deduction for the value of the policy. A charitable deduction is also available for any cash contributed in future years to continue paying the premiums on a policy that was not fully paid up at the time it was donated. However, if handled incorrectly, no deduction is allowed. For this reason, we encourage you to contact us if you are considering the donation of a life insurance policy. We can help ensure that you receive the expected income or transfer tax deduction and that the contribution works as planned.

3. Take advantage of a donor-advised fund. Another charitable giving approach you might want to consider is the donor-advised fund. These funds essentially allow you to obtain an immediate tax deduction for setting aside funds that will be used for future charitable donations.

With donor-advised funds, which are available through a number of major mutual fund companies, as well as universities and community foundations, you contribute money or securities to an account established in your name. You then choose among investment options and, on your own timetable, recommend grants to charities of your choice.

The minimum for establishing a donor-advised fund is often $10,000 or more, but these funds can make sense if you want to obtain a tax deduction now but take your time in determining or making payments to the recipient charity or charities. These funds can also be a way to establish a family philanthropic legacy without incurring the administrative costs and headaches of establishing a private foundation.

Any U.S. tax advice contained in the body of this website is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by the recipient for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed under the Internal Revenue Code or applicable state or local tax law provisions.