The end of the year is fast approaching, which means time is running out for seniors to make tax-deductible, charitable contributions.
Whether you’ll give out of sense of personal philanthropy, to get a reduction in your 2016 tax obligation or both, carefully research the organizations to which you intend to give money to make sure that they’re above-board and that contributions to them are indeed deductible.
Today, let’s review some of the dos and don’ts of end-of-year giving that charitable seniors living in Cincinnati can follow to achieve the greatest good while maximizing their tax benefits.
1. Perform your due diligence
There are a lot of fraudsters out there — especially around the holidays — who try to take advantage of seniors’ charitable impulses. Before you write a check or give out your credit card number to anyone, make sure that you’ve thoroughly vetted the organization or cause.
The best rule of thumb is only to give to organizations you know and trust. Look critically at any new organizations soliciting contributions from you. They may very well be on the level, but you need to be sure before sending along any money. Be sure to ask for proof of the organization’s non-profit status.
if you’re affluent and being asked to make a sizeable contribution, ask your family lawyer or CPA research the organization and report back to you. Arrange an appointment to speak with the organization’s development director or executive director and bring your tax attorney and accountant along. You might even go so far as to interview the organization’s purported beneficiaries to determine if it lives up to its billing.
2. Remember that not every contribution is tax-deductible
Contributions made to for-profit organizations or to individuals — no matter the mission or reason — are never tax-deductible. Only those contributions made to approved non-profit entities (and there are over 700,000 of them nationwide by some estimates) are tax-deductible.
So, let’s say for example that you made a contribution to a relief fundraiser for a family whose house burned to the ground. That contribution may not be tax-deductible, unless a non-profit charitable trust has been set up to receive those contributions. And even then, the laws may be a bit sticky.
That’s absolutely not to discourage you from giving to individuals and families in need. But if you are counting on the tax benefit, make sure that you check with the IRS about eligibility, or ask your tax lawyer or CPA to perform due diligence, before you write the check.
3. Never give in to pressure tactics
Seniors are more likely to receive cold call and email solicitations for charitable contributions. That’s because they’re more likely than younger people not to screen their calls or emails. But that also makes older people particularly susceptible to phone-based fraud, or to email “phishing” scams.
If someone on the other end of the line is pressuring you to give today, don’t. If someone says you’ve given before to such-and-such charity and asks you to immediately renew your contribution, but the organization or amount doesn’t ring a bell, don’t do it. Not, at least, until you’ve performed due diligence.
A good rule of thumb is to impose a “cooling off” period on yourself between hearing a pitch for a charitable contribution, and actually making that contribution.
If anything feels “off” at all, don’t give in — hang up the phone. Don’t send along banking information or personal information over email. Never “verify” information during an unsolicited contact.
A good rule of thumb is to impose a “cooling off” period on yourself between hearing a pitch for a charitable contribution, and actually making that contribution. Allow yourself enough time to do the right research.
4. Discuss potential donations with your family
Before you give, talk it over with your spouse, adult children, trusted family friend or advisor. Try to get more critical eyes on the scenario before you sign money or assets over to a charity.
This goes hand-in-hand with adhering to a cooling off period, and can help you to avoid family squabbles and strife about potential inheritances. Once you give away an asset, there’s no getting it back.
5. If you think you’ve been victimized, speak up
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things happen.
If you suspect you’ve been taken in by a con artist or fraudulent organization, call the police immediately and report it. There’s no shame in having been duped — it can happen to anybody. And failing to report it just allows the cycle of fraud to continue with other, unsuspecting seniors.
Give safely this tax season!
Many seniors living in Cincinnati are charitable and truly want to make a difference. If you’re one of them, or if you just want to reduce your tax burden, follow the tips above to protect yourself and your loved ones from potential fraud.
Your Gift Matters
Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS) is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization. Each year we raise funds for our Good Samaritan Mission Fund, which provides:
- Resident financial aid
- Partners in care
- Spiritual services
- Wellness programs
- and much more for our residents.
Last year alone, ERS contributed more than $1.9 million to cover expenses above and beyond our resident fees. We raise those funds through donations, grants, and events to help us keep our longstanding promise that no resident be asked to leave the Marjorie P. Lee or Deupree House communities due to a lack of funds.
All gifts are tax-deductible to the extent provided by law. Please consider making a charitable gift to ERS this year.