Vernoia, Enterline + Brewer, CPA LLC

Claiming a charitable deduction for a cash contribution is straightforward. The taxpayer claims the amount paid, whether by cash, check, credit card or some other method. Taxpayers need only a bank record or a written acknowledgment from the charity. For contributions of property, the rules can be more complex.

Contributions of property

A taxpayer that contributes property can deduct the property’s fair market value at the time of the contribution. For example, contributions of clothing and household items are not deductible unless the items are in good used condition or better. An exception to this rule allows a deduction for items that are not in at least good used condition, if the taxpayer claims a deduction of more than $500 and includes an appraisal with the taxpayer’s income tax return.

Household items include furniture and furnishings, electronics, appliances, linens, and similar items. Household items do not include food, antiques and art, jewelry, and collections (such as coins).

To value used clothing, the IRS suggests using the price that buyers of used items pay in second-hand shops. However, there is no fixed formula or method for determining the value of clothing. Similarly, the value of used household items is usually much lower than the price paid for a new item, the IRS instructs. Formulas (such as a percentage of cost) are not accepted by the IRS.


The rules are different for “qualified vehicles,” which are cars, boats and airplanes. If the taxpayer claims a deduction of more than $500, the taxpayer is allowed to deduct the smaller of the vehicle’s fair market value on the date of the contribution, or the proceeds from the sale of the vehicle by the organization.

There are two exceptions to this rule. If the organization uses or improves the vehicle before transferring it, the taxpayer can deduct the vehicle’s fair market value when the contribution was made. If the organization gives the vehicle away, or sells it far well below fair market value, to a needy individual to further the organization’s purpose, the taxpayer can claim a fair market value deduction. This latter exception does not apply to a vehicle sold at auction.

To determine the value of a car, the IRS instructs that “blue book” prices may be used as “clues” for comparison with current sales and offerings. Taxpayers should use the price listed in a used car guide for a private party sale, not the dealer retail value. To use the listed price, the taxpayer’s vehicle must be the same make, model and year and be in the same condition.

Most items of property that a person owns and uses for personal purposes or investment are capital assets. If the value of a capital asset is greater than the basis of the item, the taxpayer generally can deduct the fair market value of the item. The taxpayer must have held the property for longer than one year.

Please contact our office for more information about the tax treatment of charitable contributions at (908) 725-4414.

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