In recent years, the IRS has been cracking down on abuses of the tax deduction for donations to charity and contributions of used vehicles have been especially scrutinized. The charitable contribution rules, however, are far from being easy to understand. Many taxpayers genuinely are confused by the rules and unintentionally value their contributions to charity at amounts higher than appropriate.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), there are approximately 250 million registered passenger motor vehicles in the United States. The U.S. is the largest passenger vehicle market in the world. Potentially, each one of these vehicles could be a charitable donation and that is why the IRS takes such a sharp look at contributions of used vehicles and claims for tax deductions. The possibility for abuse of the charitable contribution rules is large.
Bona fide charities
Before looking at the tax rules, there is an important starting point. To claim a tax deduction, your contribution must be to a bona fide charitable organization. Only certain categories of exempt organizations are eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions.
Many charitable organizations are so-called “501(c)(3)” organizations (named after the section of the Tax Code that governs charities. The IRS maintains a list of qualified Code Sec. 501(c)(3) organizations. Not all charitable organizations are Code Sec. 501(c)(3)s. Churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques, for example, are not required to file for Code Sec. 501(c)(3) status. Special rules also apply to fraternal organizations, volunteer fire departments and veterans organizations. If you have any questions about a charitable organization, please contact our office.
In past years, many taxpayers would value the amount of their used vehicle donation based on information in a buyer’s guide. Today, the value of your used vehicle donation depends on what the charitable organization does with the vehicle.
In many cases, the charitable organization will sell your used vehicle. If the charity sells the vehicle, your tax deduction is limited to the gross proceeds that the charity receives from the sale. The charitable organization must certify that the vehicle was sold in an arm’s length transaction between unrelated parties and identify the date the vehicle was sold by the charity and the amount of the gross proceeds.
There are exceptions to the rule that your tax deduction is limited to the gross proceeds that the charity receives from the sale of your used vehicle. You may be able to deduct the vehicle’s fair market value if the charity intends to make a significant intervening use of the vehicle, a material improvement to the vehicle, or give or sell the vehicle to a qualified needy individual. If you have any questions about what a charity intends to do with your vehicle, please contact our office.
The charitable organization must give you a written acknowledgment of your used vehicle donation. The rules differ depending on the amount of your donation. If you claim a deduction of more than $500 but not more than $5,000 for your vehicle donation, the written acknowledgment from the charity must:
- Identify the charity’s name, the date and location of the donation
- Describe the vehicle
- Include a statement as to whether the charity provided any goods or services in return for the car other than intangible religious benefits and, if so, a description and good faith estimate of the value of the goods and services
- Identify your name and taxpayer identification number
- Provide the vehicle identification number
The written acknowledgement generally must be provided to you within 30 days of the sale of the vehicle. Alternatively, the charitable organization may in certain cases, provide you a completed Form 1098-C, Contributions of Motor Vehicles, Boats, and Airplanes, that contains the same information.
The written acknowledgment requirements for claiming a deduction under $500 or over $5,000 are similar to the ones described above but there are some differences. For example, if your deduction is expected to be more than $5,000 and not limited to the gross proceeds from the sale of your used vehicle, you must obtain a written appraisal of the vehicle. Our office can help guide you through the many steps of donating a vehicle valued at more than $5,000.
If you are planning to donate a used vehicle, please contact our office and we can discuss the tax rules in more detail.