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Substantiating Your Charitable Gifts

March 14, 2017

When you claim a federal income tax deduction for charitable contributions, you must substantiate the contributions by maintaining certain records. The records must establish the charity to whom the gift was made, the amount of cash or the type and value of other property donated to charity, whether anything was received in consideration for the contribution, and certain other requirements. The records needed generally depend on the type and value of the property donated; there may be some overlap in requirements. In general, do not attach the records to your income tax return. Keep the records so that you can provide them to the IRS if requested to do so.

Cash Contributions

In order to claim a charitable deduction for any contribution of cash, a check, or other monetary gift, you must maintain a record of such contributions through a bank record (such as a cancelled check, a bank or credit union statement, or a credit card statement) or a written communication (such as a receipt or letter) from the charity showing the name of the charity, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution. If you make charitable contributions through payroll deductions, you generally may substantiate the charitable deduction using the charity's pledge card along with either a pay stub, a Form W-2, or some other employer-furnished document showing the amount withheld and paid to charity. If you make a single contribution of $250 or more by payroll deduction, the pledge card or a document from the charity must state that no goods or services were provided in return for the payroll deduction.

All Contributions of $250 or More

If you claim a charitable deduction for any contribution of $250 or more, you must substantiate the contribution with a contemporaneous written acknowledgment of the contribution from the charity. The acknowledgment must contain the name of the charity, the amount of any cash contribution, and a reasonably detailed description of any non-cash contribution. The acknowledgment must also include either (1) a statement that no goods and services were provided by the charity in return for the contribution, (2) a good-faith estimate of the value of such goods and services (these reduce the amount of the charitable deduction), or (3) a statement that the goods and services were token benefits or consisted entirely of insubstantial membership benefits or intangible religious benefits. The acknowledgment is considered contemporaneous if you receive it by the earlier of the date on which you file your tax return for the year of the contribution or the due date (including extensions) for the return.

Noncash Contributions

If you make any noncash contributions, you must generally get a receipt from the charitable organization with the name of the charitable organization, the date and location of the contribution, and a reasonably detailed description of the property. You must also keep a reliable written record showing the name and address of the charitable organization, the date and location of the contribution, a reasonable detailed description of the property, the fair market value of the property (and how it was determined), the adjusted basis of the property, the amount claimed as a deduction, and the terms of any conditions attached to contribution of the property.

If the value of the contribution is $250 or more, you must also substantiate the contribution with a contemporaneous written acknowledgment of the contribution from the charity as described previously.

If the value of the contribution is over $500, your records must also include how you got the property (e.g., purchase, gift, inheritance, or exchange), when you got the property, and the cost or other basis of the property (including any adjustments).

If you claim a deduction of over $5,000 for a noncash charitable contribution of one item or a group of similar items, you must also obtain a qualified written appraisal of the donated property from a qualified appraiser.