Ask The Taxgirl: Charity & Deductions

Taxpayer asks:
Hi taxgirl,

There is a woman at our church who recently lost her home in a storm. A few of us put our heads together and decided to take up a collection for her. We collected money, housewares, bedding, you name it. She lost almost everything that she owned so we started from scratch. I spent nearly $500. I planned to deduct this on my taxes but my husband says that he doesn’t think we can. Help!

Taxgirl says:

First of all, that was a really lovely thing that you did to help out. So, I think you deserve a lot of kudos for taking the initiative and giving this woman some much needed kindness. Unfortunately, however, it might not result in a tax deduction.

You see, in order to claim a proper tax deduction, you need written documentation (which you may have if you kept receipts or canceled checks) that prove that you made a donation to a qualified charity. As charitable a cause as this may be, it was to an individual, and not to a qualified charity. Of course, that’s assuming that you organized this assistance outside of the church.

If the church sponsored this drive – and all donations were made to and distributed through the church – then you may be entitled to a donation provided that the church is a qualified charity and your donation would otherwise qualify.

If you aren’t sure, check with your church’s financial office or treasurer – and then double check with your tax professional.

As an aside, even if it turns out that it’s not deductible, I hope that doesn’t discourage you from doing good works in the future. That’s part of what makes our society great – folks who willing to step in and help out when bad things happen. Please don’t lose that spirit!

Like any good lawyer, I need to add a disclaimer: Unfortunately, it is impossible to give comprehensive tax advice over the internet, no matter how well researched or written. Before relying on any information given on this site, contact a tax professional to discuss your particular situation.

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