The New Universal Charitable Donation Tax Deduction in 2020 & 2021

As we near the end of the calendar year, I wanted to draw special attention to what I am guessing is a little known new charitable donation tax deduction that is potentially available to all taxpayers who make a cash donation to qualifying organizations in 2021.




Buried deep within the the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, enacted by Congress last spring as their signature COVID relief measure, this new deduction provision allows taxpayers to deduct up to $600 in cash donations. The 2nd COVID relief bill, H.R. 133, passed in late December, re-authorized the new deduction for donations and increased the 2021 maximum donation deduction amount to $600 for “married filing jointly” and $300 for “married filing separately” filers.

Weren’t charitable donations always tax deductible? Yes, but taxpayers always have had to itemize taxes to claim a charitable deduction, and after tax reform also doubled the standard deduction a few years ago, few did. In fact, the IRS estimates that about 89% of all tax filers now take the standard deduction, up from about 60% prior to tax reform.

As a former fundraiser for a non-profit organization, I accurately predicted that the 2017 tax reform bill would cause a cash crunch for 501(c)(3) charitable organizations, and it has. In 2018, the first year post tax-reform, 14.8 million returns claimed a charitable deduction, according to the IRS. This was down from 37.9 million the year prior, a 61% decline. Removing the financial incentive to donate for all but roughly 1 out of 10 taxpayers was going to result in a hit to charitable organizations. And with the economic fallout of COVID, charitable organizations are taking an even bigger hit this year, in particular.

Below are some answers to what are likely to be common questions about this new universal $300 charitable donation tax deduction for non-itemizers.

$300 donation tax deduction

What is the Change with the New Charitable Donation Deduction?

With the new “universal deduction” for 2020 and 2021, the change is that charitable cash donations that qualify for the deduction are in addition to the standard deduction instead of only being eligible to be claimed as a deduction if you itemize.




What is the Timeframe for the New Universal Tax Deduction?

Any cash donation made during the 2020 and 2021 calendar years could be eligible, respectively, for those years. It is possible we could see an extension in further COVID relief measures, but nothing has been approved yet.

To Claim the New Tax Deduction, Does it have to be a Cash Donation?

Yes, though “cash” doesn’t mean it has to be actual dollar bills. It could also be a check, electronic funds transfer, debit card, or credit card donation. Donation of items, time, and stocks or other assets are not eligible for this deduction.

What Type of Documentation is Needed for the Deduction?

As with any charitable donation, always ask the charity for a receipt for your documentation if you are not given one automatically when making the donation.

What Charitable Organizations Qualify for this Deduction?

To see if donations to a specific organization are eligible for a tax deduction, use the IRS’s Tax Exempt Organization Search tool to determine the organizations tax exempt 501(c)(3) status.

Were there Any Other Changes to Help Charitable Organizations?

Yes, those who itemize taxes can deduct up to 100% of adjusted gross income in 2020. Post tax-reform, itemized filers could make a maximum charitable donation deduction of up to 60% of AGI on cash donations, but that increases to 100% in 2020, when made to a qualified organization. If you give more than your AGI, the excess deduction amount can roll over to next year, as previously.

Happy donating.

4 Comments

  1. Steve-o

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