The pandemic has starkly exposed the harsh accumulated effect of long-term inequities, from low and unstable incomes to a lack of health insurance and access to quality health care. While charitable contributions will do little to advance fundamental economic and social reforms, supporting charities during hard times does help society’s vulnerable and displaced.
Difficult times call on everyone to make sure they are thoughtful in their giving throughout the year. A recent Fidelity Charitable report found that among those surveyed 25% planned on donating more in 2020 and 54% would leave their donations unchanged.
“Given what’s going on, anytime of the year that you make a donation it’s important,” said Stephanie Sandle, managing director of MAI Capital Management in Cleveland. “People can see the direct impact of COVID-19 and how it has affected charitable institutions in their community.”
The simplest and easiest way to give is by writing a check or making an online donation with a credit card. Donor-advised funds, in essence a low-cost family foundation, are typically housed at major financial institutions and community foundations. They have grown in popularity since the 1990s. Retirees over the age of 70½ often favor qualified charitable distributions (QCDs) from their traditional IRA. One reason for the embrace of QCDs is the money can be used toward meeting required minimum distributions.
I do want to highlight one savvy way to give in the current market environment: Despite the hike in market volatility, many people are sitting on hefty gains in their investment portfolios. They might want to consider donating appreciated assets, counsels Sandle. Giving appreciated stock, bonds and other assets instead of cash is both tax efficient for the giver and good for the charity. .
Here’s the basic idea (drawn from the Fidelity Charitable website). Let’s say you bought more than a year ago $300,000 worth of stock in a taxable account. The stock is now valued at $450,000 and you would like the money to go to charity. If you sell the stock, you will pay $35,700 in federal capital gains tax (at a 23.8% rate). You can give $414,300 to the charity. Not bad. But if you donate the stock to the charity you avoid capital gains tax and the charity gets $450,000 when it sells the stock since the charity doesn’t pay capital gains. (Make sure the charity has the infrastructure to take advantage of donated assets and don’t do anything without consulting with a professional.)
Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for “Marketplace” and Minnesota Public Radio.