Tax Tips: The Importance of Paper

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You must have a hard copy record for every dollar you contribute to a church or charity to claim a deduction on Schedule A.

The record must be an actual canceled check, a bank record (a copy of the front of the check included on your bank statement) or a written communication from the organization showing the name of the church or charity, the date of the contribution and the amount.

The record can also be a credit or debit card receipt or an entry on a bank or credit card statement indicating a credit or debit card charge.

In the case of a payroll deduction for United Way or any other charity, the IRS says, “A pay stub, Form W-2 or other employer furnished document that sets forth the amount withheld for a payment to a donee organization, along with a pledge card prepared by or at the direction of the donee organization, will be deemed to be a ‘written communication from the donee organization’ that satisfies the requirements.”

You can’t claim you put a fiver in the collection plate each week. You must write a check to the church for the $5 or take advantage of the "envelope" system, which provides a written receipt at year-end.

The law doesn’t say all contributions more than $50 or $100 must be documented. It says all cash contributions must be documented. So get a receipt, even for the smallest of donations.

New Jersey tax pro Robert D. Flach has been preparing 1040s for individuals since 1972.

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