Tax & Wealth Advisor Alert:
‘Tis The Season for Charitable Giving and Tax Deductions

As we enter the holiday season and focus on what we are most thankful for, many of us will begin planning for our annual charitable contributions. While tax benefits are not the primary reason behind most giving—giving back is its own reward—the IRS has established these tax benefits to encourage charitable giving. This year, as you begin making decisions about your gifting, make sure you understand and consider the recent changes under tax reform so you can stay on the nice list and get the most out of your charitable giving tax deduction!

Standard or Itemized Deductions

A common thought with charitable giving is that you can take a charitable contribution deduction for the full amount of your donation and directly offset your income. This thought will get you on the naughty list! You can only receive a charitable donation tax deduction if you “itemized” your deductions. You will not receive a charitable donation tax deduction if you take the “standard deduction.”

The Tax Code allows you to subtract a standard deduction based on your filing status or subtract your total itemized deductions—whichever is greater. For 2019, the standard deduction will be $12,200 for single taxpayers, $18,350 for heads of households, $24,400 for joint filers, and $12,200 each for married couples filing separately. Allowable itemized deductions, sometimes subject to limits, include such expenses as mortgage interest, charitable contributions, state and local taxes and medical expenses. Look at the following example. If you are a single taxpayer, and the sum of your itemized deductions (contributions included) do not exceed $12,200, you will take the standard deduction over the itemized deduction. In this scenario, you will technically not receive a tax deduction for your charitable contribution.

Before the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the standard deduction for each filing status was about the half the amount that it is for 2019. The increase in the standard deduction makes itemizing a difficult hurdle to jump, and many may now find it harder to itemize and take advantage of the charitable contribution deduction.

However, if you can itemize, the allowable charitable contribution deduction will depend on the type of contribution made (i.e., of cash, securities, property, etc.), as well as the type of organization to which the donation was made. While most charitable deductions are limited to 60% of your adjusted gross income (AGI), some are limited further—to 30% or, in some cases, even 20%. Therefore, your total AGI is an important consideration if you plan to benefit from a charitable donation deduction.

In short, at a minimum, you will be able to deduct 20% of your AGI. At a maximum, you will be able to deduct 60%. If you made charitable contributions during the year, and one or more limits described below apply, you can use the IRS’s Worksheet 2 to help compute your deduction.

Eligible Donations

Before understanding the deduction limitations for each type of charitable contribution, it is important that your charitable contribution be eligible to claim as an itemized deduction. Only donations to 501(c)(3) public charities or private foundations are generally deductible as qualified charitable donations. Of note, gifts given to benefit specific individuals are not deductible, which includes most online crowdfunding websites. Moreover, gifts made to political parties, political campaigns, political action committees, labor unions, chambers of commerce, business associations, for-profit schools or hospitals and foreign governments are also not tax deductible.

Additionally, gifts to donor-advised funds, a recently popular vehicle for gift giving, have further eligibility restrictions which should be evaluated before funding. The IRS offers a search tool (Tax Exempt Organization Search) so you can confirm the 501(c)(3) status of an organization you are considering donating to.

Lastly, it is important to remember that your donation to a qualified charity is deductible only in the same year in which it is made. Therefore, if you plan to take a deduction for 2019, you must make sure your deduction is made before December 31 and you ring in the new year!

Charitable Gifts of Cash

Under the old law, your deduction for charitable contributions of cash to qualified organizations was limited to 50% of your adjusted income. If your contributions exceeded this limit, you could carry them forward for up to five years. Under the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, until 2026 (unless otherwise extended), the limitation is raised to 60% of your adjusted gross income for gifts of cash to qualified organizations; the five-year carryforward is still allowed.

For example, if your adjusted gross income is $220,000 for the year, you can take a charitable deduction of up to $132,000 (60% of $220k) as long as the gift was in cash and made to a 501(c)(3) public charity. Therefore, if you made a gift of cash that year to the Salvation Army of $150,000, your gross income can be offset by the $132,000 charitable deduction limit (reducing it to $88k) and the remaining $18,000 of your charitable deduction that you were not able to utilize due to the percentage limitations can be carried forward for the next five years.

Charitable Gifts of Non-Cash Items

The IRS will allow a deduction for donations of non-cash items as well, if the item is in “good working condition or better.” Therefore, stop and think before claiming a deduction for the donation of a dusty old toaster that is missing a few parts that you received 35 years ago as a wedding gift. There is no fixed method for determining the value of these items, but the IRS, Salvation Army, and Goodwill, all provide helpful valuation guidelines.

If you make noncash contributions, your deduction for the noncash contribution is limited to 50% of your adjusted gross income minus your cash contributions subject to the 60% limit. If your total deduction for all noncash contributions for the year is over $500, you must complete Form 8283 and list the donated items, as well as their value, and attach it to your Form 1040. Additionally, any non-cash contribution over $5,000 will most likely require a qualified appraisal attached to the Form 8283 to substantiate the value (publicly traded stock may be an exception).

Charitable Gifts Quid Pro Quo

If you receive some sort of compensation for your donation (such as tickets to a charity gala, a theatrical performance, a sporting event, or merchandise, goods, or services), you can only deduct the amount of the donation that exceeds the fair market value of what you received. Moreover, you cannot deduct the cost of raffle, bingo, or lottery tickets bought from a charitable organization or deduct the value of your donated time or professional services, or the value of donated blood. Additionally, important for all of those college sports fans to know, is that under the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, if you make contributions in exchange for the right to buy college athletic tickets, you are not allowed a deduction for this donation (previously, you could deduct 80%).

Charitable Gifts of Securities

Direct donation of publicly traded securities (or other illiquid gifts) is another common way to fund a charity for donors. This is a particularly tax-efficient method if you have long-term appreciated stock, because with a direct charitable gift of appreciated securities held long-term, you avoid paying the capital gains tax (typically 20% of the appreciated value). If you were to sell the shares and donate the cash proceeds instead, while you would get the higher percentage limitation with the donation of cash (60%), you would have to pay the capital gains tax upon the sale of the shares. This usually does not result in a greater tax benefit than a direct donation of securities.

The amount of the charitable deduction and the limitation on the deduction depends on how long the securities (or other illiquid gifts) have been held and, in part, on the type of charity receiving the property (for example, private foundations are subject to different limitations – but that is beyond the scope of this discussion). If you donate short-term securities to a public charity, a deduction is allowed only for the lesser of (1) the FMV of the securities or (2) your cost basis. In most cases, if the stock appreciated, this will mean your deduction is your cost basis. You may then deduct up to 50% of AGI, reduced by the amount of any cash contributions you made that year allowed under the 60% limit. If you donate long-term securities to a public charity, a deduction is generally allowed for the FMV of the securities. You may then deduct the lessor of (1) 30% of your AGI or (2) 50% of your AGI less other contributions to 50% charities and cash contributions allowed under the 60% limit.

Charitable Gifts from Your IRA

If you meet the requirements, you can also make a charitable contribution from your IRA. However, your ability to take a charitable deduction will depend on whether the contribution is made from your traditional IRA or Roth IRA. If you are age 70½ or older, you may make direct charitable gifts from your traditional IRA (which counts toward your required minimum distributions) of up to $100,000 to public charities (other than donor advised funds and supporting organizations) and not have to report the IRA distributions as taxable income on your federal income tax return. There is no charitable deduction for the distributions, so you benefit from this if you do not itemize your deductions. However, not paying tax on otherwise taxable income is essentially the equivalent of a charitable deduction.

Assuming the Roth IRA distribution requirements are met (generally, over the age of 59½ and held Roth for over 5 years), your cash distribution from a Roth IRA will be tax free. You can then use this distribution to make a cash donation to a charity. The bonus here is that there are no restrictions on the type of charity like there are with the traditional IRAs. Additionally, unlike traditional IRAs, you can claim an itemized deduction for your charitable cash contribution up to the 60% of AGI limitation. Nevertheless, it generally is not the best option to take distributions from your Roth IRA and donate to charity because the tax rules for Roth IRAs are so favorable. Usually, it is best to leave your Roth balances untouched and earning more tax-free income rather than taking money out for charitable contributions if you can make your contributions from a different source.


No matter what you end up donating and how limited your deduction may be, the most important thing to remember if you intend to reap the tax benefits of your charitable contribution is that you must keep accurate records of your contribution. Any contribution over $250 must be acknowledged with a receipt from the charity indicating the organization’s name, the date of the contribution and the amount. The IRS notes that you, the donor, are responsible for requesting and obtaining the written acknowledgment from the charity. Typically, charities will provide donors with written letters of acknowledgement or receipt; however, you can write it yourself ahead of time, and simply have it signed when you drop off your items. This way you can trust that the receipt is correct and that it includes all the information you need.

The IRS can disallow charitable donations of $250 or more if you do not have a written acknowledgment from the charity to document your gift. So, while your canceled checks, receipts, bank statements, telephone bills or photographs (all of which you should keep) can be useful if your return is audited, the IRS may not allow the deduction in case of a missing acknowledgement receipt or letter.


While taxes might not be at the forefront of your mind when gifting this holiday season, the tax deduction for charitable contributions is a nice added benefit under the tree! To make the most out of this tax benefit it is important to familiarize yourself with the deduction rules and limitations.

The attorneys at O’Neil, Cannon, Hollman, DeJong & Laing S.C can ensure that you are making donations that best serve organizations while helping you maximize tax benefits this holiday season. If you need assistance in developing individual tax strategies or have questions about tax and estate planning, please contact Attorney Britany E. Morrison to discuss how we can assist you in your needs.

Tax & Wealth Advisor Alert:
Proposed Bipartisan Bill to Expand Research and Development Tax Credit

Late July, Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, and Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced the bipartisan Research and Development Tax Credit Expansion Act that aims to double the refundable research and development (R&D) tax credit and increase the alternative simplified credit rate for new and small businesses. If enacted, the bill would provide additional cash savings for eligible businesses that perform qualified R&D activities.


While the R&D tax credit has been around for a while, historically, many small businesses and start-up companies could not immediately benefit from the R&D credit as they were not generating income in early years and thus they had no regular tax for the R&D credit to offset. Noticing this limitation, the PATH Act of 2015 added new IRC Sections to allow qualified small businesses to apply the R&D credit against their employer’s payroll tax liability (up to $250,000 annually). For these purposes, a “qualified small business” is generally defined as a corporation, partnership or sole proprietorship with: (1) gross receipts of less than $5 million for the tax year and (2) no gross receipts for any tax year before the five tax years ending with the election year.

New R&D Credit Bill

The new bill aims to double the amount of R&D credit that can be used to offset an employer’s payroll tax liability by increasing the annual cap from $250,000 to $500,000 and then automatically indexing for inflation. In addition, the bill would expand the number of eligible businesses that qualify for the credit by raising the maximum amount of gross receipts from $5 million to $10 million per year. It would also allow the R&D credit to offset all payroll taxes so businesses can apply the credit against Medicare and unemployment taxes, in addition to Social Security taxes. Lastly, the bill would increase the alternative simplified credit rate (a method used to calculate the R&D credit), which provides a credit of 14% for research that exceeds half of the average research spending from the last three years. The bill would increase the alternative simplified credit rate from 14% to 20% for new and small businesses that qualify for the credit.


If enacted, eligible taxpayers would doubly benefit by both generating a higher credit amount and being able to apply more of the credit generated against their payroll tax. Additionally, the bill would increase both the availability of the payroll offset option as well as the ability to generate cash tax savings for eligible taxpayers. The proposed Act certainly removes many of the barriers that limit a new or small businesses’ ability to claim the credit. Nevertheless, while we wait to see if Congress will approve the Research and Development Tax Credit Expansion Act, we will continue to advise our clients to ensure their R&D tax credit compliance and counsel on effective tax planning opportunities should the Act go into effect.

If you are interested in learning more about your eligibility or effective tax planning opportunities for the current and/or proposed R&D tax credit, please contact Attorney Britany E. Morrison  at O’Neil, Cannon, Hollman, DeJong & Laing S.C. to discuss how we are able to assist you in your needs.

Tax & Wealth Advisor Alert:
Time to Act on Act 368: Wisconsin Pass-Through Entity-Level Tax Election

In December of 2018, Wisconsin enacted tax legislation—Wisconsin Act 368—that specifically impacted LLCs, S-Corps, and partnerships (“pass-through entities”). The Act allows pass-through entities to make an annual election to be taxed at the entity-level, rather than at the individual level. This election may provide significant tax savings to Wisconsin businesses and their owners, but this election won’t work for everyone. While the new Wisconsin law certainly brings some tax saving opportunities, there are election rules and potential issues that Wisconsin owners of pass-through entities must consider before deciding whether to make the election.


Historically, individuals were not limited in what they could deduct for state income and property taxes. However, starting in 2018, due to the Tax Cuts and Job Act, the deduction for state income and property taxes is now limited to $10,000. Wisconsin has attempted a creative approach with Act 368 to circumvent this limitation by allowing pass-through entities to be taxed at the entity-level. The idea is that the Tax Cuts and Job Act deduction cap applies to individuals and not businesses, so by allowing the pass-through entity to be taxed at the entity-level, the deduction is shifted from a capped deduction to an uncapped deduction.


The new provision allows for pass-through entities to elect to be taxed at the entity-level which is a flat rate of 7.9% (the WI corporate income tax rate) rather than passing the income to shareholders to be taxed on their individual return (7.65% for individuals at the highest income tax rates). The entity-level tax would then be deductible by the pass-through on its Federal return resulting in a decrease of Federal income and corresponding Federal tax. Therefore, even though the entity-level rate is higher than the individual rate, this could still result in beneficial tax savings if pass-through owners were previously limited by the cap.


S-Corps can begin making the election beginning with the 2018 tax year, while partnerships and LLCs may make this election starting with the 2019 tax year. For S-corps, persons holding more than 50% of shares on the day of election must consent, while for partnerships, persons holding more than 50% of capital and profits interest on the day of election must consent. The advantageous feature about this election is that it is flexible, in that it can be made on an annual basis. Pass-through entities can opt in or out each year without limitation or penalty. Additionally, the election must be made on or before the due date or extended due date of the WI return.

Potential Issues

While this may sound like a straight forward decision to make the election for a Wisconsin owner of a pass-through entity, there are several potential issues to consider before making the election.

Ultimately, pass-through entities in an income position that do not have any applicable WI credits or out-of-state owners have the best potential for tax savings. However, because the election does not have to be made until the extended due date, there is a real opportunity for Wisconsin owners of pass-through entities to analyze the above-mentioned issues with both tax advisors and legal counsel to determine whether the election is beneficial and/or worth the extra compliance costs before committing to the election.

If you are interested in learning more about Act 368 and WI’s entity-level tax election or need assistance in tax and/or legal planning to take advantage of the election, please contact Attorney Britany E. Morrison at O’Neil, Cannon, Hollman, DeJong & Laing S.C. to discuss how we are able to assist you in your needs.

Tax & Wealth Advisor Alert:
Not Feeling so SECURE: Proposed Law Could be Costly for Non-Spouse IRA Beneficiaries

On May 23, 2019, the House overwhelmingly voted (417-3) to approve the SECURE (Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement) Act and sent it to the Senate for their approval. The bipartisan bill is grabbing headlines for its modification to many retirement issues. Among those modifications is a requirement that could be costly for non-spouse IRA beneficiaries. The requirement forces non-spouse beneficiaries of inherited IRAs to withdraw funds from their account over a 10-year period after the original owner’s death rather than the beneficiaries’ life expectancy, ending the beneficial tax strategy known as the “stretch IRA.”

Under current law, if a person other than a spouse is named as a beneficiary of an IRA account, the beneficiary can take their IRA required minimum distributions over their life expectancy based on a table provided by the IRS. Therefore, withdrawal of the IRA account is “stretched” out over a presumably long period based on the beneficiary’s life expectancy. For example, if a 25-year old inherited a $1 million IRA from his grandfather, he would take distributions over his life expectancy of 57.2 years (as provided by the IRS table). His required minimum distributions would be about $17,482 ($1,000,000/57.2), which he would need to withdraw yearly over a 57.2-year period. Each year, this would result in a federal tax bill anywhere between $548 (if he were in the lowest tax bracket) to $6,468 (if he were in the highest tax bracket). The “stretch IRA” is a beneficial tax strategy, especially for younger beneficiaries, because they have smaller required minimum distributions stretched out through their life expectancy and thus they incur smaller tax bills. Additionally, the stretch allows for tax-deferred growth over longer accumulation periods and a larger amount of money reaching the pockets of the beneficiaries.

The proposed SECURE Act, however, would require beneficiaries to withdraw all the money in the inherited IRA account within a 10-year period from the original owner’s death rather than stretch the distributions out over the life expectancy of the beneficiary. The proposed Act allows the distributions to be whenever the beneficiary likes—the distributions can be made at regular intervals or at the end of the period—just as long as they are made sometime in the 10-year period.

Despite the flexibility in distributions, removing the stretch based on life expectancy in exchange for a 10-year period will have significant financial effects for non-spouse beneficiaries of inherited IRAs. The proposed Act will greatly accelerate tax collection, pushing the beneficiaries into high tax brackets, resulting in beneficiaries paying a substantial amount more in taxes than under the life-expectancy stretch. To illustrate, using the previously mentioned example of the 25-year old beneficiary of a $1 million IRA, if he were to take equal distributions of $100,000 over the 10-year period, in the first year alone, his income would be bumped up by $82,517 ($100,000 versus $17,482 in life-expectancy stretch), which could easily land him in a higher tax bracket. He would then have a yearly tax bill between $24,000 (if the distributions were his only income) to $37,000 (if he were in the highest tax bracket). That is an incredible difference in tax bills, not to mention the loss of tax-free compounding that was allowed for longer periods of time under the life-expectancy stretch.

If the proposed SECURE Act goes into effect, it will no doubt be costly for non-spouse IRA beneficiaries. The landscape of IRA planning will need to change, and IRA owners might consider alternative planning strategies like charitable beneficiaries or investments in life insurance policies versus IRAs to minimize taxes for their loved ones. While we wait to see if the Senate will approve the SECURE Act, we will continue to advise our clients to ensure their compliance and counsel on effective tax minimizing alternatives should the SECURE Act go into effect.

If you are interested in learning more about tax minimizing alternatives for non-spouse IRA beneficiaries, please contact Attorney Britany E. Morrison at O’Neil, Cannon, Hollman, DeJong & Laing S.C. to discuss how we are able to assist you in your needs.