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Answers to Tax Questions: Car Donation

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Have you ever considered donating an item to charity so you could get a tax deduction? Maybe clothes, toys, or even a car? One of our readers asked about it and now I’m going to share the detailed answer with everyone.

Question From Linda in Washington: I have 3 ‘junk’ cars I want to donate for the $500 tax deduction. Would I be able to do all 3 in the same year, or should I space them out? 

Answer: 

Yes, you can donate them all in one year. But first, you need to make sure that the donation is going to a real charity. They should be able to provide you with a receipt and proof that they are a legitimate charity.

Second, you need to check your prior tax return to see if you itemized deductions or took the standard deduction. If you don’t itemize, you can’t deduct the car donation. Wait until you can itemize before you donate. 

Next, before you decide when to make the donation, you might want to estimate your tax refund for the year based on what you already know. The best site for doing that is e-file.com. It’s completely free to use their tax refund estimator

My philosophy is that you only want to donate this year if it will help you get a bigger refund or reduce what you owe. Otherwise, save it for the next tax year. This will maximize your financial gain.

If you need more deductions to increase your expected refund or to reduce your tax liability then you definitely want to donate the cars this tax year (or clothes, toys, household items, etc.). If you don’t need more deductions, then save it until you do. As long as you donate the car by the last calendar day of the year, you can still count it on your tax return. The IRS has a special publication just for car donations if you want to read up on it.

But hold on…you don’t get $500 more in a refund just because you value the car donation at $500! The amount of additional refund you get is LESS than the donation value. Why? It’s because you are deducting the $500 from your income and your income is being taxed at a certain percentage.

For example, if you are in the 15% tax bracket and you deduct the $500 donation, this will represent an additional tax refund of 15%* $500 = $75 more refund. That’s pretty insignificant, right? Maybe you would be better off selling the cars for what you could get for parts. Can you get more than $75 by selling the parts of the car on Craigslist? Can you sell the car as is to someone who can fix it up? This is my recommendation. Sell the car for more than what you can get back on your tax return.

Do You Have a Tax or Budgeting Question? 

I worked as an accountant for years. Feel free to ask any question you like. Just reply to this email with your question and I will answer it in an email like this one. Plus, this coming tax season, I am planning to give tips to help you save a bundle of money by preparing your own tax return.

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