Fiscal Talks Spur Charitable Giving – Another Reason To Get Our Lists Now

Below is another great reason to get our lists now.

The people with the money are giving it away now. The following is an article from the Wall Street Journal

Tax uncertainty in Washington is setting off a mad scramble among wealthy taxpayers and charities to maximize donations before the end of the year.

Their worry: The tax deduction for charitable giving, a fixture of the tax code for nearly a century, is coming under pressure as part of a broader fiscal agreement now being hammered out on Capitol Hill.

The rush shows the extent to which wrangling in Washington over deficit reduction already is affecting the way taxpayers are spending their money. In addition to rethinking their charitable giving, some taxpayers are accelerating large medical expenses, selling appreciated stock and even prepaying mortgages, financial advisers say.

“People want to take advantage of 2012’s certainty,” said Benjamin Pierce, head of Vanguard Charitable, a nonprofit group affiliated with money manager Vanguard Group Inc. “Front-loading is very much on their minds.”

Fidelity Charitable, an affiliate of Fidelity Investments, took in $1.2 billion for the first nine months of 2012, up 63% from the same period in 2011, while Schwab Charitable, an affiliate of Charles Schwab Corp. (SCHW), recorded a 74% jump for the third quarter. Vanguard Charitable saw a 43% increase through the end of November.

The charitable deduction has been under fire from some politicians on both sides of the aisle for several years. Speaking to business leaders at the Business Roundtable in Washington on Wednesday, President Barack Obama said a complete elimination of the charitable deduction is unlikely.

The deduction, which has been part of the tax code since 1917, allows taxpayers to reduce their taxable income by giving money or other assets to certain tax-exempt groups, including churches, schools and charities.

All told, Americans donate about $300 billion each year to charity, according to a recent report by the Giving USA Foundation and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. December is typically a big month for giving.

The possibility of a deduction limit is prompting many charities to ramp up their collection efforts.

Feeding America, a Chicago hunger-relief charity with about $1.2 billion in annual donations of cash and food, is asking donors “to consider paying forward their commitments,” said donor development officer Maura Daly, adding that she already has heard from several supporters planning to do so.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society said its fundraisers are armed with relevant information on potential tax changes when they make calls. Given the uncertainty, said donor development director Michael Osso, “we’re more determined than ever to help them understand the benefits of giving right now.”

The Great Commission Foundation of Campus Crusade for Christ, an Orlando evangelical group, is seeing bigger gifts than last year, in part because “we have these conversations” with donors, said Bob Hawkes, executive director of the group. “We’re not tax experts, but we share resources, ask them to talk to their tax advisers and send out a weekly newsletter on Washington.”

Many taxpayers are piling into “donor-advised” funds such as those run by Fidelity, Schwab and Vanguard. Such funds enable givers to donate now and secure a full deduction for 2012, while pushing decisions about charitable gifts to specific causes into the future. After money goes into such a fund, it is invested and can grow tax-free until the donor tells the sponsor which eligible nonprofits to send checks to—at which point there is no deduction.

Vanguard’s Mr. Pierce estimates there is more than $43 billion in donor-advised charitable funds supervised by more than 750 large sponsors, including universities, regional foundations and independent nonprofits.

Irving Plotkin, an economist and philanthropist in Cambridge, Mass., who has had a charitable account with Vanguard for a decade, said he has tripled his donation so far this year. He added that he might donate again before year-end if Congress imposes deduction limits for 2013.

People who donate now are taking a gamble. If lawmakers don’t cut the charitable deduction and allow the top tax rate to jump to 39.6% as scheduled in 2013—an unlikely but possible outcome—taking a deduction next year could be more valuable.

“I’m willing to risk that,” said Mr. Plotkin.

Charities and tax advisers are urging donors to use an additional tax break—employed by Warren Buffett and other wealthy taxpayers—that could disappear or be diminished in a fiscal agreement. Under current law, donations of assets that have risen in value, such as shares of stock, often qualify for a deduction at the full market price, enabling donors to skip paying capital-gains tax on the appreciation.

With the stock market having recovered much of its losses from 2007-09 and the possibility of deduction limits next year, many advisers say now is a good time to give stock.

Elda Di Re, who advises high-net-worth clients at Ernst & Young, said charitable-gift funds are now “part of every giving conversation we have,” especially with hedge-fund managers and private-equity investors. “They want to maximize the value of their gifts, so they have plan A and plan B and are ready to pull the trigger depending on what Congress decides.”

On Wednesday, more than 250 nonprofit-group leaders met with members of Congress to urge them to protect the deduction.

Diana Aviv, president of Independent Sector, an association of nonprofits, said one plan floated by the White House, which would shrink the percentage of donations higher-income taxpayers could deduct from their taxes, could reduce charitable giving by $1.7 billion to $7 billion a year. Another plan, to cap all tax deductions at a specific dollar amount, could hurt giving even more, she said.

With uncertainty high, charities are pulling out all the stops.

Curt Whipple, a financial adviser in Canton, Mich., said he had lunch recently with Kent Clark, chief executive of Grace Centers of Hope, a charity to which he has been making monthly donations. “He brought up the fiscal cliff,” said Mr. Whipple.

Mr. Whipple said he already intended to make an additional gift by year-end, and that the lunch hadn’t persuaded him to donate more.

Mr. Clark said he is asking other donors to make their gifts before year-end as well. “We need to have a big December,” he said.

Thank you to the Wall Street Journal

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