Your Second Career as a Philanthropist

You’ve no doubt heard inspiring stories about people who ran huge companies and amassed great wealth during their working years but are remembered today for how much of it they gave away. From Andrew Carnegie to Bill Gates, it has been a common theme.

Maybe you’re not in a position to have a concert hall named after you. Maybe you won’t be the one to eradicate malaria. But if you’ve prospered in your life, you might very well be experiencing this same motivation to leave the world a better place and be a philanthropic funder. Fortunately, the U.S. tax code offers a number of ways to support this worthy ambition of yours.

Funding your passion with smart philanthropy

Every individual’s financial situation is as unique as the array of causes which resonates with them. But once a financial advisor has a firm grasp on a client’s income, assets, expenses and tax treatment, the possibilities begin to present themselves.

The primary goal is, presumably, to be a philanthropic funder for projects you’re passionate about. How you choose to do that depends on how pursuing that can dovetail with the goals manifested in your financial situation. That’s the difference between charitable giving and charitable planning.

Say for example your immediate financial goal is tax avoidance. In that case, donating low-cost basis stock is a classic charitable planning strategy. If you bought a stock at $1/share and it’s now worth $10/share, you can sell it and donate cash, but you’d have to pay capital gains tax. Instead, giving appreciated stock to your favorite charity is a non-taxable event.

But maybe your finances require you to lower your annual gross income. To accomplish that, you might want to look into a qualified charitable distribution. Once you’ve reached the age of 70 1/2, you can elect to send distributions of up to $100,000 straight to a 501(c)(3), and then those dollars are invisible when it comes to calculating your income. This move can insulate you from falling into a higher tax bracket and having to pay higher Medicare premiums.

Another smart philanthropy tax strategy is bunching, which takes advantage of the rules governing charitable deductions. Giving two years’ worth of cash gifts in a single tax year, then following that up with a year of no gifting, often affords you more favorable treatment. In the year when you donate as a philanthropic funder, you get to take the itemized deduction then, in the following year, you can take the standard deduction.

However, donor-advised funds might be the best vehicles for many individuals, specifically those who haven’t decided how much to apportion to each cause, or perhaps even which causes they want to support. A DAF is like your own mini-charitable foundation, which has tax advantages over being an individual giver. Other benefits include flexibility with the types of assets to contribute, administrative convenience and cost savings.

Giving thought

Not all these vehicles work for everyone. They each have disadvantages as well as advantages. DAFs, for example, are run by governing boards, not the donor directly. It’s unlikely but conceivable that board members can ignore the donor’s direction on how the funds are to be allocated.

If you want more details on the most tax-efficient way to be a philanthropic funder for your favorite charities, it’s worth spending a little time with a financial advisor who can walk you through the options.

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