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Philanthropy Tax E-Letter
Tax-Free IRA Distributions to Charity

Tax-Free IRA Distributions to Charity

Tax-free IRA/charitable distributions (Tax-Free Charitable IRA Rollover)—maltum in parvo (in a nutshell). An individual age 70½ or older can make direct charitable gifts from an individual retirement account, including 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 his federal income tax return. Most private foundations are ineligible donees, but private-operating and passthrough (conduit) foundations are eligible. Tax-free distributions are for outright (direct) gifts only—not life-income gifts. There's no charitable deduction for the IRA distributions. However, not paying tax on otherwise taxable income is the equivalent of a charitable deduction.


RMDs—Required Minimum Distributions. Communicate with donors/clients before they withdraw their RMDs.


WMDs—Weapons of Mass Deduction. Over 65 percent of taxpayers take the standard deduction; thus, they have no charitable deduction. However, a tax-free distribution from an IRA is the equivalent of a charitable deduction. Communicate with non-itemizers before they take their RMDs.


Traditional and Roth IRAs only. Distributions from traditional and Roth IRAs are the only ones that are tax free. Distributions from employer-sponsored retirement plans, including simple IRAs and simplified employee pensions (SEPs), aren’t qualified charitable distributions; nor are distributions from Keoghs, 403(b) plans, 401(k) plans, profit sharing and other plans. 

Doing a two step to qualify: (1) Roll over a non-qualified pension plan into a qualified IRA. That’s generally tax free (make sure that’s so). (2) The qualified IRA then makes the distributions directly to the charity.

Pointer regarding donor-advised funds of community foundations. As noted, IRA distributions to those funds don’t qualify. But IRA distributions to a community foundation’s endowment and field-of-interest funds do qualify—as long as the donor has no advisory rights.

Distributions from a qualified IRA must be made directly by the IRA’s administrator or trustee to a qualified charity. A payment to the donor who one honko-second later gives it to the charity doesn’t qualify (a honko-second is the shortest measure of time—the time that elapses between a traffic signal turning green and the driver of the car behind honking his horn).

The entire distribution must be paid to the charity with no quid pro quo. The exclusion applies only if a charitable deduction for the entire distribution would have  been allowable (determined without regard to the generally applicable percentage limitations). Thus, if the donor receives (or is entitled to receive) a chicken dinner in connection with the transfer to the charity from the IRA, the exclusion isn’t available for any part of the IRA distribution. 

Example. $100,000 from a donor’s IRA is distributed to a charity. He receives (or is entitled to receive) a benefit worth $25. The entire $100,000 will be taxable to the donor.

Substantiation required. The exclusion won’t be available if the IRA distribution to the charity isn’t sufficiently substantiated. The charity must give the donor a timely written acknowledgment that it has received the IRA distribution and that no goods or services were given in connection with the IRA distribution. 

Favorable rules on charitable distributions when the donor had made earlier contributions to his IRA. If the IRA owner has any IRAs that include contributions that were nondeductible when contributed to the IRA, a special rule applies in determining the portion of a distribution that is includable in gross income (but for the qualified IRA/charitable distribution) and is eligible for qualified charitable distribution treatment. The special rule works this way: The distribution is treated as consisting of income first, up to the aggregate amount that would be includable in gross income (but for the qualified charitable distribution) if the aggregate balance of all of the donor’s IRAs were distributed during the same year. In determining the amount of subsequent IRA distributions includable in income, adjustments are to be made to reflect the amount treated as qualified charitable distributions.

Qualified charitable distributions—examples. These examples illustrate the determination of the portion of an IRA distribution that is a qualified charitable distribution. In each example, it's assumed that the requirements for qualified charitable distribution treatment are otherwise met (for example, age 70½ or older, qualified public charity, etc.) and that no other IRA distributions are made during the year.

Example 1. Arnold, over age 70½, has an IRA with a $100,000 balance, consisting solely of deductible contributions and earnings. He has no other IRA. The entire IRA balance is distributed to an Internal Revenue Code Section 170(b)(1)(A) charity (other than a supporting organization or a donor advised fund). Under earlier law, the entire $100,000 distribution would have been includable in Arnold’s gross income. Under the IRA/charitable distribution rules, the entire $100,000 distribution is a qualified charitable distribution; thus, no amount is includable in his income. Further, the distribution isn't taken into account in determining the amount of Arnold’s allowable charitable deductions for the year.

Example 2. Barbara, over age 70½, has a $100,000 IRA consisting of $80,000 of deductible and $20,000 of nondeductible contributions. $80,000 is distributed directly to charity. She has no other IRA.

Notwithstanding the usual treatment of IRA distributions, the distribution to the charity is treated as consisting of income first, up to the total amount that would be includable in gross income (but for the charitable IRA distribution rules). Under these rules, the entire $80,000 distributed to the charity is a qualified charitable distribution and no amount is included in Barbara’s income as a result of the distribution. Further, the distribution isn’t taken into account in determining the amount of Barbara’s charitable deductions for the  year. And, when the $20,000 remaining in Barbara’s IRA is distributed to her, it will not be subject to tax because it came from non-deductible IRA contributions when placed in her IRA.

You turn 70½ for purposes of qualifying for the IRA/charitable distribution when you are actually 70½.  Professor Christopher R. Hoyt, University of Missouri-Kansas City, School of Law, highlights a major pitfall: “It is true that all distributions that are made at any time during [the year that a person turns 70½] can be applied toward satisfying the minimum distribution requirement to avoid the 50 percent penalty tax. But ONLY distributions that are made on or after attaining the age of 70½ qualify for the charitable exclusion! Play it safe and tell clients/donors not to have any distributions made to charity until at least one or two days after they reach age 70½.”

Caveat on year-end charitable distributions. A donor who, by U.S. mail, sends checks and securities to a charity this year that are received by the charity next year has made a charitable gift this year. Will a distribution mailed by the IRA trustee/custodian to the charity this year, but received next year, qualify for tax-free treatment? Unless clarified by the IRS, make sure that the charity actually receives the distribution this year.

Death-time transfers—reminder. The current and continuing laws allow tax-free distributions to charities at death for both outright and charitable remainder gifts. Income in respect of a decedent (IRD) isn’t taxable to charities and charitable remainder trusts (CRTs). When a CRT beneficiary receives payments, he will be taxable on the IRD. Less than 1 percent of estates are subject to the estate tax. If those estates have IRD, the IRA beneficiaries are entitled to itemized deductions on their income tax returns spread over their life expectancies for estate taxes attributable to their bequests. This factor should be considered when deciding whether to create a testamentary CRT. But this isn’t an issue for over 99 percent of estates. Also, outright bequests of IRAs to charity avoid tax on the IRD. So, give appreciated stock outright to family members who will get a stepped-up basis, and give the IRA and other IRD “items” to charity. The charity, being tax exempt, doesn’t pay tax on the IRD. Other IRD items include: salary and wages earned before death but paid after death; accounts receivable; unpaid royalties; commissions and partnership income earned before death but paid after death; unpaid royalties; payments under installment obligations paid after death; and interest of dividends earned before death but paid after death.

For death-time transfers from IRAs, there isn’t a ceiling or limitation on the types of charitable donees. Thus, distributions to all private foundations and public charities (including supporting organizations and donor advised funds) qualify. To avoid IRD concerns, the gift must be properly structured.

Guidance from the IRS. In 2007, the IRS—fleshing out the Code and the explanation by the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation—favorably filled in the blanks to some unanswered (and some already answered) questions:

Check payable to charity but delivered to the charity by the IRA owner. The payment to the charity will be considered a direct payment by the IRA trustee to the charity; thus, it's a qualified charitable distribution (QCD).

For inherited IRAs. The exclusion from gross income for QCDs is available for distributions from an IRA maintained for the benefit of a beneficiary after the death of the IRA owner if the beneficiary has attained age 70½ before the distribution is made. 

Multiple IRAs. The income exclusion for qualified charitable distributions only applies to the extent that the aggregate amount of QCDs made during any taxable year for an IRA owner doesn’t exceed $100,000. Thus, distributions from multiple IRAs are capped at a maximum total of $100,000. 

For married individuals filing jointly. The limit is $100,000 per individual IRA owner. 

QCDs don’t affect the AGI deductibility ceiling. Although charitable IRA distributions aren’t deductible IRC Section 170 charitable contributions, QCDs that are excluded from income under IRC Section 408(d)(8) aren’t taken into account for purposes of the AGI ceilings for traditional charitable gifts.

Substantiation requirements. Although not deductible, QCDs must still satisfy the deductibility requirements under IRC Section 170 (other than the AGI percentage limits of Section 170(b)) and the substantiation requirements under Section 170(f)(8). 

QCDs aren’t subject to withholding. An IRA owner who requests a charitable distribution is deemed to have elected out of withholding under IRC Section 3405(a)(2). 

IRA trustees and custodians are off the hook. In determining whether a distribution requested by an IRA donor satisfies the QCD requirements, the IRA trustee or custodian may rely upon reasonable representations made by the IRA owner. 

Required minimum distributions. A QCD is taken into account in determining whether the required minimum distribution (RMD) requirements have been satisfied. 

Treatment of a QCD manqué. If an intended QCD is paid to a charity but fails to satisfy IRC Section 408(d)(8)’s requirements, the amount paid is treated as: (1) a distribution from the IRA to the IRA owner that's includable in gross income (under Sections 408 and 408A), and (2) a contribution from the IRA owner to the charity that's subject to IRC Section 170's deductibility rules (including the AGI percentage limits and the substantiation rules).

QCDs aren’t prohibited transactions—even if used to satisfy pledges. The Department of Labor, which has interpretive jurisdiction under IRC Section 4975(d), has advised the IRS that a distribution made by an IRA trustee directly to an IRC Section 170(b)(1)(A) organization (as permitted by IRC Section 408(d)(8)(B)(i)) will be treated as a receipt by the IRA owner under Section 4975(d)(9); thus, it isn’t a prohibited transaction and that’s so even if the IRA owner had an outstanding pledge to the receiving charity.

 IRS Notice 2007-7


Reminder. It won’t be a QCD if the IRA donor gets a chicken dinner or any other benefit. So don’t fowl up an IRA distribution with a quid pro crow.

Tax-free distributions from individual retirement plans for charitable purposes. When determining the portion of a distribution that would otherwise be includable in income, the otherwise includable amount is determined as if all amounts were distributed from all of the individual’s IRAs.

Technical Corrections Act ‘07


Satisfying a pledge with an IRA distribution—IRS Information Letter. By analogy to Rev. Rul. 64-240, a taxpayer who satisfies a pledge by making a qualified charitable distribution under IRC Section 408(d)(8) from his IRA directly to a charitable organization, wouldn't include the distribution in gross income, the IRS said in an August 20, 2010 Information Letter, written by Michael J. Montemurro, Office of Associate Chief Counsel.

IRS’s caveat. “This letter is an ‘information letter’, which calls attention to a well-established interpretation or principle of tax law without applying it to a specific set of facts. It is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute a ruling. See section 2.04 of Rev. Proc. 2010-1, 2010-1 I.R.B. 1, 7.”

My caveat. To avoid income on satisfying a pledge with a distribution from an IRA, the distribution must qualify under the requirements outlined above.


Advantages of IRA/Charitable Distributions:

A gigantic additional pool of funds is available for charitable gifts.

The approximately two-thirds of taxpayers who take the standard deduction— and thus can’t deduct their charitable gifts—can get the equivalent of a deduction by making gifts directly from their IRAs to qualified charities. Not being taxed on income is the equivalent of a deduction. 

Itemizers who bump into the adjusted gross income (AGI) ceilings on charitable-gift deductibility can use distributions from IRAs to make additional gifts. Because they won’t be taxed on the distributions, they have the equivalent of additional charitable deductions.

The carryover can be saved. Deductible gifts made in a current year are taken into account before deducting a carryover from earlier years. Making a gift from an IRA (as opposed to making a gift with other funds or assets) means that a carryover can be used in the current year.

The IRA/charitable distribution (by not increasing AGI, as would be the case if the taxpayer withdraws IRA funds instead of using the charitable distribution) can avoid or minimize the reduction of otherwise allowable benefits that are keyed to adjusted gross income—the 10 percent AGI floor on casualty loss deductions, the increased 10 percent floor on medical and dental expense deductions, the 2 percent AGI floor on miscellaneous itemized deductions.

As AGI increases, the following benefits can be reduced or eliminated: social security; savings bond interest exclusion for bonds used to pay for higher education tuition and fees; the adoption and child care credits; contributions to Roth IRAs; and passive activity losses and credits.

If a donor’s state's income tax law doesn’t allow charitable deductions, making the gift from the donor’s IRA to the charity can be the equivalent of a state income tax charitable deduction. 

Caution. State laws differ, so check out all the ramifications in your state. For example, in some states, IRA distributions directly to the IRA owners aren’t subject to state income tax. A distribution from the IRA to charity, thus, won’t save state income taxes, and the donor could lose a state income tax charitable deduction that might— depending on state law—be available for a gift from the donor to the charity. Of course, consider both the federal and state tax rules. You may have heard this before: Do the arithmetic under various scenarios.

PEP and Pease. The phase out of personal exemptions (PEP) and the reduction of otherwise allowable deductions under the so-called Pease provision can make  IRA/charitable distributions especially attractive to high-income donors. Taking distributions from IRAs, instead of directing those payments to charity, can place a high-income person in the income levels where PEP and Pease apply. 

Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-MT) says that his committee won’t report out a separate “extenders” bill. Extenders should be considered as part of comprehensive tax reform. Over 200 provisions will expire, only five deal with charitable gifts.


Four Other Increased Charitable Tax Benefits - Expiring 12/31/13

1. S Corporations making contributions—favorable basis adjustment. When an S Corporation contributes money or property to a charity, each shareholder takes into account the shareholder’s pro rata share of the contribution in determining her own income tax liability. But, the S Corporation shareholder had to reduce the basis in her S Corporation stock by the amount of the contribution that flowed through to her.

For 2006 through 2013. The amount of a shareholder’s basis reduction in her S Corporation stock—because of the S Corporation’s charitable gift—equals the shareholder’s pro rata share of the basis of the contributed property. [See Rev. Rul. 96-11 (1996-1 C.B. 140) for a rule reaching a similar result for charitable contributions made by partnerships.]

Example. An S Corporation with one individual shareholder makes a charitable gift of stock with a $200 basis and a $500 fair market value. The shareholder is treated as having made a $500 charitable contribution (or a lesser amount, if the “ordinary income” rules of IRC Section 170(e) apply) and reduces the basis of her S Corporation stock by $200. Under prior law, the shareholder’s basis in her stock would have been reduced by $500 (the amount of the charitable gift).

Let’s get even more technical—contributions of appreciated property by S corporations. Under IRC Section 1366(d), the amount of losses and deductions which an S corporation shareholder may take into account in any taxable year is limited to his adjusted basis in the stock and indebtedness of the corporation. The Technical Corrections Act ‘07 provides that this basis limitation doesn’t apply to a contribution of appreciated property to the extent the shareholder's pro rata share of the contribution exceeds the shareholder's pro rata share of the adjusted basis of the property. Thus, the basis limitation of Section 1366(d) doesn’t apply to the amount of deductible appreciation in the contributed property. The provision, as amended, doesn’t apply to contributions made in taxable years beginning after December 31, 2013. 

Example: In taxable year 2013, an S corporation with one shareholder makes a charitable contribution of a capital asset held more than one year with an adjusted basis of $200 and a fair market value of $500. The shareholder's adjusted basis of the stock (as determined under Section 1366(d)(1)(A)) is $300. For purposes of applying the limitation under Section 1366(d) to the contribution, the limitation doesn’t apply to the $300 of appreciation, and since the $300 adjusted basis of the stock exceeds the $200 adjusted basis of the contributed property, the limitation doesn’t apply at all to the contribution. Thus, the shareholder is treated as making a $500 charitable contribution. The shareholder reduces the basis of the S corporation stock by $200 to $100 (pursuant to Section 1367(a)(2)).


2. The deduction for contributions of inventory generally is limited to the donor’s basis (typically, cost) in the inventory or fair market value, whichever is lower.

Exception. Qualifying C corporations can claim an enhanced deduction for the lesser of: (1) basis plus one-half of the item’s appreciation (for example, basis plus one-half of fair market value in excess of basis); or (2) two times basis.

A C corporation’s charitable contribution deductions for a year can’t exceed 10 percent of the corporation’s taxable income (with a five-year carryover). 

To be eligible for the enhanced deduction. The contributed property must be inventory contributed to an IRC Section 501(c)(3) charity (with the exception of private non-operating foundations), and the donee must: (1) use the property in a manner consistent with the donee’s exempt purpose solely for the care of the ill, the needy or minors, (2) not transfer the property in exchange for money, other property or services, and (3) provide the taxpayer with a written statement that the donee’s use of the property will be consistent with those requirements. For contributed property subject to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the property must satisfy the applicable requirements of the Act on the date of transfer and for 180 days before the transfer.


Any taxpayer, whether or not a C corporation, engaged in a trade or business is eligible to claim the enhanced deduction for donations of food inventory in 2012 and 2013.

For taxpayers other than C corporations, the total deduction for donations of food inventory in a taxable year, generally, may not exceed 10 percent of the taxpayer’s net income for the taxable year from all sole proprietorships, S corporations and partnerships (or any other entity that isn’t a C corporation) from which contributions of apparently wholesome food are made. 


3. Temporary suspension in 2012 and 2013 of corporation’s 10 percent limit for qualified farmers and ranchers. In the case of a qualified farmer or rancher, the percentage limitation is eliminated for any charitable contribution of food and the contribution is treated as if it were a qualified conservation easement (see below for Conservation Gifts). 


4. Qualified conservation contributions—background. Qualified conservation contributions aren’t subject to the rules that generally bar deductions for gifts of partial interests in property.

Qualified conservation contribution. A gift of a qualified real property interest to a qualified organization exclusively for conservation purposes. 

Qualified real property interest is: (1) the entire interest of the donor, other than a qualified mineral interest; (2) a remainder interest; or (3) a restriction, granted in perpetuity, on the use that may be made of the real property. 

Qualified organizations. Public charities, governmental units and certain supporting organizations (an organization organized and operated exclusively for the benefit of, to perform the functions of or carry out the purposes of a charity).

Conservation purposes include: (1) the preservation of land areas for outdoor recreation by or for the education of the general public; (2) the protection of a relatively natural habitat of fish, wildlife, plants or similar ecosystems; (3) the preservation of open space (including farmland and forest land), where that preservation will yield a significant public benefit and is either for the scenic enjoyment of the general public or under a clearly delineated federal, state or local governmental conservation policy; and (4) the preservation of an historically important land area or a certified historic structure.

Ceilings on deductibility. Before 2006, qualified conservation contributions of capital gain property were subject to the same percentage of AGI ceilings and carryover rules that apply to other charitable gifts of capital gain property.


Increased 50 percent of AGI ceiling—rules through 2013. The 30 percent AGI ceiling on deductibility for individuals doesn’t apply to qualified conservation contributions (as defined above).

Instead, individuals may deduct the fair market value of any qualified conservation contribution to a charity described in IRC Section 170(b)(1)(A) to the extent of the excess of 50 percent of AGI over the amount of all other allowable charitable contributions. Conservation gifts aren’t taken into account in determining the amount of other allowable charitable contributions.

Other increased benefit—15-year carryover. Individuals are allowed to carry over any qualified conservation contributions that exceed the 50 percent of AGI limit for up to 15 years. (Normally, the carryover period is five years.)

Farmers and ranchers—even more increased benefits. For an individual who's a qualified farmer or rancher for the taxable year in which the contribution is made, a deduction for a qualified conservation contribution is allowable for up to 100 percent of the excess of the taxpayer’s AGI over the amount of all other allowable charitable deductions.

Corporate farmers and ranchers. For a corporation (other than a publicly traded corporation) that is a qualified farmer or rancher for the taxable year in which the contribution is made, any qualified conservation contribution is allowable up to 100 percent of the excess of the corporation’s taxable income (as computed under Section 170(b)(2)) over the amount of all other allowable charitable contributions. A corporation’s ceiling on deductibility is normally 10 percent of its taxable income. But, for corporate farmers and ranchers, any excess may be carried forward for up to 15 years as a contribution subject to the 100 percent limitation.

Requirement that land be available for agriculture or livestock production. As an additional condition of eligibility for the 100 percent limitation, for any contribution of property in agriculture or livestock production or that is available for that production, by a qualified farmer or rancher, the qualified real property interest must include a restriction that the property remain generally available for such production.

Meeting the production test. There's no requirement for any specific use in agriculture or farming or, necessarily, that the property be used for those purposes; merely that the property remain available for those purposes.

How are you going to keep them down on the farm—or ranch? A qualified farmer or rancher is a taxpayer whose gross income from the trade or business of farming (under IRC Section 2032A(e)(5)) is greater than 50 percent of the taxpayer’s gross income for the taxable year.

Oh the farmer and the cowman should be (and frequently are) friends—comment. Why these special benefits for farmers and ranchers? When enacted, Max Baucus (D-Montana) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) were chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Finance Committee. In this 113th Congress, Sen. Baucus is still Chairman; the ranking member is Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Sen. Grassley remains as a powerful Committee member.


© Conrad Teitell 2013. This is not intended as legal, tax, financial or other advice. So, check with your adviser on how the rules apply to you.

TAGS: Philanthropy
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