Thursday, May 24, 2007


In the past, for people itemizing deductions contributions to charities have provided a generous loophole. We have all heard people say that it is better to give than to receive, but receiving a tax deduction now requires a little more effort, in light of new substantiation rules introduced in the summer of 2006 (but not effective until 2007 for calendar taxpayers). To ensure that you can claim the charitable deductions to which you’re entitled, we want to make you aware of these new recordkeeping rules.

Cash Contributions of Less than $250 in Single Donation
For cash contributions, it’s not unusual to give small amounts without expecting a receipt, such as when you drop a $20 bill into the collection plate at church. These amounts may accumulate to a sizeable sum by year-end. Previously, if the donations were less than $250, you could either keep cancelled checks or reliable records, such as a list that you’ve prepared showing the dates, amounts donated, and charities. Under the new rules, however, it’s no longer sufficient to simply keep good records of these donations when you tally up the amount to claim as charitable contributions. Instead, cash contributions of less than $250 given in a single contribution are only deductible if you keep a bank record (most likely a cancelled check or credit card record) or written acknowledgement from the charity (donee) showing the name of the donee organization, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution.

If you are likely to itemize deductions on your income tax return and typically make cash contributions of less than $250, you should make donations by check rather than cash, because that will easily satisfy the documentation requirements. Simply keeping good records of the donations will no longer be enough to claim the deduction.

We have to wonder how this will impact organizations like the Salvation Army. I have never seen anyone write a check and give it to the Santa bell ringers that come out a Christmas time.

Cash and Property Contributions of More than $250 in Single Donation
Substantiation of larger contributions of cash or other property (those that are more than $250) were not changed by the new rules, but as a reminder, they require a little more effort to substantiate. A written acknowledgement from the charity must be obtained, showing the description of the property or amount of cash donated and a statement as to whether the donor received any goods or services (with a good faith estimate of value) for the property donated. A canceled check or other reliable records are not sufficient proof. (You can obtain one written acknowledgment for multiple gifts of $250 or more to the same charity.) The acknowledgment must be received contemporaneously; that is, it must be obtained no later than the due date (or extended due date, if applicable) of the tax return for the year the contribution was made.

Contributions of Used Clothing and Household Items
Because the law was somewhat fuzzy in the past, this is an area that we used to take a strong position on. The new law has taken away some of your aggressiveness.

If you donate used clothing or household items to charities, such as Goodwill, the items must be in “good condition or better” unless the items were worth more than $500 and a qualified appraisal report is attached to your tax return. The IRS has not yet defined what is meant by “good condition or better.” Thus, you might consider keeping a detailed list and photos of contributed items (unless the property is appraised). No new documentation is required, but to protect yourself in case of an IRS audit, you should, at a minimum, document that the donations were in good condition. Furthermore, the use of unattended drop-off sites should be reserved for items of minimal value. It may be difficult to substantiate the contributions without a receipt.

Vehicle Contributions
If you’re planning to donate a car, boat, or plane that’s valued over $500, you have to follow strict substantiation rules in order to claim the contribution deduction. Under these rules, you must receive, and attach to your tax return, a written acknowledgment from the charity within 30 days after the donated vehicle is sold (or within 30 days of the contribution if the charity uses the vehicle significantly in its exempt purpose, makes major improvements to the vehicle, sells it for a significantly discounted price, or gives it to a needy person in furtherance of the charity’s exempt purpose). The information needed in the written acknowledgement from the charity should include the (a) name and taxpayer identification number of the donor and (b) vehicle identification number (or similar number) of the vehicle.

The IRS has just issued new rules that require donors of vehicles valued at more than $500 to attach a special form (Form 1098-C—Contributions of Motor Vehicles, Boats and Airplanes), which is received from the charity and reports the necessary information about the vehicle donation. (The form is optional for vehicle donations of $500 or less.) To claim the deduction for the vehicle valued at more than $500, you should attach Copy B to your tax return.

Property Contributions of More Than $5,000
If you’re planning to contribute property (other than of publicly traded securities) valued at more than $5,000 ($10,000 for closely held stock), you need to get competent advice before you make the gift. We are well versed in this area so contact us to discuss your particular situation.

Although the rules for substantiating this type of property haven’t changed, there are now stricter rules for what is considered a “qualified appraisal” and who is considered a “qualified appraiser.” You must have the appraisal done not earlier than 60 days before the donation and received by the due date (including extensions) of your tax return.

To claim the deduction, it’s important to dot all the “i’s” and cross all the “t’s” in following the requirements of a qualified appraisal. Furthermore, stiffer penalties now apply to both appraisers and taxpayers for substantial valuation misstatements.

The rules have changed therefore it is important to follow these recordkeeping requirements if you hope to claim the deduction for your donations because the IRS can and will disallow charitable deductions if these requirements aren’t met. If you would like more details about these or any other aspect of the new rules, please don’t hesitate to call.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Larry, with summer here we are planning a couple of trips. Part of the trip will be business. Can I deduct part of the trip? Thanks in advance for your response.
Allan and Em

Although business is business and pleasure is pleasure, the world rarely adheres to absolutes. I have good news, with a little planning, you can get Uncle Sam to subsidize your downtime. Here are the strategies for doing just that.

Combine Business and Vacation Plans for Domestic Travel

If you go on a business trip within the U.S. and add on some vacation days, you know you can deduct some of your expenses. The only question is how much. First, let’s cover just the pure transportation expenses. By this, we mean the costs of getting to and from the scene of your business activity, which includes travel to and from your departure airport, the airfare itself, baggage tips, cabs to and from the destination airport, and so forth. Costs for rail travel or to drive your personal car also fits into this category. The bottom line is your domestic transportation costs are 100% deductible as long as the primary reason for the trip is business rather than pleasure. On the other hand, if vacation is the primary reason for your travel, none of your transportation expenses are deductible.

The IRS doesn’t specify how to determine if the primary reason for domestic travel is business. Obviously, the number of days spent on business versus pleasure is the key factor. We can look to the rules covering foreign travel for guidance on this issue. They say your travel days count as business days, as do weekends and holidays if they fall between days devoted to business and it would be impractical to return home. “Standby days,” when your physical presence is required, also count as business days, even if you’re not called upon to work on those days. Any other day principally devoted to business activities during normal business hours is also counted as a business day, and so are days when you intended to work but couldn’t due to reasons beyond your control (local transportation difficulties, power failure, etc.).

For domestic trips, you should be able to claim business was the primary reason for a sojourn whenever the business days exceed the personal days. Be sure to accumulate proof about this and keep the proof with your tax records. For example, if your trip is made to attend client meetings, log everything on your daily planner and copy the pages for your tax file. If you attend a convention or training seminar, keep the program and take some notes to show you attended the sessions.

Once at the destination, your out-of-pocket expenses (lodging, hotel tips, 50% of meals, seminar and convention fees, cab fare, etc.) for business days are fully deductible. Expenses for personal days are nondeductible (except in the “Saturday Night Stayover” situation covered later).


You arrange a business meeting in San Francisco on Wednesday morning. You fly out Sunday evening and spend all day Monday sight-seeing. Tuesday you spend most of the day preparing for the meeting, attend the powwow the next morning, have lunch with business associates and return home Wednesday night. So, Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday count as business days. The business meeting obviously necessitated the trip, and you clearly didn’t spend an unreasonable amount of time on personal activities. Therefore, you can deduct your airline tickets, plus your lodging for Sunday and Tuesday nights, 50% of your meals for Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, your other out-of-pocket expenses for those days, and 50% of the cost of the lunch.

Here is a Great Loophole

A great way to maximize deductions for the personal portions of a trip is with a Saturday night stayover that reduces the overall cost of the trip. If you can show staying the extra day or two costs less (or no more) than coming back home immediately after the business meeting is over, the IRS allows you to deduct your additional meal and lodging expenses (subject to the 50% rule for meals) for the extra day(s). Naturally, you still must have a dominant business purpose for making the trip in the first place. Be sure to document that your airfare savings equaled or exceeded the out-of-pocket costs of staying the extra day(s). Keep the proof with your tax records.


You have a business meeting in New York on Monday morning. You and your spouse fly into town Saturday morning and spend the weekend seeing the sights in the Big Apple. Your round trip airfare is only $400 versus $1,200 if you came in Sunday night and left Monday. In this situation, Saturday is a personal day since you would normally fly in Sunday. No problem. As long as your meal and lodging expenses for Saturday are no more than $800, you can write-off your whole trip (subject to the 50% rule for meals). Of course, you generally can’t deduct the additional costs for your spouse (his or her airfare and meals and any extra charges for having two people instead of one in the hotel room), and you can’t deduct purely personal expenses like show tickets and baseball games. Still, this is a great deal tax-wise.

Let me know if you have any other questions.

Larry Kopsa CPA