Got Clutter? Use It to Lower Your Tax Bill with a Charitable Donation

clutter

It’s a fact of life — the more time goes by, the more stuff you accumulate. Much of this stuff outlives its usefulness quickly, so decluttering becomes a necessity. But what to do with the clothes, miscellaneous household items, toys, furniture, and other things that you no longer need, use, or want? When you donate them to an IRS-approved charity, you can take a tax deduction for the fair market value of these items and easily calculate it using online taxes software.

That deduction can add up, especially if you’re donating big-ticket items like large appliances, furniture, or a car or boat. But what is the fair market value of your old stuff and how can you determine it? What kinds of noncash items qualify for donation, and what documentation will you need to take the deduction?

Most charities make it easy to determine the fair market value of noncash goods; you just need a receipt for the donation, some photos of the donated items for your records, and appropriate forms to file with your tax return.

Donate Your Stuff

You can take a charitable tax deduction for almost any kind of noncash item. Big-ticket items like cars, furniture, large appliances, boats, and designer clothing will obviously net you the biggest deductions. But you can also take deductions for miscellaneous household items, toys, used clothing, books, DVDs, CDs, games, small appliances, and other less valuable items as long as they’re in good condition.

While you can only take a charitable deduction for donated items that are considered in good condition and working order, the IRS itself doesn’t determine what that means; you’ll have to refer to the guidelines of the charity to which you’re donating. The only exception is if you have a single item of clothing, or a single household item, that has been appraised at a value of at least $500. You may take a deduction of such an item even if it is in poor condition.

Keep Your Documentation

When you donate noncash items to a charity, it’s a good idea to take photos of the items first, just in case you need to prove to the IRS that the stuff was in good condition. You should also receive a receipt for the donated items from the charity in question. This will stand as proof of your contribution. You’ll need to file IRS Form 8283 with your tax return. You should be able to find a free tax calculator online that can help you accurately fill out the form.

Determine the Fair Market Value

According to the IRS, a noncash item’s fair market value is whatever a “willing buyer” would give for the item and a “willing seller” would take for the item, when both are engaging in the transaction freely and have “reasonable knowledge of the relevant facts.” If you’re donating items worth less than $5,000, you can determine their fair market value yourself without the help of an appraiser.

Most charities offer online guides to determining the fair market value of items like used clothing, small appliances, used books, toys, and other small-ticket items. For example, according to the Goodwill’s online donation value guide, a used floor lamp is worth $8 to $34, while a used sheet is worth $2 to $9, and a used woman’s blouse is worth $4 to $9. You can also consult IRS publication 561, Determining the Value of Donated Property.

If you want to donate an item worth more than $5,000, you will need a professional appraisal of that item. If you donate a boat or car, however, the charity in question will most likely sell the boat or car at auction for cash rather than keeping it for sale in a thrift shop. In that respect, donating a boat or car is similar to donating cash to a charity, since the organization in question will let you know how much they were able to get for the sale of your item.

Thanks to a 2005 rule change, you’ll only be able to deduct the final sale price of the car or boat, rather than its fair market value. That means if your boat or car has a fair market value of $5,500, but the charity to which you donated it sells it at auction for $5,000, you will only be able to deduct $5,000 from your taxes. The IRS implemented this rule in response to taxpayers overvaluing donated cars and boats.

Donating noncash items to charity can knock thousands off your tax bill, and help you declutter your home at the same time. Free up extra living space, organize your things, help the less fortunate, and protect the environment by keeping your unused items out of the landfill. You could find that deducting noncash donations from your taxes is so simple, you’ll want to do it every year!