Tax Tips in the Season of Giving

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The sights and sounds of the Christmas season often inspire people to give and help those in need.

Beyond feeling better, financial planner Robin Tull says giving can lighten your tax burden.

"The basics of charitable giving is remembering if you don't itemize, you don't file a long form, you can't deduct," he explained.

When itemizing those deductions, there's one key thing to remember at filing time.

"You have got to substantiate the charity ... make sure it is a qualified IRS charity," Tull said. "You can look at GuideStar.org [or] the Better Business Bureau. Charity Navigator is another one. Just make sure it is a 501(c)3, so you can actually get that deduction."

Receipts, checks or other proof is also needed.

Generally, charitable deductions are limited to 50 percent of a taxpayer's adjusted gross income. That rule applies to all income levels.

"In 2009, a lot of high income earners, they would make a gift, a charitable gift to their favorite charity, but the deduction was phased out because they made too much money. In 2011, 2012, it doesn't matter how much you make or how much you give, you can deduct the full amount," Tull explained.

Property donated to a charity is also tax deductible, as long as you can prove how much the item is worth.

"The IRS says they have to be in workable order, whatever you are giving," Tull added. "So you can't just give that old TV, or that old suit you had in the 70s. You have to substantiate the value of the gift, what's a reasonable value."

A written receipt is needed for property valued at $250 or more. A value of more than $500 also requires a written description of the item. More than $5,000 requires an independent appraisal.

With only days until the New Year, financial advisors say some people are securing deductions for this year using a credit card. Doing this gives individuals a deduction on their 2011 return, even though they won't actually pay the credit card bill until 2012.

"Remember that the IRSis not forgiving. If you forgot December 31, it is too late. If you do it by the postal service, it has to be post marked by December 31," Tull said.

While there is a deadline to claim the tax deduction for charitable donations, it's never too late to give to those in need.

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