Q&A: Leaving IRAs to charity

Dear Liz: In responding to the reader who asked how to plan around the tax consequences of leaving a traditional IRA to a family member, I wish you had mentioned the tax benefit of naming a charity as the beneficiary of a traditional IRA. There is no tax on the distribution of a traditional IRA to a charity. The consequence is that the income is never taxed (on the front end or back end) and a charity benefits from the IRA owner’s generosity.

Answer:
The reader was primarily concerned with bequeathing assets to children and grandchildren after the Secure Act of 2019 did away with “stretch IRAs” for most non-spouse beneficiaries. One way to do that while also benefiting a charity is the charitable remainder trust that was mentioned in the column. These trusts require some expense to set up and aren’t a good option if the IRA owner isn’t charitably minded.

If someone’s primary goal is to benefit the charity, however, then qualified charitable distributions or outright bequests are certainly an option. Qualified charitable distributions, which can begin at age 70½, allow someone to donate required minimum distribution amounts directly to a charity; the distribution isn’t counted as taxable income to the donor.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Loan forgiveness scaled back for defrauded students. Also in the news: an NFL rookie hoping to avoid money mistakes, giving to charity when money is tight, and New Year’s financial resolutions for your money.

Loan Forgiveness Scaled Back for Defrauded Students
An effect of the new tax bill.

When It Comes to Money, He’s Looking to Avoid Rookie Mistakes
Arizona tight end Ricky Seal-Jones.

Ask Brianna: Can I Give to Charity If Money Is Tight?
Being generous on a budget.

Make some New Year’s resolutions for your money
Start 2018 off right.

Six mistakes people make when giving to charity

Christmas donation, Concept of charityHere is a helpful rule of thumb for donating to charities this holiday season: Take your time.

People waste billions of dollars on inefficient, poorly run or downright fraudulent charities because they do not bother to research where their money is going.

And even donations to legitimate causes can be squandered by last-minute, impulsive or scattershot giving, said Daniel Borochoff, president and founder of nonprofit watchdog Charity Watch (www.charitywatch.org/).

In my latest for Reuters, why you should carefully consider your holiday donations.

Automatic payments for charity: pros and cons

Dear Liz: You recently suggested people consider putting their charitable donations on automatic. While I have automatic deductions for savings because I do not want to constantly remind myself to do it, I want to remind myself of all other expenses. For me, prudent money management requires attention to all expenses. Your thoughts?

Answer: Many people find that automatic payments make their lives easier. They’re able to meet their obligations (and avoid late fees, in the case of bill payments) while minimizing time spent in repetitive tasks each month.

But none of your expenses should be “out of sight, out of mind.” Automatic payments don’t eliminate the need to carefully review your credit card and bank transactions each month. Reviewing your bills periodically, and making adjustments as necessary, is an important part of responsible money management regardless of whether you take advantage of automatic transfers.

Help your local food bank

eating breakfastFood stamp benefits to 47 million people were cut Nov. 1–and further cuts may lie ahead.

Food banks already depleted by the lousy economy are now bracing for an influx of new patrons. So if you’re not among the one in seven Americans currently receiving food stamps, please consider a donation to your local food bank to help meet this growing need.

The best donation is cash (or checks, or payment by credit card). Food banks have relationships with food makers and distributors that allow them to get much better deals on bulk purchases than what you can get at the retail level. The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, which my family supports with a monthly donation, can provide four meals for every $1 donated.

If what you can offer is food, though, or your skills in organizing a food drive–that’s good, too.

You can find your local food bank through the Feeding America site.

How to make charitable giving part of your financial plan

Dear Liz: What are your thoughts on charitable giving? I hear about tithing (giving 10% of income) but would have real problems trying to maintain that commitment. That said, I’d like to become a regular donor to a reputable charity.

Answer: Most U.S. households give to charity, according to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, but the average contribution rate for those who give is closer to 3% than 10%.

If you want to step up your charitable giving, take the time to plan and prioritize as you would any other part of your financial life.

Making larger donations to a few charities is typically better than scattershot donations to a bunch of causes, said Ken Berger, the president and chief executive of nonprofit watchdog Charity Navigator. Charities spend money to process donations, and those costs tend to eat up more of small donations, he said. A $100 donation to a single charity might incur $2 in processing costs, leaving $98 for good works, Berger noted. The same $100, spread among 10 charities, would require each to spend $2 for processing — leaving just $80.

Because smaller donations don’t benefit charities as much, some are tempted to increase their “yield” by selling your information to other charities or repeatedly hitting you up for additional contributions, Berger said. Giving more allows you more leverage to ask that your information not be sold and that the charity limit its appeals.

You can research charities at websites such as Charity Navigator and GuideStar to make sure you understand their finances and how effective they are in reaching their goals.

Finally, consider setting up automatic donations rather than rushing to make contributions at year’s end. Some companies have payroll deductions for charities, or you can set up a recurring charge on a credit or debit card. Making your contributions automatic helps ensure you can achieve your charitable giving goals. It’s like saving or “paying yourself first” — when you don’t have to constantly remind yourself to do it, it’s more likely to get done.