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Schwab, Fidelity Having Banner Year for Charitable Giving

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This year is turning out to be record year for charitable donations. Fidelity Charitable, a donor-advised fund, reported a record $2.3 billion deployed through the third quarter, which represents a 15% increase from the same period last year. Altogether 489,000 grants were made to more than 90,100 nonprofit organizations.

Schwab Charitable reported a 22% increase in donated funds from the year-ago period, totaling $830 million distributed through 145,000 grants. 

The growth in giving reflects several factors, according to Schwab:

Appreciation of Assets

The S&P 500 (SPY) gained 6% during the first three quarters of this year, while the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (EEM) soared 17%. If an asset has been held for more than one year, the donor can claim the full fair market value without having to pay any capital gains tax on the transfer. As a result, donors can give up to 20% more to a charity than if they had first sold the asset and then donated the proceeds to charity. The greater the value of the donation the bigger the offset to taxes. 

Concerns About Tax Policies of Next Congress and President

Legislation to cap itemized deductions, lower the estate tax exemption and/or increase estate tax rates could impact the tax benefit value of charitable donations.

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate whose odds of winning the election are currently 85% or higher, according to the polls, has proposed several new taxes on high earners including an additional 4% tax on individuals earning $2.5 million or more (or $5 million for couples), a minimum effective tax rate of 30 percent for those earning $1 million or more, a higher capital gains rate on appreciated assets held six years or less for the those in the top two tax brackets and a hard limit on the value of deductions (outside of charitable contributions).

She would also increase the estate tax for heirs of the wealthiest Americans, raising it to a maximum 65% from 40% today on estates valued at more than $500 million.

In contrast, Donald Trump has proposed reducing the number of individual income tax brackets from the current seven to three with a top tax rate of 25%, down from 39.6% and eliminating the estate tax and 3.8% surtax on the investment income of the highest earners. Although he also proposes to limit the tax value of itemized deductions he also wants to increase the standard deduction for taxpayers.

The net effect of Trump’s plan would be a lower tax rate for the top taxpayers who are also the dominant participants in donor-advised funds, making the offset of charitable contributions less valuable. The opposite is true for Clinton’s plans, which could conceivably inspire more such giving.

“In the past, this type of uncertainty led many to adopt a “bird in the hand” philosophy,” according to Schwab. “Instead of waiting for Congress to act, donors may prefer to increase their charitable giving in 2016 and realize the existing, significant tax benefits while also proactively managing the size of their taxable estates.”

Continued High Value of Charitable Donations for High Earners

Marginal tax rates and capital gains tax rates for the highest earnings continue to be a key factor for charitable donations by those taxpayers. The top federal marginal tax rate for high income earners is currently 39.6%, and that’s before the 3.8% net investment income surtax to help fund Medicare, and the top rate on capital gains and qualified dividends is 20%. Both could potentially increase under a Clinton presidency though that will require cooperation of Congress.

Schwab also noted that charitable donations are also supported by the IRA Charitable Rollover provision, which was made permanent last year. This provision, which allows people who are 70½ or older to transfer as much as $100,000 of their required minimum distribution each year directly from an IRA to qualified charities tax-free. This provision, howeve,r doesn’t affect contributions to donor-advised funds, supporting organizations or private foundations so it has had no impact on those donations.

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