Charitable contributions are an important part of many household budgets. It is quite common for families who budget carefully to base annual contributions to charities on a targeted percentage of gross household income. Charitable donations generally range between 1% to 10%. A typical percentage is perhaps 3%.
Most donees, however, overlook a gifting strategy that can provide significant economic as well as other benefits. This relatively simple strategy involves gifting appreciated shares of stock or mutual funds to your favorite charity in-lieu-of cash.
The most important economic benefit of gifting appreciated securities is that the donor reaps immediate tax savings. Assume a donor originally purchased 100 shares of stock at $10.00 per share net cost (including transaction charges) for a total cost basis of $1,000. With the help of the recent extended bull market, the market value of those shares could have easily doubled over the past 3-5 years to $20.00 per share or $2,000. By donating these shares, your favorite charity will receive the average market value of the shares on the date of receipt. The donor will get credit for the same $2,000 donation on Schedule A, although the original out-of-pocket cost was $1,000. By gifting the shares, the donor avoids having to pay tax on the $1,000 capital appreciation ($2,000 market value of gift less $1,000 original cost). In this example, the donor avoided the 20% long-term capital gains tax ($200) as well as brokerage transaction costs that would have been incurred to eventually liquidate those shares.
A second advantage of gifting appreciated securities is that this technique can be used to periodically rebalance your portfolio. If you are fortunate to own shares of a high-flying stock and are concerned about a potential “crash”, gifting appreciated shares in a timely manner can alleviate this problem. There is no extra cash outlay on your part since you planned to donate the same dollar amount to charity anyway.
Another reason to rebalance your portfolio could be that a particular stock prudently represented 2-3% of your portfolio at the time of original purchase, but has swelled to10% of your total nest egg by outperforming the rest of your portfolio handily during the past few years. Your portfolio risk has increased significantly. Perhaps you have too many eggs in one basket. This is a nice problem to have, but rebalancing may be prudent strategy to reduce risk.
A third example of gifting appreciated shares as part of a portfolio rebalancing strategy is to reduce the exposure of an income generating asset in a taxable portfolio in favor of a more tax-efficient holding.
A final advantage of gifting appreciated securities applies to those who contribute weekly/frequently. Religious organizations are the example that quickly comes to mind. Since gifting securities are drawn from investments instead of income, monthly cash flow can be improved. This technique is particularly beneficial for those who are self-employed and have irregular income streams. It can also benefit those who for whatever reason, fall behind in their annual pledges, or happen to “come-up-short” between pay periods. Since securities contributions are made in one lump sum, eliminating the need to tediously write that weekly check also saves time. Some organizations offer “the convenience” of automated payroll deductions for contributions. Gifting appreciated securities is a superior strategy since it involves pre-tax (capital gains) funds rather than after-tax cash.
When considering gifting securities, here are a four potential pitfalls:
1. Do not donate securities that have depreciated (suffered a loss in value). It makes more sense to gift cash instead.
2. To achieve maximum tax advantages, do not gift securities that are held in tax-deferred retirement accounts.
3. Consider gifting appreciated securities for donations of at least $500. This arbitrary requirement is due to the time and paperwork required to process, and potential benefit.
4. Be sure to identify specifically in a letter to the brokerage custodian which shares of a particular holding that you intend to gift. This is particularly important for mutual fund accounts that have reinvested dividends. Gift the shares with the lowest tax-basis.
In conclusion, by gifting appreciated securities in-lieu-of cash, your favorite charity still wins as you intended, but the donor also wins at the expense of Uncle Sam. To initiate a gift of appreciated securities, contact your favorite charitable organization, your brokerage firm, or your financial adviser for assistance.
This is an updated post of an article that originally appeared in the May 1999 issue of The Business Monthly.
Copyright © by PARR Financial Solutions, 2011
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