You don't need me to tell you these are hard times. The pandemic is getting worse and, while we can optimistically anticipate widespread distribution of coronavirus vaccines in coming months, we still have to get through the winter and early spring. We will feel a sense of loss during the holidays.
We can still give to charity, which typically gets more attention toward year-end. The surge in giving partly reflects the holiday spirit and partly the rules of the tax code. Taxpayers who itemize can deduct their charitable donations from their taxable income. To be sure, tax-law changes that went into effect in 2018 sharply reduced the number of itemizers by roughly doubling the standard deduction. Still, whether you itemize or not, giving remains incredibly important with so many people suffering during the pandemic.
A special provision allows individuals to deduct cash donations of up to $300 if made to qualifying charities before Dec. 31. The deduction is part of last spring's fiscal-relief package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Nearly nine in 10 taxpayers take the standard deduction, according to the IRS and they could potentially qualify for this new tax deduction for 2020. The deduction lowers both adjusted gross income and taxable income — a (small) tax savings. The donations must be made by cash, check, credit card or debit card to a qualified charitable institution.
You should send the money to the charitable organization(s) of your choice, of course. But many small local charities are finding it hard to serve their mission. The pandemic revealed how valuable are small locally owned businesses to the vibrancy of our neighborhoods. The same goes with small local nonprofits. Typically founded by a social entrepreneur and staffed with dedicated people, these organizations are deeply embedded into the fabric of our local communities.
By the way, for those who do itemize even after the tax law changes, the CARES Act also allows you to deduct charitable contributions of up to 100% of adjusted gross income in 2020. That's up from 60% in current law.
There are many ways to give, ranging from donor-advised funds to cash. Whatever strategy works for you, thinking about where to give your money helps define what really matters to you and how you would like to help make the world a better place. Isn't that the goal of personal finance? I think so.
Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for "Marketplace" and Minnesota Public Radio.