A donor-advised fund is an alternative to giving directly to a charity or setting up a foundation.
NEW YORK — Taxpayers looking to maximize their charitable deductions and save on taxes can replicate a strategy that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney uses.
By donating stock directly to a foundation, Romney and his wife, Ann, eliminated taxes on gains, received a deduction for the securities’ full market value and can donate the money to multiple charities over many years, said Steven Bankler, a former investigative accountant for the U.S. Senate.
Individuals can achieve similar results with a donor-advised fund for a “whole lot cheaper,” said Bankler, a certified public accountant in San Antonio.
A donor-advised fund is an alternative to giving directly to a charity or setting up a foundation. It enables benefactors to give assets, including appreciated stock, to a central source and get an immediate tax deduction. Donors also retain advisory rights over their accounts. They can choose investments and direct distributions to public charities over many years.
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Giving appreciated stock directly is better than writing a check because individuals generally receive a larger charitable deduction and make the donation with pretax dollars, said John O. McManus, principal of the law firm McManus & Associates, whose clients include those in the hedge-fund and private-equity industries.
If someone bought a share of stock for $1 and it’s now valued at $100, they would have a $99 gain when selling, McManus said. This means they may pay about $20 in state and federal capital-gains levies and if they donated the after-tax proceeds, that leaves them with an $80 charitable deduction.
If they gave the share worth $100 directly, it may generate a $100 deduction and the foundation or donor-advised fund could liquidate the position without paying tax, thus keeping more assets to spend on its charitable endeavors, he said.
Taxpayers contributing securities to donor-advised funds should understand that the tax treatment may differ depending on how long they’ve held the shares of stock, said Gaines Norton, a certified public accountant in Snowmass Village, Colo.
With assets held less than a year, individuals may only receive a charitable deduction for the original price of the securities, not any gains, Norton said.
Firms that sponsor donor-advised fund programs include Fidelity Charitable, Schwab Charitable and Vanguard Charitable. All three are nonprofits affiliated with their namesake financial-services companies.
When individuals give stock to donor-advised funds, the shares generally are liquidated, said Sarah Libbey, president of the nonprofit Fidelity Charitable. Clients may then invest the money in a variety of funds or, if the account is managed by an investment adviser, in individual securities, she said.
Both Fidelity and Vanguard charge a brokerage commission to liquidate shares when donors contribute them to their accounts. That fee usually is $2 per stock trade for those using Vanguard Charitable, said Ben Pierce, president of Vanguard Charitable.
Sponsors of donor-advised funds usually provide the legal, recordkeeping and accounting services, which generally results in lower startup costs and administrative burdens compared with a private foundation, according to a December report by the Treasury Department.