Maximizing Tax Benefits by “Bunching” Charitable Contributions

Taxes are something very few people are excited to talk about. We know that it’s far more exciting to talk about maximizing tax benefits when trying to secure your retirement. And that’s what this entire blog post is about: saving money by bunching your charitable contributions.

Note: We have a podcast on this very topic, which you can find here.

Why Should I Consider Charitable Contribution Bunching?

If you’re charitably inclined, you can save a lot of money by bunching your charitable contributions together. In the current tax code, whether you’re single or married, you receive what is known as a “standard deduction.”

Before this deduction, people would itemize all of their deductions one item at a time. The IRS decided that instead of itemization, people should have a standard deduction that doesn’t require them to list all of their deductions and saves the IRS time, too.

In 2023, the standard deduction is:

  • Single person: $13,850
  • Married: $27,700

When you take this deduction, you cannot itemize. Anyone who is giving money to charity will not be able to deduct their donation unless it is itemized, which really only makes sense if the figure is higher than the two listed above.

Bunching charitable contributions is one way to use deductions to maximize tax benefits.

Examples of Standard Deduction vs Itemizing Your Deductions

Today, the standard deduction has changed so much from 2017. In 2017, a married couple filing jointly would have a standard deduction of $12,500. With the figure being $27,700 in 2023, it becomes much more difficult to reach the amount of itemized deductions to justify not taking a standard deduction.

For example, let’s assume someone is charitably inclined and gives $10,000 in a calendar year.  The person also has $13,000 in other deductions, bringing their total deduction to $23,000. Since this figure is lower than the standard deduction, it doesn’t make sense to itemize.

However, people like getting tax benefits from giving their money away, and this is where bunching comes into play. A donor-advised fund is the perfect way to leverage bunching, and we’ll be talking about this type of fund more in the next few paragraphs.

Let’s assume that every year, you give $10,000 to charity.

In 2022 and 2023, instead of giving $10,000 each year, why not “bunch” it into an account that allows you to deduct $20,000 in 2022? You don’t even need to give all of the money out in 2022.

When you do this, you can deduct:

  • $20,000 in contributions
  • $13,000 in the other deductions that you have

Adding up all of these figures, you can deduct $33,000 in expenses, which is much higher than the standard deduction. You’ll deduct more from your taxes in 2022 using this strategy and can still take the $27,700 deduction in 2023.

  • How can you bunch all of your charitable contributions into a single year?
  • Do you need to give the full $20,000 in a single year?

For many people giving money to charity, they make a commitment to give a certain amount of money each year. Your church may need $10,000 a year and a lump sum of $20,000 may not be beneficial for them.

Donor-advised Funds and Bunching Charitable Contributions

Donor-advised funds allow you to do a few things:

  • Group deductions in one year
  • Give the funds to the account and not the church (like in the example above)

Charles Schwab, Vanguard and similar custodians will have a donor-advised fund. You will write a check to one of these funds for $20,000 and it will sit in these accounts. If you don’t want to write a check, you can also put stock in the account. Any money in the account can also be invested, which is a nice way to give even more money to charity.

When you put money into the fund, it’s an irrevocable gift to the charitable fund, but you’re in complete control over how to use this fund.

If you want, you can gift $10,000 a year to your church as long as it’s an approved charitable organization. You can log into your fund and request a check sent to the church from your fund.

However, you can bunch your charitable donations every few years by putting the funds into an account that you can control.

You can even decide to:

  • Reduce contributions
  • Give money to other charities

You don’t need to decide who gets the money when you create the fund. Once the money is in the account, you can direct the money as you see fit. Perhaps you want to let the $20,000 sit in the account for a few years and then give $2,000 of it away for 10 years. You have this option.

The only thing that you cannot do is give the funds back to yourself. After all, you’ve been given a tax break and the IRS won’t allow you to take the funds back.

Bunching can be done for two, three or more years. There are strategies around bunching that can save you more money. Typically, two to three years of bunching is what we see with our clients because it helps with maximizing tax benefits.

When you use bunching, you:

  • Save money on taxes
  • Still maintain full control over who gets the money

Donor-advised funds are available from most custodians. We work with Schwab, and they allow us to create one of these funds right online for our clients. Different custodians may have different setup requirements, but they all make it rather easy to set up your donor-advised fund. The process of setting up a donor-advised fund is as easy as opening a checking account.

 You can transfer money or stock into the account, too.

Our clients who are focused on retirement planning save a few thousand dollars by bunching their charitable contributions. If you are committed to donating a certain amount to charity each year, it makes sense to give bunching a try for yourself.

Do you want to learn more about bunching and donor-advised funds?

Click here to schedule a call with us to discuss charitable bunching with a member of our team.