Qualified Charitable Distribution

4 ways a Qualified Charitable Distribution can reduce your taxes

You donate to your favorite charity each year because it makes you feel good to support a cause that means something to you. The tax benefits received for your philanthropy are a bonus. If you are over 70 1/2, however, you can support your favorite charity, while increasing the tax savings beyond the charitable deduction by using a Qualified Charitable Distribution.

In a nutshell, a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) is when funds are sent from your qualified retirement account directly to your favorite charity. It is a surprisingly simple strategy that can have some significant tax benefits during your retirement years

70 1/2 is the magic number.

There are, shockingly, few rules when it comes to the Qualified Charitable Distribution. They are specific, though.

  • You must be at least 70 1/2 to use the QCD
  • The payment must be a direct transfer from your retirement account to a public charity, not private foundations or donor advised funds. It cannot go to you first, and then you write a check to the charity.
  • The maximum amount that can qualify for a QCD is $100,000 per year and applies to the sum of QCDs in a calendar year. This is a per-person rule, so your spouse can make a $100,000 QCD from their accounts as well.
  • A QCD can only occur in the following accounts
    • Traditional IRAs
    • Inherited IRAs
    • SEP IRAs/SIMPLE IRAs if they are no longer receiving ongoing employer contributions

QCDs can ease the pain of the dreaded RMD’s (No it’s not a medical condition)

Remember, when you turn 70 1/2, that’s also when you must begin your annual required minimum distributions or RMDs. The government allows you defer taxes in your retirement accounts for years to encourage retirement saving. Uncle Sam wants to begin collecting his tax dollars. That’s when you get a chronic condition known as the RMDs.

Even if you don’t have a financial need, you have no choice, hence the “R” for required, in RMD. These distributions are taxed as income, and if your qualified retirement accounts are substantial, this could severely impact your tax liability. That is not something you want to deal with in retirement.

Qualified charitable distributions can help your favorite charity and your bottom line.

The beauty of the QCD is that you can reduce or avoid the taxes on those RMDs by transferring your distribution directly from your retirement account to a qualified charity. This transfer will count toward your annual RMD, but it won’t count towards your taxable income. That’s a win-win.

That elimination/reduction of taxable income by using QCDs goes much deeper than just the noticeable reduction in your income tax. There are powerful potential long-term tax benefits that can allow you to keep more of your retirement savings.

1. A reduction in Social Security taxability

OK, honestly the thresholds to keep Social Security tax-free are meager. A QCD could be the difference between having 0%, 50%, or 85% of your Social Security becoming taxable. It’s a narrow range from 0% to 85%, and unfortunately, most of you will fall into the 85% category, but for those who are close to the 0% or 50% range, the QCD could be the difference.

2. Avoidance of the 3.8% Medicare surtax on investment income

RMDs are not subject to the 3.8% Medicare surtax created to help pay for the Affordable Care Act. RMDs can, however, put you over the income limits of $250,000 for couples filing jointly ($200,000 for singles), which would make any investment income you do have subject to the additional 3.8% tax. A QCD may be the only option you have to get under the income limits

3. Prevent higher Medicare premiums

You may not know this, but all retirees do not pay the same amount for Medicare premiums. It is income dependent. If your income is more than $85,000 (individual) or $170,000 (married), you will be assessed Medicare Part B and Part D surcharges. The level of the surcharge depends on your income. Here is a chart for the details (scroll down a bit when you get there).

That is no small chunk of change, month after month, year after year, of paying surcharges. A QCD could be a financial lifesaver if you were able to eliminate higher Medicare premiums. I don’t have enough fingers to add up the potential savings.

4. Get the tax benefit back

Without the QCD, the only way to receive a tax benefit is to take a deduction, and that only works if you’re able to itemize. The Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2018 made itemizing your taxes much less likely. So if you lack the ability to itemize the QCD can get the tax benefit back.

The easy-peasy money savezy

Hey, cut me a break, I couldn’t find a good rhyming word for peasy. The point is, it’s a simple 3-step process to complete a QCD.

  1. Contact the charity to verify their information and where to send the check, and let them know the check will be on its way.
  2. Complete a distribution form with the info from step 1. It should have a QCD section. No taxes are withheld! The IRA custodian will then mail the check.
  3. At tax time you report the charitable distribution on the line for IRA distributions. For the taxable amount, enter zero if the full amount was a qualified charitable distribution. Enter “QCD” next to this line. There’s no box on a 1099-R for QCDs for some reason.

A QCD isn’t just for the wealthy. It doesn’t have to be for thousands of dollars; it could be for fifty bucks. It’s not just for one charity, but works best for multiple charities. Think about where you donate throughout the year. Heck, look at last year’s tax return (if you itemize) or your checkbook.

If you’re over 70 1/2 and follow the steps precisely, you can use a QCD for your usual yearly giving. Your favorite charity can receive your gift, and you can receive the tax benefit.

If you know a generous soul who is approaching or over 70 1/2, go ahead and share this with one of the buttons below. They’ll thank you for saving them some tax dollars. 

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