Thursday, March 25, 2021
A Tax Policy Center study released on March 17, 2021 calls for a more universal charitable deduction that would incentivize incentive a much larger share of the population. Due to the effects of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) a huge drop in households that claim an itemized deduction for charitable contributions--from 26% to 9%--occurred in 2019. As a consequence, "the TCJA reduced the estimated average federal income tax subsidy for all dollars of giving by 30 percent, from about 20 cents a dollar to 14 cents a dollar. Put another way, the government took away about 6cents of subsidy on average across all charitable contributions." Although Congress devoted about $1.5 billion in the CARES Act to institute a one-year charitable deduction of $300, thus targeting the 90%v of taxpayers who claim the standard deduction, most donors already contribute more than that amount, according to the study, thus no extra incentive is given to make additional gifts beyond that amount.
The study makes a number of relevant points:
- [The] debate often is stated in terms of government costs and taxpayer benefits. However, there is third party to these transactions: charitable recipients. When a tax reform increases charitable contributions by the same amount as the government revenue loss, charitable beneficiaries are the net winners.
- A more universal charitable deduction can be designed that limits gains for higher-income taxpayers while still encouraging giving at other income levels. . . . [U]niversal deductions without floors provide substantial benefits to the highest-income taxpayers who already itemize, even when they give no more (and sometimes even when they give less) in response.
- We estimate that a universal deduction with a floor of 1.9 percent of AGI would be approximately revenue neutral relative to 2019 law and would raise charitable giving by about $2.5 billion a year. If revenue neutrality had been sought under the pre-TCJA law, a revenue-neutral floor would have been a smaller percentage of AGI than it would be today.
The study also proposes additional options in creating a universal deduction:
- [T]axpayers could be given the option of making charitable contributions up to the date of filing their income tax returns, or April 15, whichever comes first. Congress has offered this option to those making deposits to individual retirement accounts, and the House of Representatives passed this type of provision in the America Gives More Act of 2014. This timing option makes almost no difference in terms of incentive, but there is strong evidence that the provision would prove an effective marketing tool.
- Second, to avoid the threat of widespread tax cheating, Congress should consider adopting a provision for electronic reporting of charitable contributions to the IRS. Tax gap studies through the years have consistently demonstrated that third-party reporting significantly raises voluntary compliance. For instance, a significant increase in compliance for
interest and dividends occurred once they became subject to an information reporting system.
Ultimately, the study illustrates how money spent on a universal charitable deduction can significantly increase the goods and services provided to charitable beneficiaries in relation to forgone revenue if proper attention is focused on the efficiency and fairness of each dollar of subsidy.
Nicholas Mirkay, Professor of Law, University of Hawaii