A reader we’re calling Agnetha was cleaning out her clothes closet over the holiday break. She assembled a pile of barely worn shoes that she decided she would donate to her local Goodwill store. After two days of sorting and compiling, Agnetha made the 16-minute drive to Goodwill to make the drop off.
Agnetha indicated in her email that she loves shoes, but she had come to terms that it was time to get the pairs she rarely wore onto the feet of someone who might make better and more frequent use of them. “I had about a dozen pair of shoes with me to donate all in great condition,” Agnetha wrote.
Typically, Agnetha indicated that she makes the drop-off to a large trailer-truck container in Goodwill’s parking lot. Generally, there is an attendant sitting at the open doors of the container to accept the donated items who can give Agnetha or others a receipt. But on this trip, while the container doors were open, there was no one in sight from whom to get a receipt.
“I don’t donate the items solely for the possibility of a tax write-off,” wrote Agnetha. “But if I can take the deduction, I’d like to.”
Agnetha is concerned, however, that she did not receive a receipt from Goodwill and wonders if it would be wrong to claim the charitable deduction anyway.
“Should I go back to Goodwill and get a receipt when someone is there?” asks Agnetha. “Or should I just write this off as a good deed and not bother with trying to claim the charitable deduction?” Agnetha made clear that she regularly will drop off bags of clothing to donation boxes along the highway and she rarely if ever tries to itemize those deductions on her taxes.
As I’ve written before, I am not a tax attorney intimately familiar with the nuances of what can or can’t be claimed as a charitable deduction. Nor am I familiar with Agnetha’s tax situation nor how she files her taxes each year.
But according to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service’s website, generally a receipt from a charity for goods donated is only needed if the donation is worth $250 or more. On its own website, Goodwill provides donors with guidelines on estimated donation values. For women’s shoes, it’s between $2 and $10. If Agnetha donated a dozen pair of shoes, the estimated value would fall between $24 and $120, well below that threshold. Agnetha would be wise to make a detailed record of what she donated, when she donated it, and the estimated value that she could keep in her own files if she decides to claim a charitable deduction.
If Agnetha would like to itemize her donations on a receipt from Goodwill for her records for piece of mind, those blank forms are available online for the donor to fill out. Or she can decide to simply donate the items without trying to take the deductions. The latter is a decision only she can make.
Again, I’m not a tax attorney so I am useless when it comes to helping Agnetha fill out her tax forms, but if she maintains detailed, honest records on her donations, that seems the right thing to do.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
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