Determining the True Value of Your Charitable Car Donation

by : Allen Lundy

It could be said that the new regulations regarding car donation, going into effect during the 2005 tax season, actually make it easier to avoid audit, since there is far less wiggle room to maneuver within. However, to actually take a legal deduction from your taxes, there will need to be some forms filed and receipts gathered.

The extent to which you are required to prove the worth of your charitable donation, given to a IRS approved 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization (NPO), is determined by the likely value of the gift. That said, one doesn't always know what the sale of their car will fetch in the marketplace, regardless of what some chart may tell you. The actual price your car donation fetches will be your deductible value, and this can actually be rather low when sold on the wholesale market, especially by a third-party agency that facilitates car donation for NPOs that lack the facilities or manpower to handle such donations themselves.

Begun several decades ago by the Goodwill Corporation to train their employees and recycle unwanted vehicles, car donation programs were designed to be offered by NPOs alone to serve a direct and needy market. In the 1990s, a tremendous upsurge in for-profit organizations that spent a great deal of money on advertisements created a rapidly expanding trend of even lower-middle class individuals using car donation to reap the charitable tax deductions offered by the receiving agents.

When assessing your car donation, one must really consider what it is worth on the market, both if you sell it yourself and if you use another agency to sell it on the wholesale market for you. One can assume anywhere from 20-60% of the value of the retail market in such sales. Since a great many NPOs still use third-party (over 95% being for-profit organizations according to a scathing 2002 investigative article) intermediaries to manage the pickups, title-transfers and sales, you should give some hard consideration to how you want to handle your own car donation.

Many people choose to fix up and sell their own vehicles, preferring to pay tax on that "income" and give the remainder to the charity of their choice. Everyone, after all, takes cash. This way you also act as your own "middle man," giving your time as well as the donated value of your car. You could even sell that car for scrap, have it hauled away, and give the proceeds to the charity, cutting out that sometimes very expensive middle step of involving a car donation facilitator.

Regardless of how you go about it, a non-cash gift to a charity is likely to fetch less than $250, you don't need any sort of receipt from the NPO - the IRS will, in this case, take you at your word. All you need to supply is the name of the charitable organization that received your car donation, the date of the car donation, the place the donation took place,

However, if the value of your car donation is $250 or greater, you'll need to get a receipt from the charity that is officially registered as an NPO or charity by the IRS. If you want to check up on a given charity's status, they should be able to provide you with a non-profit tax ID number that you can then check against the IRS database. This receipt should be dated and indicate what use the vehicle was to be put to, even if it is just for sale.

Car donations destined for immediate sale are typically not valued for tax purposes until the sale has been made. Instead, one will receive a temporary receipt that indicates a transfer of title and a forthcoming receipt to be used for determining your deduction.

This is most often true of vehicles worth over $500. Such vehicles must be accompanied by Form 8283 (section A only) that the authorized charity issues along with their own receipt of car donation monies. In a perfect world, those separate car donation and charitable income figures will match up with each other as well as the amounts people are deducting from their personal or family income taxes, as they assuredly didn't before 2005.

Sale values over $5,000 must also be accompanied by an appraisal from an independent agent that can verify the fair market value of any car donation. Now that one must present proof of how much their car donation earned at auction, there is little reason to make any kind of error when valuing your car donation for deductible purposes.