The basic goal of impact philanthropy is to maximize the good work that a charitable gift can achieve. Figuring out which causes and charities can best achieve that ends, and determining how aggressively to participate in terms of both time and money, are the key steps for any donor interested in this approach to philanthropy. But there's another factor to consider: What is the most appropriate vehicle for enabling a donor's giving? Choosing the right one can help maximize not only the social impact of your gift but also its potential benefits for you — whether that's providing anonymity or heightening tax efficiencies that, in the end, can help you give even more.
Not that tax advantages are the main reason most people give. According to the 2012 Bank of America Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy, only 32% of wealthy donors cited tax benefits as the chief motivation for their charitable giving. Still, when it comes to making such gifts, being as tax-efficient as possible is an important consideration. And perhaps that's never been truer than now, with tax increases looming in 2013 under almost any scenario, regardless of whether the country goes over a fiscal cliff.
Although private foundations, in the popular conception, are the most prominent vehicle for charitable giving, they're expensive and time consuming to set up and maintain, requiring significant operating support. That's why alternatives such as donor-advised funds and charitable lead trusts are worth considering, particularly in the current tax environment, says David Ratcliffe, managing director, Philanthropic Solutions Group at U.S. Trust.
Depending on the vehicle, donors can match their giving and tax strategy to the right vehicle. For instance, if upper-income earners are worried about taxes rising next year and beyond, certain charitable-giving vehicles can help them offset future taxable events with charitable deductions. Or if a coming rise in capital gains taxes means investors want to sell a basket of securities this year, other vehicles can help donors take charitable deductions now.
A donor-advised fund (DAF) is an irrevocable investment account operated by a nonprofit manager with 501(c)(3) status. (Clients who wish to create DAFs can set them up under the auspices of Bank of America's Charitable Gift Fund.) Donors to a donor-advised fund enter into an agreement entitling them to recommend which charities receive their funds. Recommendations are almost always honored if the recipient is an approved charitable nonprofit organization in the U.S.
One of the prime benefits of a DAF is the tax efficiency it offers donors, especially those contributing gifts of appreciated securities. Donors are able to contribute securities and claim a deduction based on the full current market value of the stock, as opposed to just the cost basis in the case of a private foundation.
In addition, DAFs may have particular use for investors who are concerned about the expiration of certain of the so-called Bush-era tax cuts. Suppose, for example, that you've sold a business or a chunk of stock this year, in expectation of an increase in capital gains taxes in 2013. That still might leave you with a major tax obligation for 2012. You could reduce your exposure by putting some of the proceeds from the sale into a DAF, or by simply gifting the appreciated asset directly to the DAF before realizing the capital gain.
As a general rule, donors can use a DAF to deduct up to 50% of their total annual adjusted gross income if their DAF contribution is large enough and in cash. Any amount above 50% can be carried over and deducted in the following year or years (up to five). Foundations, by contrast, offer much more limited deductions, allowing donors to deduct just 30% of their adjusted gross income — again, if the gift is cash. For gifts of securities, DAFs allow donors to deduct up to 30% of their adjusted gross income, while foundations allow for just 20%.
The advantages of DAFs go beyond their tax efficiency. They remove all administrative responsibilities — someone else is filing the tax returns for the entity and tracking legal and regulatory changes potentially affecting 501(c)(3)s. DAFs also provide a greater degree of privacy than foundations, whose operations are subject to public reporting and inspection; DAFs, by contrast, allow for anonymous gifts, and their records remain private. And because DAFs needn't make an annual payout (as foundations are required to do) DAF donors can take their time determining and recommending the best charitable recipients.
CHARITABLE LEAD TRUSTS
A charitable lead trust (CLT) can help meet two objectives — donating to charity and creating a financial legacy for your heirs — with the same vehicle. With a CLT, you place assets in a trust, and each year the trust is active, the charity receives a payment. At the end of the trust term, the fully appreciated value of the remaining trust assets goes back to you or — as is often the case — to your designated heirs.
There are two primary types of CLT. The choice between them usually comes down to whether you want to use the resulting charitable deduction now (to reduce your personal income taxes) or later (to reduce the wealth transfer taxes that will need to be paid at the end of the trust's term, when the trust's beneficiaries receive the remaining money in the trust).
With the first type, called a grantor charitable lead trust (GCLT), the donor is considered the owner of the trust. That means a onetime charitable deduction on the donor's personal income taxes can be claimed, at the GCLT's inception. The catch is that over the term of the trust, the donor has to pay taxes on the interest and capital gains that the trust accumulates. Ascertaining the amount deductible at inception is complex — it generally requires specialized software programs that use an IRS formula to take into account the projected interest earnings and anticipated charitable contributions. The U.S. Trust Philanthropic Solutions Group can help your advisor and tax professionals with the calculations.
A non-grantor CLT, on the other hand, is treated as a separate tax entity. That means donors aren't allowed a charitable income tax deduction on their personal tax returns.. However, neither are they on the hook for the taxes on the income or capital gains of the trust. Moreover, the charitable contributions the nongrantor CLT makes over the years can be used to reduce or even eliminate transfer taxes when the trust has run its course and the remainder of the funds in the CLT are passed to the beneficiaries.
There is some urgency to consider a non-grantor CLT before the end of the year. To further reduce the transfer taxes that are ultimately owed when assets are transferred to beneficiaries, you also are entitled to designate the initial contribution to the trust as a gift for gift tax purposes. In 2012, you have up to a $5.2 million total lifetime gift tax exemption with which to make such a gift. If the 2002-2003 tax cuts expire without congressional action, that limit would drop to $1 million in 2013. The current thinking among Merrill Lynch and U.S. Trust experts is that eventually a compromise will be reached that keeps the exemption from reverting all the way to its 2002 level. Still, no matter the outcome, the size of the tax-free gift you can leave with a non-grantor CLT will likely be somewhat limited by the exemption change.
Ratcliffe stresses that giving isn't an either-or proposition. Even if you already have a foundation, he says, you might use a DAF, a CLT or some other mechanism to meet a particular need. And not just for tax reasons, he adds. A DAF, for example, may provide an excellent, low-risk way to educate children or grandchildren about philanthropy. By naming them co-advisors to a DAF, you can gauge their interest in giving and their potential to perhaps one day serve on the board of your foundation.
Speak with your Private Wealth Advisor about the Bank of America Charitable Gift Fund, DAFs, CLTs and other giving strategies, and how they might fit into your overall philanthropic plans.
Institutional Investments & Philanthropic Solutions ("Philanthropic Solutions") is part of U.S. Trust, Bank of America Corporation ("U.S. Trust"). U.S. Trust operates through Bank of America, N.A. and other subsidiaries of BAC. Bank of America, N.A., Member FDIC. Banking and fiduciary activities are performed by wholly owned banking affiliates of BAC, including Bank of America, N.A. Brokerage services may be performed by wholly owned brokerage affiliates of BAC, including MLPF&S.