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Is A Donor Advised Fund Right for You?

Executive Summary: Setting up a Donor Advised Fund (DAF) and front loading charitable deductions can save you thousands of dollars in taxes immediately, while directing distribution to charities in/for future years. Even if you decide not to establish a DAF, you should consider whether accelerating the coming years' charitable contributions to this year makes sense for you, especially if you are phased out of itemizing deductions starting the next year.

As you've heard by now, President Donald Trump has signed the Tax and Jobs Act of 2017, which mostly makes sweeping changes to tax rates and eliminates many deductions starting in 2018. For most households, this means no itemized deductions due to an increased standard deduction ($12,000 for single, $24,000 for married), a limit on the deduction of taxes ($10,000 of income, sales and property taxes combined) and elimination of most miscellaneous itemized deductions.

Many of you give generously to charities every year regardless of the prospect of deducting those contributions. While the changes to the deductiblity of contributions is little changed, the fact that you likely won't be able to itemize, means that you'll receive no tax benefit going forward if your contributions plus other itemized deductions don't exceed your standard deduction.

This means that 2017 may be a year that you'll want to consider a Donor Advised Fund (DAF) to take advantage of what might be your last year for itemizing, and take a large 2017 deduction for your contribution. The deadline for establishing a DAF is December 31, 2017, though for all intents and purposes, December 29 is the last business day of the year and may be the true deadline.  Of course, you can consider one for 2018 and future years.

A DAF is simply an account that you establish with the charitable entity of a well-known custodian (Schwab, Fidelity, Vanguard or TD Ameritrade for example) and to which you make a lump sum contribution to fund future years' contributions. For example, if you give $2,000 a year to charity, you could fund it with $10,000 today, and direct $2,000 a year to your charities each year while the fund grows tax free. Better yet, if you fund the DAF with long-term appreciated stocks or funds, you'll get a full deduction for the fair market value of the securities, and never have to report the capital gain on your tax return.

This is right for you if:

  1. You're willing and able to irrevocably contribute at least $5,000 (some custodians have higher minimums) to a managed account where you direct future contributions to the charities of your choice;
  2. You expect to be phased out of itemized deductions starting in 2018 due to the increased standard deduction and other changes to itemized deductions (see above) or,
  3. You would benefit more from an acceleration of charitable deductions to this year (than in future years) due to high income or lower tax rates in the years ahead.

Even if you decide not to establish a DAF, you should consider whether accelerating the coming years' charitable contributions to this year makes sense for you.

The most common ‘strategy’ for creating a donor-advised fund is relatively straightforward – donor-advised funds are a good fit any time there’s a desire to contribute (and get the tax deduction) now, but make the actual grant to the final charity at some later date. In fact, the whole point of a donor-advised fund is to separate the timing of when the tax deduction occurs from when the charity ultimately receives the money.

Once established, you can add funds to a DAF in future years, and you can take as long as you want to distribute the funds to various charities. Some custodians maintain minimum donations you can make to a charity at any one time, say $50.

The important caveat to remember in all donor-advised fund strategies is that once funds go to the donor-advised fund, they must go to some charity, and cannot be retracted for the donor. The charitable gift to a donor-advised fund is still irrevocable, even if the assets have not yet passed through to the underlying charity. Nonetheless, for those who are ready to make the charitable donation – and want to receive the tax deduction now – the donor-advised fund serves as a useful vehicle to execute charitable giving strategies over time. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that any growth along the way will ultimately accrue tax-free for the charity as well.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss setting up a Donor Advised Fund, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first. If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

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