IRS issues publications on many tax topics. An especially valuable publication for charitable gift planners is Pub 526, “Charitable Contributions”.
Pub 526 is updated each year, so if you download it, try to get the most recent version.
Like all IRS publications, Pub 526 technically cannot be relied upon, in the sense that IRS is free in court or upon audit to disavow anything written in it. Nonetheless, Pub 526 is a good guide on settled, non-controversial issues.
One such cluster of issues deals with the date of gift for federal income tax purposes. Pub 526 provides in part:
Time of making contribution.
Usually, you make a contribution at the time of its unconditional delivery.
A check you mail to a charity is considered delivered on the date you mail it.
Credit card. Contributions charged on your bank credit card are deductible in the year you make the charge.
Note the rich detail in just these three sentences. The first sentence lays out the general rule of unconditional delivery, which applies for example to gifts of tangible personal property. The second sentence carves out an exception to the general rule for a check that’s mailed to charity. The rule here is that the date of gift is the date of mailing (by the US Post office and not other delivery or mail systems), assuming the check clears the donor’s bank in due course. The third sentence deals with credit card gifts. The date of gift here is the date the charge is made to the donor’s card.
Pub 526 needs to be read and interpreted carefully. Even so, it’s a useful guide for donors, gift planners and advisers.
by Jon Tidd