Congress is caught up right now with the payroll tax issue. That is important. Unless the temporary 4.2 percent tax rate is extended, workers will get smaller paychecks in 2012.
But this legislative single-mindedness means that some other tax laws that also expire on Dec. 31 are falling by the wayside.
One of those tax breaks is the ability of older owners of traditional IRAs to transfer money from that retirement plan directly to a charity.
This is particularly beneficial for folks who are 70½ or older (the transfer option's eligibility age) and who don't need the required minimum distribution, also called RMD, money they must now withdraw.
They can have that RMD amount sent to their favorite nonprofit.
That way they meet the IRS demand that the funds be distributed, but since they don't actually take possession of the funds, they don't owe taxes on the money.
Charities also are thrilled with this option. Older donors can transfer as much as $100,000 to qualified charities. And folks who have that much in an IRA and can afford to give that much away usually are willing to do so.
Uncle Sam, however, is not so happy.
Since the IRA owner doesn't take possession of the money, it isn't taxable. So the U.S. Treasury loses some cash.
As lawmakers look at every way to collect every penny possible to reduce the federal deficit, it's possible that this donation option could die at the end of 2011.
Charities are lobbying to have it extended, but it's not a widely used option.
And just letting the IRA rollover to charity option lapse could be an easy way for Congress to raise a few more federal dollars.
We won't know the fate of these tax breaks (and others; more on them in future posts) for a few more weeks, when and if Congress gets around to dealing with the donation option and other expiring tax laws.
But for 2011, the tax break is still on the books. So if you're eligible to use it and it makes tax sense for you, look into the IRA charity rollover.
And for the rest of us who aren't quite that old, we still can give to charities the usual ways, via cash (or check or credit card) gifts or by donating household goods and clothing.
As long as we do so by Dec. 31, and we itemize, we can count those gifts as charitable deductions on our 2011 tax returns.
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