By eliminating or restricting the tax deductibility of charitable contributions, proposals for a simplified tax code could dampen the cheerfulness with which Americans give away their money.
Three plans may be considered by Congress and hammered into a compromise early this year. One of them, originating in the Reagan administration, contains four points that would affect donations:
• People who do not itemize deductions on their federal income tax return would no longer be able to take a single deduction for charitable gifts. Since 1982, that has been the one exception allowed for taxpayers who do not itemize. Because of other provisions in the tax simplification plan, it is likely that many more people would not itemize deductions if the plan became law.
• No deductions would be permitted until contributions pass a threshold of 2 percent of adjusted gross income. A person earning $25,000 and making $1,200 in donations could deduct only the last $700 from his taxable income. According to Independent Sector, a coalition of voluntary organizations, the median amount donated by American taxpayers is 1.97 percent. The 2 percent threshold would prevent more than half of them from taking a deduction.
• The top tax bracket would drop from 50 percent to 35 percent. As a result, wealthy donors would receive a tax benefit from only 35 cents out of every dollar donated, compared to 50 cents under current law.
• No deductions would be allowed for capital gains on property or investments, so major gifts of land and assets could dwindle.
The administration proposal, prepared by Treasury Secretary Donald Regan, almost certainly will not pass Congress intact. Some new leaders in the Senate question whether tax simplification is necessary at ...1
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