One of the more visible changes from the Tax Act will be the increase in the standard deduction. When completing an annual tax return, a taxpayer has the choice to either take a standard deduction or to itemize deductions. The standard deduction is a flat dollar amount which reduces your taxable income for the year, with the same standard deduction amount applying to every taxpayer who takes the standard deduction. The itemized deduction instead allows a taxpayer to deduct a number of different expenses from throughout the year, including certain medical expenses, mortgage interest, casualty and theft losses, state and local taxes paid, and charitable contributions. Whether a taxpayer uses the standard deduction or itemizes his or her deductions will depend on whether that taxpayer’s itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction amount.
In 2017, the standard deduction amount was $6,350 for single taxpayers and $12,700 for married taxpayers filing jointly. The Tax Act has nearly doubled these amounts for 2018, with the standard deduction increased to $12,000 for single taxpayers and $24,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly. Limitations have also been placed on deducting state and local taxes (capped at $10,000) and on mortgage interest (limited to new loans, capped at $750,000).
Taxpayers now have a higher standard deduction amount they need to pass before itemizing their deductions and they have more limited expenses available in order to get over that bar. Fewer people will be generating the expenses needed to make itemizing deductions worthwhile. The Tax Policy Center estimates that the percentage of taxpayers itemizing deductions will drop from 30% to only 6%.
If fewer taxpayers are itemizing their deductions, the tax benefits of charitable giving will be available to fewer taxpayers. The Tax Policy Center estimates charitable giving to drop anywhere from $12 billion to $20 billion in the next year. Taxpayers may instead bunch their charitable gifts into a single year, itemizing their deductions in such a year while using the standard deduction in subsequent years rather than spreading out these gifts over a stretch of years.
People charitably give to their favorite organizations out of a humanitarian desire to help less fortunate people and to benefit the wider community; a smaller tax incentive will not change this. But the smaller tax incentive is expected to have a negative impact both for a taxpayer’s ability to deduct charitable gifts and for the amount of gifts charitable organizations expect to receive.
Jamie E. Koepsel