In observance of the biblical tradition of offering a tithe, or tenth, to one's place of worship, many taxpayers faithfully donate 10 percent of their income to churches and religious organizations. The Internal Revenue Service allows you to write off the money you tithe to religious organizations that meet the requirements of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. Tithes donated to most churches, synagogues, temples and mosques in the U.S. would qualify for a 100 percent tax write off, but it is important to maintain records if you intend to itemize the deductions on your federal tax return.
If you are going to claim more than $250 in tithes to the church, it's a good idea to keep records of how much you've donated. The cash you drop in the offering plate is not going to count in the event you're audited. But paying tithes to a church by check should be enough proof to qualify for a write-off. Most churches also provide tithers with a year-end statement or a letter stating the amount of their tithes for the year, which also provides enough documentation to satisfy IRS requirements for writing off tithes.
Contributions to the church are not tax-deductible if you receive goods or services in exchange for the contribution. If you bought books from the church bookstore or purchased 20 tickets for the church barbecue, those contributions to the church would not be legitimate write-offs because you received 20 dinners for one purchase and received a book for the other. The only exception would be if the donation you make is far higher than the fair value of the item. The portion in excess of the fair market value could be written off on your federal tax return.
While the IRS allows taxpayers to write off 100 percent of their tithes to the church, the government does impose a charitable donation limit of 50 percent of gross income. When it comes to capital gains contributions to churches, those deductions are limited to 30 percent of the taxpayer's gross income. If a taxpayer claims tithes that exceed 50 percent of his income, the IRS will allow him to carry over the excess amount and claim a portion of it over a five-year period.
Nonprofit organizations that receive 501(c)(3) status are exempt from taxes. Churches must be careful not to jeopardize tax-exempt status by staying solely focused on religious or charitable purposes. When religious organizations begin participating in politics or try to influence legislation they run the risk of losing 501(c)(3) status, making tithers unable to write off contributions to the organization.