A tithe traditionally is 10 percent of your income given voluntarily or not as an obligation or tax. Today, the word is most commonly used to refer to charitable or religious contributions. While 10 percent still is regarded as the standard amount of income to give, a tithe can be less or more, depending on your financial situation. These tithes are, for the most part, tax deductible. However, as with anything in tax-land, there are exceptions, limits and stipulations.
First, your tithe must be offered to a charitable organization that is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service with a 501(c)3 designation. Most religious institutions, such as churches or synagogues, are recognized, as are most organizations that operate as nonprofits. The donation must be given to an organization and not to an individual.
No Goods Received
Next, for your contribution to be tax deductible, you must not receive any goods or services in exchange for it. Your tithe is given without expectation of any benefit.
You may claim a tax deduction for a cash tithe, but sometimes there are limits. In general, monetary donations to charity can be deducted only up to 50 percent of your gross income. However, there are exceptions to this as well. Some capital gains contributions are limited to 30 percent of income. And while your charitable donations may not be limited specifically, there are cases when your total deductions are limited. This may indirectly reduce the amount of the tithe that can be deducted. If your tithes exceed the 50 percent rule or are otherwise limited, you may be able to claim a portion as a tax deduction up to five years in the future, called a carryover, as long as you meet the conditions.
Finally, you will need acceptable written records of your donations to claim your tithe amount as a tax deduction. Bank records, such as a canceled check, generally are sufficient for smaller amounts. For contributions over $250, you will need written acknowledgment from the church, charity or other qualified organization that received your donation, including a statement that you received no benefit (other than intangible religious benefits) from the donation.
IRS Publication 526 details the specific exceptions and limitations of charitable contributions, or tithes, and is a good source for additional information.