You can reap tax breaks when you donate items such as supplies, computers, books, money or even your car to public schools. The Internal Revenue Service treats these gifts as charitable contributions because their recipients are nonprofit educational organizations that qualify as 501(c)(3) organizations.
Voluntary and Free Payments
You only get the break if your payment is voluntary and without expectation of anything in return. If it's something required for a class or activity, such as gym or band uniforms or instrument rentals, it doesn't count. School fees for textbooks or laptops don't count either. Also, you cannot write off the cost of raffle tickets or items sold by the school as part of fundraisers unless your payment exceeds the value. For example, if you send in $50 for a bookbag valued at $20, you can claim a charitable contribution of $30.
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Books, Instruments and Supplies
You can claim the fair market value of items you donate to a school. The value of books typically depends their condition and edition and the price of comparable books. The IRS suggests that you seek help from an appraiser or dealer who specializes in the type of book or collection that you donate. Ask dealers or shop owners if they're willing or able to help you value musical instruments or books. Use the store receipts for paper, pencils and other supplies you buy for the school or class. The IRS recommends you use thrift value for used clothes.
Used car blue book sites can help you determine the fair market value of a car you donate to the driver's education program. The deduction typically will depend on the condition of the car. The IRS says that, for example, if a guide lists $750 as the price for a private-party sale of a vehicle in poor condition, your deduction is $750.
Tax breaks are available for donations to a scholarship fund that qualifies as a charity. Go to the IRS Exempt Organizations Select tool to verify the fund is tax-exempt. To be considered charitable, the fund cannot earmark money for a specific person. Instead, it must have a sufficiently broad class of eligible applicants. For instance, the scholarship may designate as eligible recipients by need, merit, class-ranking, academic or musical interest.
You don't get tax relief for volunteering alone. You can write-off the mileage for traveling from your home to the event at which you volunteer, say as a chaparone for a school field trip or band competition. The IRS allows you 14 cents per mile or the actual cost of fueling up your car for the event. Meals and lodging bills also qualify if the volunteer effort requires you to stay overnight.
Generally, the IRS limits your write-off for donations to schools to 50 percent of your adjusted gross income total on line 38 of Form 1040. Breaks for donations to scholarship funds designated as private foundations may be capped at 30 percent of the adjusted gross income. Check for limits in the "Deductibility Status" in the IRS Exempt Organization Select Check tool.