The IRS has released final regulations that address the interaction of the $10,000/$5,000 cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction and charitable contributions. The regulations include:

  • a safe harbor for individuals who have any portion of a charitable deduction disallowed due to the receipt of SALT benefits;
  • a safe harbor for business entities to deduct certain payments made to a charitable organization in exchange for SALT benefits; and
  • application of the quid pro quo principle under Code Sec. 170 to benefits received or expected to be received by the donor from a third party.

The final rules generally adopt the proposed regulations issued in December 2019 ( NPRM REG-107431-19) with minor clarifications.

SALT Limit

An individual’s itemized deduction of SALT taxes is limited to $10,000 ($5,000 if married filing separately) for tax years beginning after 2017. Some states and local governments adopted laws that allowed individuals to receive a state tax credit for contributions to certain charitable funds. These laws are aimed at getting around the SALT deduction limit by creating a charitable deduction for federal income tax purposes.

Under previously issued regulations, the receipt of a SALT credit for a charitable contribution is the receipt of a return benefit (quid pro quo benefit). Thus, the taxpayer must reduce any contribution deduction by the amount of any SALT credit received or expected to receive in return. A de minimis exception is available if the SALT credit does not exceed 15 percent of the taxpayer’s charitable payment.

A taxpayer is not required to reduce the charitable contribution deduction because of the receipt of SALT deductions. However, the taxpayer must reduce the charitable deduction if it receives or expects to receive SALT deductions in excess of the taxpayer’s payment or the fair market value of property transferred.

Payments by Individuals

The final regulations adopt the safe harbor for individuals whose have a portion of a charitable deduction disallowed due to the receipt of a SALT credit. Any disallowed portion of the charitable contribution deduction may be treated as the payment of SALT taxes for the purposes of deducting taxes under Code Sec. 164. The safe harbor is allowed in the tax year the charitable payment is made, but only to the extent that the SALT credit is applied as provided under state or local law to offset the individual’s SALT liability for the current or preceding tax year. Any unused credit may be carried forward as provided under state and local law.

The final regulations are not intended to permit a taxpayer to avoid the SALT deduction cap. Thus, any payment treated as a state or local tax under Code Sec. 164 is subject to the limit. Also, a taxpayer is not permitted to deduct the same under more than one rule, so a taxpayer who relies on this safe harbor to deduction payments as SALT taxes may also not deduct the same payment under any other Code provision.

Payments by Business Entities

The final regulations adopt the safe harbor that business entities may continue to deduct charitable contributions in exchange a SALT credit. A business entity may deduct the payments as an ordinary and necessary business expenses under Code Sec. 162 if made for a business purpose.

If a C corporation or specified passthrough entity makes the charitable payment in exchange for a SALT credit, it may deduct the payment as a business expense to the extent of any SALT credit received or expected to be received. In addition, if the charitable payment bears a direct relationship to the taxpayer’s business, then it may be deducted as a business expense rather than a charitable contribution regardless of whether the taxpayer receives or expects to receive a SALT credit.

The safe harbor for C corporations and specified passthrough entities applies only to payments of cash and cash equivalents. The safe harbor for specified passthrough entities does not apply if the credit received or expected to be received reduces a state or local income tax.

Benefits from Third Party

If a taxpayer receives any goods, services, or other benefits from a charitable organization in consideration for a contribution, then the charitable deduction must be reduced by the value of those benefits. If the contribution exceeds the fair market value of the benefits received, then only the excess is a deductible as a charitable contribution.

The final regulations continue to provide that this quid pro quo principal applies regardless of whether the party providing the goods, services, or other benefits is the charitable organization or not. A taxpayer will be treated as receiving goods and services in consideration for the taxpayer’s charitable contribution if, at the time the taxpayer makes the payment or transfer, the taxpayer receives or expects to receive goods or services in return. The final rules clarify that the quid pro quo principle applies regardless of whether the party providing the quid pro quo is the donee or a third party.