Donations to charities can get you a deduction regardless of your filing status, so just because you get married doesn't mean you automatically lose the deduction. The rules for a married couple donating to charity for a tax break are the same as for single filers — unless you're married filing separately.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
If a married couple opts to itemize their deductions rather than take the standard deduction, they are eligible to claim up to 60 percent of their adjusted gross income.
Qualifying Contributions Only
Only donations to qualified charities result in a tax deduction. Qualified organizations include religious groups, nonprofit charitable groups, nonprofit educational organizations and nonprofit hospitals. However, you can't receive a deduction for donations made directly to needy individuals or for the value of your time. For example, a donation to a qualified charity that provides warm meals to homebound and elderly individuals would enable you to take a deduction, but gifts of money or food to an elderly individual are not deductible.
In order to deduct charitable donations, you must itemize all your deductions. You can't claim a donation unless you give up your standard deduction. For the tax year 2018, the standard deduction for people married and filing jointly is $24,000. If your itemized deductions — including those for charitable donations — do not exceed that amount, taking the standard deduction will be best for you.
Married Filing Separately
If you're married filing separately, if one spouse itemizes, the other must itemize as well. If you live in a community property state, the charitable donation deduction is split unless you can show that the donation was made from the separate property of one spouse. For example, if you give $5,000 to charity, each spouse would be allowed to deduct $2,500 each. As of 2018, Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin are community property states.
Married couples are also subject to the same deduction limits relative to adjusted gross income as any other taxpayers. Deductions for donations to many charities, including religious groups, educational organizations and nonprofit hospitals, are limited to 60 percent of your adjusted gross income. Those made to others, such as veterans' groups and nonprofit cemeteries, are limited to 30 percent. If you donate property worth more than you paid for it, the limit goes down. Donations of appreciated property to 50 percent limit charities are restricted to 30 percent of your adjusted gross income and donations of appreciated property to 30 percent limit organizations are restricted to 20 percent. The excess can be carried over for up to five years.
- Internal Revenue Service: Publication 526 - Charitable Donations
- Internal Revenue Service: Special Topics - Community Property
- Fairmark: Community Property States
- Forbes: New: IRS Announces 2018 Tax Rates, Standard Deductions, Exemption Amounts And More
- NOLO: Marriage & Property Ownership: Who Owns What?
Mark Kennan is a writer based in the Kansas City area, specializing in personal finance and business topics. He has been writing since 2009 and has been published by "Quicken," "TurboTax," and "The Motley Fool."