Bunching Charitable Donations to Maximize Tax Deductions

Professional Advisor Insights
It's important to keep new IRA and 401(k) rules in mind when creating your retirement strategies.

This article is part of the Professional Advisor Insights series.


The 2018 tax law almost doubled the standard deduction for most taxpayers.

If you filed a joint tax return, the standard deduction for 2018 jumped from $12,700 in 2017 to $24,000. Combined with the new limit of $10,000 on state tax deductions, many taxpayers who itemized deductions in previous years now benefit more by claiming the standard deduction.

With a little advanced planning, you may be able to increase your tax deductions by timing when you make charitable contributions.

What is “Bunching”?

Bunching charitable deductions is a tax strategy where you alternate between taking the standard deduction one year and itemizing the next.

The strategy is best illustrated with a simplified example (note: the example does not factor in inflation so consult with your financial advisor when planning for your specific needs).

Let’s say a taxpayer plans to itemize deductions (excluding charitable contributions) of $16,000 and donates approximately $7,000 to charity. His total itemized deductions would be $23,000, or $1,000 less than the standard deduction of $24,000.

That means the $7,000 charitable contribution would have generated no tax benefit since the standard deduction exceeds the itemized deductions. This could occur again the following year, if the same taxpayer makes another annual donation of $7,000 and again falls short of the itemization threshold and claims the standard deduction.

In this scenario, in consecutive years, the taxpayer would have made $14,000 of donations and received $48,000 of tax deductions.

The bunching tax strategy encourages this taxpayer to wait to make his planned 2019 $7,000 donation until January 2020. Then, resume his normal donation routine and make the 2020 donation of $7,000 in the same year.

In 2019, he would have no donations and would claim the standard deduction of $24,000.

By delaying the 2019 donation until the beginning of 2020, he would now have $14,000 of charitable donations to add to his other itemized deductions of $16,000. Total 2020 itemized deductions would then be $30,000.

Since that exceeds the standard deduction of $24,000, he would itemize.

By using the bunching strategy and delaying one donation by a few days or months, the taxpayer still donated $14,000 but ended up with tax deductions totaling $54,000. That is $6,000 more over a two-year period.

What If My Favorite Charity Needs the Funds Every Year?

Many charities depend on loyal donors to make a certain amount of donations every year. One way to meet both of your goals would be to make your charitable contributions through a donor-advised fund at The San Diego Foundation.

You receive a tax deduction when you transfer the cash or property to the donor-advised fund. The San Diego Foundation then pays the charity a certain amount each year.

The Takeaway

The larger standard deduction means some donors are less likely to receive a tax benefit for their charitable contributions unless they apply charitable bunching strategies.

Please consult with your tax advisor and a charitable planning expert at The San Diego Foundation to help ensure your charitable donations continue to work for you and your favorite charity.

Open a Donor Advised Fund to Maximize Tax Benefits


About Diane L. Gilabert, CPA

Diane L. Gilabert CPADiane L. Gilabert, CPA is a Tax Manager with Gatto, Pope, & Walwick CPAs. She assists private companies and their owners with tax planning and tax compliance. Other than a recent two-year stint as the CFO at the San Diego Humane Society, Diane has spent her 30-year career in public accounting with both national and local firms.

Learn More About Professional Advisor Insights