Do you collect art, jewelry, coins, or stamps? Or maybe your passion is action figures or sports memorabilia. Whatever the focus, your collection could be valuable—and donating all or part of it to a museum or another nonprofit organization could earn you a substantial tax deduction. If you play your cards right, you may be able to write off the full value of your donation immediately.
The basic rule is that you can deduct the fair market value (FMV) of a collectible item you give to charity if selling it would have produced a long-term capital gain. Therefore, if you've owned the property for more than one year, the amount you deduct can include the item's appreciation in value since you acquired it. And you never will be taxed on that gain.
On the other hand, for a collectible you've owned for a year or less, your deduction is limited to your "basis" in the property (usually, your initial cost). These are essentially the same rules that apply to donations of securities.
Suppose you acquired a sculpture for $10,000 eleven months ago and it's now worth $15,000. If you donate it to a museum now, you can deduct $10,000 as a charitable contribution. However, if you wait just over a month longer, the full $15,000 is deductible.
Is there a catch? Yes, just one. When you donate "tangible personal property," such as collectibles, you can take a deduction based on FMV only if the property is used in a manner relating to the charity's tax-exempt function.
Let's go back to our example of the sculpture. If you give the artwork to a museum after you've owned it for more than a year and it is displayed for the public to see, you still can write off $15,000. However, if the nonprofit is your alma mater and school officials shove it into a storeroom, you can deduct only your basis, or $10,000.
In some cases, the higher deduction easily can be salvaged. For instance, if you give it to your college but insist the sculpture be displayed in a building where art majors can study it, you should qualify for the full deduction.
The other thing that's important is to have your item or collection appraised by an independent expert in the field to establish its value. This is an IRS requirement and will come in handy if the agency ever challenges the deduction amount. But here's a bonus—you may be able to deduct the cost of the appraisal as a miscellaneous expense, subject to the usual threshold for such write-offs.
Other tax rules, including limitations on itemized deductions, may come into play. But this is the way to get the most bang for your buck under current law.