Donating items you no longer want or need to charity is a great way to help others. Someone out there can surely use clothes, furniture, and more. On top of that, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) gives you something in return for your generosity—a tax break.
The problem is that deducting charitable gifts from your taxable income is one of the more complex aspects of tax law. You can consult with a tax professional, but all this giving isn’t supposed to end up costing you money in the long run. We’ve put together these general guidelines to help you along before Tax Day.
Determining a Donated Item's Fair Market Value
The IRS uses “fair market value” (FMV) to establish the amount you can deduct for almost all donated items. The IRS defines FMV as what a consumer would willingly pay for an item if neither the seller nor the buyer was under any duress to make the sale. Both parties must have “reasonable knowledge of the relevant facts.”
Some organizations post approximate values for various items on their websites, but these are just guidelines.
For example, the Salvation Army won’t tell you what your particular item is worth when you hand it over, but it does list values for items like appliances, clothing, and furniture on its site. And Goodwill’s values are based on what they’re generally able to sell items for at their locations. Goodwill says that 30% of the item’s original purchase price should be a close estimate, but this assumes it's not in awful condition. The IRS indicates that the fair market value of furniture, in particular, should not be judged by this rule of thumb.
The IRS imposes a rule that clothing and most household items must be in pretty good shape—in “good used condition or better.”
Let’s look at some popular items and what they may be worth when it comes to your tax deduction after you donate them.
You may be able to claim the below tax deductions for some common clothing items you donated in 2021 on the tax return you'll file in 2022. These values are according to The Salvation Army and Goodwill.
- Skirts: $3 to $8
- Dresses: $4 to $28
- Pants: $4 to $23
- Shoes: $2 to $30
- Sweaters: $3 to $16
- Skirts: $2 to $6
- Pants/jeans: $2 to $12
- Dresses: $2 to $12
- Sweaters: $2 to $10
- Shoes: $3 to $21
You might want to take photos of everything before you give items away so you can substantiate your opinion of above-average quality if you claim a number on the high side. The IRS stresses that the fair market value of clothing is usually a great deal less than what you paid for them.
Top values for appliances tend to vary depending on the type of appliance. Some might be worth twice as much in excellent condition, while others might be valued at four or five times as much. Appliances should be “gently used” and, of course, they must still work.
Here’s what you may be able to deduct during tax time:
- Air conditioners: $21 to $93
- Color televisions: $78 to $233
- Microwaves: $10 to $50
- Washing machines: $41 to $156
- Dryers: $47 to $93
- Electric stoves: $78 to $156
- Gas stoves: $52 to $130
- Vacuum cleaners: $5 to $60
You might need the help of an appraiser or other professional for more expensive, high-tech electronic items, but here are some guidelines if you want to give away an old DVD player or computer equipment:
- Monitor: $5 to $51
- Printer: $1 to $155
- Computer system: $104 to $415
- Keyboards: $0.30 to $10
- DVD player: $8 to $16
- Stereo system: $16 to $78
- Tablet: $25 to $150
Furniture and Other Household Items
A lot of variables exist in this category, particularly for furniture. Age might not be much of a determinant. What if you’re donating an antique? It might be old, but that hardly makes it worthless. In fact, it's probably increased in value. You’ll almost certainly need an appraisal in this case.
The condition of the piece tends to be far more important than age, assuming it's not an antique, as is style. A type of sofa that was all the rage back in 2010 might have negligible value now, and it’s certainly not an antique yet, either. As for things like linens, they tend to retain very little value after they’ve been used.
Otherwise, you may be able to deduct the below values for tax year 2021:
- Twin bed: $36 to $104
- Full or larger bed: $52 to $176
- Bedspread or blanket: $3 to $25
- Coffee table: $15 to $100
- Desk: $26 to $145
- Dresser: $20 to $104
- End table: $10 to $75
- Lamps: $3 to $78
- Rugs: $2 to $93
- Sofa: $36 to $395
- Towels: $0.50 to $4
- Upholstered chair: $10 to $104
As with clothing items, the fair market value of household items is typically much less than what you paid for them. And these items all fall under the “good used condition or better” IRS rule as well.
You can’t really take a guess as to condition or value when it comes to donating expensive items. You probably won’t find them on any charity’s published list of approximate values, either. Things like jewelry, artwork, paintings, and antiques almost always require appraisals.
The IRS suggests that artwork valued at over $5,000 should be appraised, and you must have the item appraised if it’s worth $20,000 or more.
You can request a Statement of Value from the IRS if you’re donating anything that’s extremely valuable—worth $50,000 or more—but it will cost you $7,500 for one to three items and $400 each for every item over three.
As for aircraft, cars, and boats, the rules here are particularly tricky. They can vary from one area of the country to another, and you might have a choice of valuation methods depending on what the charity does with the gift. Some commercial firms and trade organizations publish guidelines based on your location, but the IRS cautions that you should use these as guidelines. They don’t take the place of an appraisal.
You may also be limited to the gross proceeds if the organization sells the vehicle rather than uses it and you’re claiming more than $500 for it.
It’s smart to enlist the help of a tax professional if you’re going to generate big-ticket items worth hundreds or thousands of dollars.
How to Claim Charitable Donations When You File Your Tax Return
During most tax years, you are required to itemize your deductions to claim your charitable gifts and contributions. The Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Relief Act of 2020 waived this requirement in 2020 and the waiver still applies for tax year 2021. It applies to cash donations of up to $300, or $600 if you’re married and filing jointly. The provision doesn’t apply to donated tangible property.
Itemizing your tax return to include charitable donations and contributions means filing Schedule A with your Form 1040 tax return, detailing all the deductions you’re claiming.
Only donations made to qualified organizations can be claimed for a tax deduction. The IRS provides a search tool on its website. You can use it to find out if an organization or charity you’re considering is qualified.
Itemizing vs. Claiming the Standard Deduction
Itemizing is usually only worth your while if your total qualifying itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction for your filing status for the year. You can't both itemize and use the standard deduction as well, so you should base the choice on which will reduce your taxable income the most.
Additional Forms You May Need
You must get a written acknowledgment or receipt from the organization for any gift you make for which you’re claiming a deduction of $250 or more.
You’ll also have to submit Form 8283 for many of these items. Section A of Form 8283 must be submitted for all donations valued at over $500, and really pricey gifts over $5,000 require that you fill out Section B and have an appraisal to support the value.
Household goods and clothing items that aren’t in at least good, used condition require an appraisal as well as completion of Section B if you claim more than $500 for them.
Does the IRS Tax You on Donations That Are Given to You?
If you’re personally given something as a donation, such as food or money, it might be subject to the federal gift tax. However, you won’t have to pay taxes because the tax is assessed on the donor, not the recipient of the gift. Gifts made to political organizations and qualifying organizations are exempt from this rule.
How Do Goodwill Donation Centers Work?
Goodwill accepts items like clothing, appliances, and household items. You can take them to the donation center nearest you. Follow the signs to the item drop-off location; there may be an attendant there to help you unload them. Goodwill centers are generally open weekdays, weekends, and evenings. Don’t forget to ask the Goodwill associate for the receipt—you'll need it for tax purposes.