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Spring cleaning could help cut your tax bill as long as you properly value your donated goods

I am so, so sorry my dear friends in the MidAtlantic and Northeastern United States. I know you're looking at possibly more snow with the fourth nor'easter in three weeks forecast to hit your areas in a few days.

Here in Central Texas and other parts of the country, however, spring has officially arrived!

Hill Country wildflowers and tractor 2016
My Texas neighbors and I are enjoying the seasonal wildflowers. Thank you, Lady Bird Johnson! (Photo by Kay Bell)

It's also the traditional time for cleaning up and clearing out your house.

Some of those old and/or unused items can be tossed. Others, however, are in good enough shape to go to a thrift shop, consignment store or, for possible tax purposes, a charity.

Still deductible and more so for some: The recent tax law changes left the itemized deduction for charitable gifts in place. In fact, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) makes it easier for wealthier people to give even more.

For the 2017 tax year, which is what you're focusing on if you're still working on your Form 1040 due by April 17th this year, you can donate, in most cases, up to 50 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI). If your AGI is $50,000 you can give away $25,000 and still get a tax deduction for it on last year's taxes.

The TCJA, however, has pushed that limitation up to 60 percent of AGI.

Most of us won't ever have to worry about hitting that threshold. We're generous, but we've also got day-to-day living expenses to cover. 

But if you're rich and wealthy enough to give that much, your favorite charity thanks you.

Donations less tax valuable for some: On the other hand, the TCJA might stifle some charitable giving.

The tax changes that took effect this year have dramatically increased the standard deduction amounts, which means that fewer folks are likely to itemize. 

Charitable groups fear that without the tax break, they'll lose some — possibly a lot — of their usual philanthropic gifts.

Valuing donated goods: If you give even though you won't get a tax benefit for it, good for you!

But it you can still take advantage of the charitable deduction, don't waste it. Especially when you're donating clothing and household goods in addition to cash.

Just make sure your estimation of the value of your physical gifts is legit. Yes, you have to come up with the value to claim.

Be careful here. Internal Revenue Service examiners have been around long enough to spot inflated donation amounts.

The general rule is that you use the donated item's fair market value. You can get an idea of what that is in your area by visiting secondhand stores or yard sales. IRS Publication 561 also offers some guidance on how to arrive at an acceptable valuation.

You also can review the tables below to help you get what you should for your donations without prompting added IRS interest. I've based the amounts on valuation guidelines provided by Goodwill and the Salvation Army for items that are commonly dropped off at those charities' donation facilities.

Values from lowest to highest average 

Clothing article Women’s attire Men’s attire Children’s attire
Blouse, shirt $2 to $12 $2 to $12 $1 to $8
T-shirt $0.50 to $4 $0.50 to $6 $0.50 to $2
Sweater $3.75 to $15 $2.50 to $15 $1 to $8
Skirt $2 to $12 -- $1 to $6
Dress $4 to $28 -- $2 to $12
Slacks $3.50 to $23 $2 to $15 $1 to $8
Jeans $4 to $21 $4 to $21 $2 to $12
Jacket $4 to $12 $6 to $12 $1 to $6
Business suit $5 to $30 $10 to $30 --
Overcoat $7 to $40 $7 to $60 $3 to $20
Shoes $2 to $25 $3.50 to $25 $2 to $8.75
Swimsuit $4 to $12 $2.50 to $12 $1 to $6
Handbag/briefcase/backpack $2 to $40 $2 to $40 $1 to $15
Evening attire $10 to $60 $10 to $60 --


Household Goods

Item Low to High Value Item Low to High Value
Kitchen utensils $0.50 to $1.50 Washing machine $40-$150
Glasses/mugs/cups $0.50 to $1.50 Dryer $45 to $90
Plates $0.50 to $3 Color television $75 to $225
Pots and pans $1 to $3 Radio $2 to $50
Kitchen/dinette set $40 to $900 Stereo $15 to 75
Sofa $30 to $200 VCR/DVD player $8 to $15
Coffee table $10 to $65 Records, CDs, DVDs $1 to $5
End table $4 to $50 Books, paperback $0.75 to $2
Throw rug $1.50 to $12 Books, hardcover $1 to $3
Chair $5 to $100 Desk $25 to $140
Bedroom set $250 to $1,000 Computer monitor $5 to $50
Dressers $20 to $60 Printer $5 to $150
Bed linens $2 to $8 Lamp $4 to $50
Quilt, bedspread $3 to $24 Vacuum cleaner $15 to $65
Blanket, afghan $2 to $15 Lawn mower $25 to $100
Bath towels $0.50 to $4 Bicycle $5 to $80
Air conditioner $20 to $90 Puzzles, board games $0.50 to $3
Heater $7.50 to $22 Stuffed animals $0.50 to $1
Electric stove $75 to $150 Ice skates $3 to $15
Gas stove $50 to $125 Roller blades $3 to $15
Microwave oven $10 to $50 Tennis racket $2 to $5
Refrigerator $75 to $250 Golf clubs $2 to $25


A few final tax notes: In order to claim your charitable donation deduction, you must follow all the current tax laws about such gifts.

All your contributed items, from clothing to household goods like furniture,  must be in good or better shape.

Give your items (and cash) only to eligible organizations if you want to deduct the donations. You can make sure the charity is eligible by using the IRS' Exempt Organizations Select Check. You also want to make sure it's a real nonprofit, not one created as part of a tax scam.

About those deductions, as my earlier reference about itemizing indicates, you must claim your donations on Schedule A. If you take the standard deduction, you don't get this tax break.

Finally, get a receipt.

Happy spring cleaning and, if it works for your personal filing situation, tax deducting!

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