Car donation is the practice of giving away no-longer-wanted automobiles or other vehicles to charitable organizations. In the United States, these donations can provide a tax benefit and have become very popular.
In the United States
Some critics have claimed that car donations are essentially a tax shelter. However, non-profit organizations in the US have come to rely increasingly upon the revenue from car donations. This type of donation has become increasingly widespread; in 2000, 733,000 U.S. taxpayers reduced their taxes by $654 million.
Although advertised as an easy way to dispose of an old car, donors need to fulfill certain post-donation requirements to qualify for the tax deduction, such as obtaining a written acknowledgment of the car's subsequent sale by the charity, and itemizing tax returns instead of taking the standard deduction.
For vehicles valued at less than $500, the deduction amount comes from the donor's own estimate of the car's value, even if the charity receives less money from its sale. Deductions greater than $500 are limited to the proceeds of selling the vehicle, usually at auction. The U.S Internal Revenue Service advises that starting in 2005:
The rules for determining the amount that a donor may deduct for a charitable contribution of a qualified vehicle, including an automobile, with a claimed value of more than $500 changed at the beginning of 2005 as a result of the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004. In general, that Act limits a donor’s deduction to the amount of the gross proceeds from the charity’s sale of the vehicle.
For vehicles valued at over $500, taxpayers are required to attach the charity's written acknowledgment to their tax return.
In the United Kingdom
Car donation schemes in the UK are slightly different to those operating in the United States and only established themselves as a valued source of income for UK charities in January 2010, led by Giveacar – a non-profit organisation. Operating as a non-profit organisation allows charities to avoid the large overheads created by profit-making car donation companies. In addition, whereas car donation in the US has been incentivised through tax breaks, in the UK there are no such tax benefits to donating your car.
Vehicle donations in America are operated in a wide variety of plans, ranging from highly organized and professional-grade not-for-profit, national, or local charities to scrap yards, haulers, tow-truck companies and salvagers who establish programs that may support a charity. According to Charity Navigator, the guidance of the rating agencies concerning car donation programs, where the charity receives a flat fee for the use of their name by a third party, versus program management by a third party,there are some questionable companies who contract to use a nonprofit’s agencies name and logo to raise funds and then just give them a flat fee unrelated to income or performance. This is frowned upon by rating agencies and the government. However, a percentage return program is viewed positively if the nonprofit receives more than 50% of the generated income. Programs that engage a third party, but with a "cost maximum cap" involved, such as with national charities like the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, performance in this area is exemplary, with 70-80% on average being returned to the nonprofit.
Benefit to charities
Many charities run donation programs. All of them accept car donations, such as Goodwill, Salvation Army and even the American Cancer Society. Many charities will use your car donation directly to transport volunteers and supplies to areas that need help. Some even have their own car lots which sell the donated cars but many have their donations processed through auto auction companies. Many processing companies also collect and sell donated cars and distribute the money to a charity the donor indicates. The processing company typically takes a percentage of the sale value of the car, but these programs allow charities without their own facilities or staff dedicated to fund raising to benefit from vehicle donation programs.
Ideally, donors should also investigate how much money from the sale of the car goes to the auction processor and how much actually benefits the charity's programs, as opposed to its administrative overhead.
- Internal Revenue Service Publication 4303, A Donor's Guide to Vehicle Donations
- IRS Warns of Questionable Deductions for Donated Vehicles[dead link]
- IRS Reminds Taxpayers About Requirement of Written Acknowledgment for Donated Cars[dead link]
- "Car Donation". CarDonors.org. Retrieved 11 May 2013.
- "Guide To Donating Your Car". Charity Navigator. Retrieved 11 May 2013.