Charitable Gift Annuities

It’s worth the time and effort to get up to speed on CGAs

Key Takeaways:

  • A CGA enables individuals or married couples to make a gift to a charity in exchange for an income stream that will last for the lifetime of the last survivor.

  • A CGA is a tax-advantaged way to give to worthy causes and retain predictable income. Most CGAs are in the form of cash or marketable securities, but there are many other variations.

  • The deduction is available in the year of the gift and can be carried forward for five additional years if you can’t utilize it currently.

A Charitable Gift Annuity (CGA) is a split-interest gift in which the donor makes a gift, but retains a right to an income stream. Most CGAs are very straightforward; individuals or married couples make a gift to a charity in exchange for an income stream that will last for the lifetime of the last survivor. Most gifts are made in cash or marketable securities and provide immediate income to the donor.

CGA basics

First, every state has regulations regarding CGAs issued by in-state nonprofits and often in the state of nonresident donors. The CGA is a contract between the charity and the donor, and that contract, much like a commercial annuity issued by an insurance company, becomes a general obligation of the charity. This means that all the assets of the charity are available to pay the annuity income to the donor. This alone has kept many smaller charities from offering gift annuities to their donors. However, there are now organizations such as the Charitable Giving Resource Center (CGRC) that provide turnkey gift annuity programs for small organizations. Assistance includes calculation, administration, financial stability and money management resources for organizations that are too small to handle all those responsibilities themselves.

There is a nonprofit association of organizations called the American Council on Gift Annuities (ACGA) that provides guidance on gift annuities and gift annuity rates. While charities may establish their own gift annuity rates, those that don’t utilize the ACGA rates will be required by their state to hire an independent actuary to perform the necessary calculations. The ACGA rates are meant to provide a remainder balance of 50 percent of the original gift to the charity at the death of the last survivor. This means that the charities have immediate access to some amount of the donated property that they can use for their charitable purposes.

For the donor, perhaps the greatest benefit of a CGA is the ability to make a gift to a favored organization. This should always be the first part of any conversation you have with your advisors.

Tax benefits

There are a number of economic and financial benefits as well. First, there is an income tax charitable deduction for the calculated benefit to charity. The deduction is based on the net present value of the future gift. The deduction is available in the year of the gift and can be carried forward for five additional years if the donor is not able to utilize it currently. In addition to the income tax deduction, there is a possible deferral of capital gains tax. Donors who choose to give appreciated property in exchange for their annuity will not realize the immediate gain on disposition that would normally be due upon sale. The capital gains tax will be stretched out over the lives of the income beneficiaries and paid as they receive income. In fact, one of the attractive benefits of the CGA is the nature of the income. Effectively, there is the possibility of three different tiers of income with each annuity payment:

  1. Ordinary income, which is the presumed interest rate applied to the gift.

  2. Capital gains tax based on the appreciation of the property over its cost at the time of the gift.

  3. Return of capital that is free of tax.

These factors can create a very attractive “after tax” income for some donors.

Further benefits come in the area of estate planning. Assets given to charity are normally out of the estate for estate tax purposes. And though there is a retained income, since that income ceases at death it essentially removes the gifted asset from the taxable estate. While most estates won’t face federal estate tax because of the current exemption being so high, it is important to remember that many states impose their own estate tax and impose it on far smaller estates.

Other applications and considerations

While we’ve covered the very basics of CGAs, there are many other things to know from the perspective of income flexibility and asset transfer. Most CGAs provide income that begins immediately upon the completion of the transfer of the asset to charity. However, it is possible to establish an annuity or series of annuities that will be deferred for a period of time. It is also possible to structure annuities that increase the payment amount over time. There are many reasons why you might consider these options. Planning for retirement is the first thing that comes to mind, but providing income to pay for a grandchild’s college tuition is also a common reason. The possibilities seem endless.

Although we have discussed gifts only of cash and marketable securities because they are the most common assets used, almost any other asset can be utilized. With only 10 percent of American wealth held in liquid assets, freeing up illiquid resources might make the best approach. CGAs can be created with gifts of artwork, real estate, cash-value insurance policies, distributions from qualified plans such as IRAs, closely held stock and almost any other asset you can think of. The rules that govern each of these assets vary, and advisors must become familiar with them in order to provide the most appropriate recommendations to their clients.


While CGAs can be remarkably simple on the surface, they encompass many disciplines and have many variations. Contact me any time to see how this powerful planning tool-and its many nuances--can help you better serve your charitable desires, as well as your estate and income planning needs.

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail


The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc.  The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles.  Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.