The Power of Giving the “Right” Assets to Charity, Part 1

You can donate appreciated marketable securities to your favorite causes in lieu of cash —don’t miss out on the tax benefits you deserve.

Key Takeaways:

  • Cash may be the worst asset you can give charitably.

  • Charitable gifts of appreciated marketable securities can provide dramatically enhanced tax benefits.

  • Real estate and privately owned businesses may offer the greatest overall charitable tax benefits.


Charitable gifting of non-cash assets can be especially advantageous in high-income-tax states such as New York, Vermont, New Jersey, Oregon and California.

What is the single biggest mistake that generous and affluent people make when it comes to planning their charitable giving? Giving exclusively in the form of cash.

When it comes to charitable giving, most people think about writing a check or dropping some cash in the Salvation Army’s red kettle at Christmas. This mindset can be unfortunate—and costly. Non-cash assets can be a much better way to give.

First, there are generally enhanced tax benefits to giving certain non-cash assets such as marketable securities, real estate and privately owned business interests, thus enabling you to pay less in taxes and/or give more to your favorite charities and causes.

Second, non-cash assets are where the majority of your wealth probably resides. According to IRS statistics, of all the giving that is done in the United States each year—about $380 billion—80 percent of all giving in the U.S. is simply made in the form of cash. That means only 20 percent of gifts are made in the form of non-cash assets, much of which include tangible personal property such as clothing, appliances, books, etc. that are gifted to organizations such as the local Goodwill.

That’s a huge lost opportunity.

However, if we look at the cumulative composition of wealth owned by families, cash represents less than 10 percent. Therefore, much of the wealth comprising the other 90 percent provides excellent opportunities for charitable giving, but too often is never considered.

Why cash is not king

As mentioned earlier, cash is often the least advantageous asset to give charitably. True, you generally receive a charitable income tax deduction, which may significantly reduce your tax liability. But, certain types of appreciated non-cash assets—such as marketable securities, real estate and privately owned business interests—may provide double tax benefits by securing the same or similar charitable income tax deductions, and helping you avoid capital gains tax that would otherwise be triggered upon the sale of such assets.

A charitable gift of cash is eligible for a charitable income tax deduction against ordinary income tax rates up to 60 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI). This can be a very significant benefit and incentive for you to give charitably. For example, you can save up to 37 percent on cash contributions to charities for federal tax purposes and may save additional taxes at the state level. In high-income-tax states, with rates as high as 13.3 percent (California), the highest-income taxpayers may be paying almost 50 percent of their income in combined federal and state taxes. In such situations, you may essentially be receiving a matching dollar-for-dollar contribution from the federal and state governments for your charitable contributions. For every dollar you give, you save as much as 50 cents in taxes.

Clearly, our federal and many state tax codes provide generous incentives and benefits to taxpayers who are generous.

However, even greater tax benefits can be secured by giving certain appreciated assets instead of cash. Consider a taxpayer in the highest federal income tax bracket (37 percent) in a state with a 5 percent income tax rate—a 42 percent total tax rate. He’s considering making a $250,000 charitable gift in support of a charity that is building a hospital in Africa. If he simply writes a check for $250,000, he’ll save $105,000 in taxes.

The power of giving marketable securities to charity

Now, instead of writing a check, suppose he selected some of his most highly appreciated stocks from a marketable securities portfolio, gave the stock to charity, and then took the cash he otherwise would have given to charity and repurchased the same stocks (or different investments if desired). If the stocks selected were originally purchased for $100,000, upon sale he would recognize $150,000 in capital gains. Taxes owed upon sale would include a federal capital gains tax of 20 percent, a state income tax of 5 percent and the Obamacare tax on net investment income of 3.8 percent for a total tax rate of 28.8 percent. On $150,000 of gain, this amounts to a tax liability of $43,200.

However, by giving the stock to charity and allowing the charity to sell the stock, the $43,200 of taxes otherwise due upon the sale would be completely avoided. He would receive the same charitable income tax deduction of $105,000 as he would have by giving cash.

So, a $250,000 cash gift would have cost him $145,000 due to the tax savings from the charitable income tax deduction, while a $250,000 gift of appreciated marketable securities would cost him only $101,800. He would save $43,200 more in taxes by simply giving stock instead of cash. The charity ends up with the exact same amount of funding, though some of you may decide to give some (or all) of this additional tax savings to charity as well—for which you will receive an additional charitable deduction. It’s important to keep in mind that gifts of non-cash assets to public charities are deductible up to 30 percent of the giver’s AGI, compared to cash, which is deductible up to 60 percent of AGI (50 percent if a giver makes a combination of both cash and non-cash assets). Of course, gifts exceeding these thresholds may be carried forward to future tax years for up to five additional years.


Charitable giving in general, and gifts of non-cash assets in particular, can help you mitigate your tax burden significantly while doing more to support the causes you believe in. In Part 2, we’ll explore the value of giving real estate and privately owned businesses.

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


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