Charitable Giving: Stock or Cash?

October 9, 2015 | by Justin Capetola


As we approach the end of the year, many investors consider making charitable gifts to their favorite charities.  Often, these gifts are made via cash or check. Investors may receive more tax benefits for their gifts by donating long-term appreciated stock instead.

Comparing the Tax Benefits

When you gift cash or stocks, you may potentially reduce your current income tax liability. Of course, to get this benefit, you have to itemize your deductions on your federal income tax return.  The amount you actually save depends on your tax bracket. As an example, in a 35% marginal tax bracket, a $10,000 gift to charity could save you $3,500 in taxes and in a 15% marginal tax bracket, the same gift could save you $1,500 in taxes.  However, when you gift long-term appreciated stock to charity, you get an additional tax benefit: you’ll avoid paying tax on the “built-in” capital gain of the investment.

Examples of Giving Stock vs. Cash

Let’s assume an investor gives $10,000 to a charity, and his marginal tax bracket is 33%.

Example 1 assumes the gift is $10,000 cash.
Example 2 assumes the gift is long-term appreciated stock with a cost basis of $2,000 and a fair market value of $10,000 on the date of the transfer.

  Income Tax Saved Capital Gain Tax Avoided Medicare Tax on Investment Income Avoided
Example 1 $10,000 x 33% =$3,300 N/A N/A
Example 2 $10,000 x 33% =$3,300 $8,000 x 15% =$1,200 $8,000 x 3.8% =$304

Now let’s assume the same gift is made by an individual in a marginal 39.6% tax bracket:

  Income Tax Saved Capital Gain Tax Avoided Medicare Tax on Investment Income Avoided
Example 1 $10,000 x 39.6% =$3,960 N/A N/A
Example 2 $10,000 x 39.6% =$3,960 $8,000 x 20% =$1,600 $8,000 x 3.8% =$304

These examples show that donating long-term appreciated stock rather than cash potentially provides an additional tax benefit to the donor.  This is only a hypothetical example. Actual tax benefits will vary depending on the details of your overall income tax situation, the type of property donated, and the type of organization that receives your gift.