Bank forgiveness of phantom debt could create tax problems for former debtors
Tax Carnival #107: TaxtoberFest 2012

Religious groups lead the charitable donation category

Despite all his wealth, Mitt Romney has one thing in common with a lot of other Americans who make much, much less money than he does.

They all donate to religious groups.

In 2011, American contributed more than $298 billion to charitable organizations. This was a four percent increase over the amount donated in 2010, according to Giving USA 2012, the latest annual report on philanthropy by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis.

32 percent of donors in 2011 gave to a religious charityAlmost a third of those donations, or almost $96 billion, went to religious organizations. Once again, this sector got most of the year's charitable gifts, with educational organizations coming in second thanks to almost $39 billion in gifts.

That 32 percent of faith-based charitable giving is this week's By the Numbers figure.

The Republican presidential candidate and his wife donated just more than $4 million to charity in 2011, or nearly 30 percent of their $13.7 million 2011 adjusted gross income.

And around a quarter of Mitt and Ann Romneys' charitable donations, or just more than $1 million, went to their Mormon faith, the Church of Latter-Day Saints.

Then Mitt went and differentiated himself from a lot of his fellow donors.

He and the missus decided to claim a deduction for just $2.25 million of their charitable contributions.

By forgoing some -- OK, $1.75 million -- of his 2011 charitable tax deductions, Romney was able to keep his effective tax rate at a politically more palatable, at least in the campaign's estimate, 14.1 percent.

Other contribution tax numbers: The Internal Revenue Service doesn't have any real way of knowing how many donations aren't claimed by taxpayers who itemize their expenses on Schedule A.

All the tax agency can track is what's reported on 1040s and the accompanying schedules and forms.

For the 2010 tax year, the most recent year for which the IRS has enough preliminary data to dissect, charitable deductions were claimed on more than 38 million returns.

The total deduction amount: $158.2 billion.

For its Statistics of Income bulletin analyses, the IRS breaks out returns based on income. Top earners are those whose returns show adjusted gross income (AGI) of $250,000 or more.

So the highest income category ranges from Joe Moneybags and his AGI of $251,000 to Mitt and Ann Romney with their $13.7 million in 2011 to Bill and Melinda Gates and their Forbes' richest Americans estimation of $66 billion.

Almost 2.5 million of these very wealth taxpayers claimed slightly more than $49 billion in deductions for charitable gifts in 2010.

The hubby and I are nowhere near the top AGI group in the IRS report, but we, like Mitt and Ann, donate every year to nonprofits. Our gifts usually go to environmental and educational organzations approved by the IRS.

And we always claim our donations.

If you give to your favorite charity and plan to itemize, be sure to check out this week's Weekly Tax Tip on how to ensure that you get the full tax value of your charitable gift on your next return.

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