Find the Deduction is a game with constantly shifting rules. Each year Congress changes something in the tax law, the Internal Revenue Service issues opinions, and tax courts make their rulings. If you like a challenge, learning this year's deduction options is like a game of chess. If not, it's a tedious round of hide-and-seek. But either way, it's worth knowing the rules.
In Part 1 of this multi-part series, we look at charitable donations, which are detailed in IRS Publication 526, "Charitable Contributions."
• Do pay attention to tightened donation regulations. The IRS now requires receipts for all deductible donations. All charitable deductions, no matter how small, must be substantiated either by a canceled check; bank record containing the charity name, donation amount, and date; or detailed receipt from the charity. Otherwise the contribution is not deductible.
• Don't itemize donations of furniture, clothing, and other household goods that weren't in at least good condition when you gave them. While the IRS rule aims to weed out junk donations, taxpayers may claim a deduction of more than $500 for any single item in any condition as long as a qualified appraisal is included with their return.
A version of this article appeared in Consumer Reports Money Adviser.