Taxpayers found out the hard way that the documentation rules imposed by the IRS better be followed exactly and to the letter. In Durden, TC Memo, 2012-140, taxpayers claimed a $22,517 charitable contribution for 2007. The IRS disallowed this deduction and the United States Tax Court agreed.
The taxpayers had canceled checks and a letter dated January 10, 2008 from the church confirming this contribution. Seems like that would be enough. Wrong!
The IRS did not accept the church’s acknowledgement because it lacked certain language as required under IRS rules. For a charitable contribution deduction, Section 170(f)(8) of the Internal Revenue Code requires that a monetary contribution of $250 or more must be substantiated by:
- A contemporaneous written acknowledgment,
- That indicates the amount paid by the taxpayer, and
- Whether the organization provided any goods and services in consideration (or in exchange) for the contribution, and if so, a good faith estimate of the value of such goods and services.
The problem for the taxpayers was that the church failed to include part 3 in their January 10, 2008 letter to the taxpayers. They then went back to the church and got a second letter dated January 21, 2009 that revised the first letter by containing the required language under part 3 of this test.
But now the problem was that the revised letter was too late so it could not be considered contemporaneous by the IRS. To be contemporaneous under Section 170(f)(8)(C) of the Internal Revenue Code it must be obtained by the due date of the tax return (here April 15, 2008) plus any extensions or, if earlier, the date the taxpayer files the return. So now the taxpayers flunked part 1 of the test!
You might think that this is pretty harsh since the taxpayer’s really came close here. So did the taxpayers. The taxpayers argued that since they substantially complied they should still get the deduction. The substantial compliance test has been successfully argued where a taxpayer can show that despite strict compliance they have met the essential statutory purpose of such requirement. The court pointed out that the essential statutory purpose of the acknowledgement rules are two-fold:
- Assist taxpayers in determining their deduction, and
- To aid the IRS in processing returns.
The court determined that without a statement from the church that no goods and services were provided, neither of these two essential statutory purposes can be met.
This is a pretty harsh result for the taxpayers, especially since it was clearly the church that failed to provide the requisite language. But the object lessons here are clear.
First, when dealing with charitable contributions you better make sure this language is present, especially in cases where large gifts are involved.
Second, when it comes to taxes attention to details is essential.
Third and finally, complying with the various federal, state and local income taxes is complicated. Having an attention-to-detail minded tax attorney, or tax accountant is greatly recommended and probably essential. With the loss of this large charitable deduction and the cost to bring this matter before the United States Tax Court, the Durdens definitely found this out the hard way.