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Tax deductions: What is your clothing donation valued at?

Published 3/14/08 (Modified 6/17/11)
By MoneyBlueBook

When I was little I always wondered why my parents bothered to rummage through our closets, cabinets, shoe racks, and sock drawers for assorted clothing every few years. I would see my mom folding and stacking old and outdated clothes that I never wore anymore into black garbage bags and deliver them to the Salvation Army or Goodwill. It wasn't until I started working and earning income that I finally realized why it made sense to take the time to compile old apparel and send them to local charities. Other than the usual altruistic factors, the biggest reason is to take full advantage of the IRS itemized charitable tax deduction for qualified clothing donations.

Not that we all shouldn't be donating to charities out of the kindness of our hearts, but Uncle Sam has provided us an attractive incentive in the form of tax breaks for charitable contributions. Most people are keenly aware that they get a tax deductible write off when they tithe or donate money to a charitable organization like their local church. But some seem to forget that the deduction also applies to noncash donations like clothing, shoes, and furniture, so long as they are in reasonably good condition. Of course, like with all good perks there are ground rules in place to prevent abusive taxpayers from going crazy and taking unfair liberty with the charitable deduction. Without these regulations, you would probably have people assigning all sorts of outrageous valuations on the items they donate ($25 for a used T-shirt complete with holes, for example).

The Charitable Tax Deduction Is Useful Only If You Itemize

The calculation of one's annual tax return usually entails adding up all the income and gains for the year, and then deducting expenses and losses to come up with the final taxable income balance. The IRS provides two primary deduction methods - the simpler standard deduction, which is a flat set amount, and the itemized method, which requires the taxpayer to manually report each individual deduction that he or she qualifies for. The charitable deduction is one of many that falls in the itemized category. The taxpayer has to choose whether to take the standard deduction or to itemize. However, until the total sum of all itemized deductions exceed the standard, it doesn't make sense to itemize. Unless you already carry a hefty home mortgage with itemizable mortgage interest, it probably makes more sense to itemize every other year, and bulk up your donations in those years. When you itemize, charitable contributions should be a key part of your tax reduction plan.

Five Steps To Donating Your Clothes And Getting That Tax Deduction, Without Being Audited

When donating clothes for the tax deduction, the worst thing you can do is to drastically overestimate the donated clothing value and trigger an alarm bell. Triggering a red flag will send the IRS man running to your home to request receipts and proof of your donation. Because charitable donation is one of those tax items frequently abused by taxpayers, the IRS closely scrutinizes such claims. Thus you want to make sure you go by the book:

1) Gather All Your Unwanted Clothes and Organize Them - Most usable articles of clothing, including shirts, jackets, coats, shoes, dresses, socks, neckties, suits, and even underwear may be donated to local thrift shops and charitable institutions. For underwear and socks however, it's important to be aware that the IRS now requires all articles of donated used clothing to be in good used condition or better. It's probably a better idea to avoid worn socks and underwear. While it's true what they say - that beggars can't be choosers, we should still try to respect the dignity of those individuals receiving them. If you want to donate those particular items, I suggest buying a new cheap pair for donation.

2) Make A Detailed Record Of Your Donated Items - While it is likely no questions of your donation will ever arise, it is still important to keep a detailed list of your donation in case questions arise or you get audited on the matter. Try to keep a spreadsheet chart or list of all articles donated, recording information such as the number of clothing articles, the estimated dates of purchase, condition at the time of donation, the assessed fair market value of each item, and perhaps even substantiation of how you calculated and arrived at the particular valuation. Some people also recommend taking digital photographs of each item. I recommend taking photos, especially for those items whose valuation may be a bit high and out of the norm.

3) Assign An Appropriate Fair Market Value For Each Clothing Item - The donation valuation process is generally subjective and you are responsible for assigning the proper value for your charitable donations. There is no exact IRS formula or chart as the agency relies on subjective approximations. However, if you wish to donate more than a total of $500 worth of clothing or other goods to charities, you must complete Section A of Form 8283 Non Cash Charitable Contributions, and include it with your federal tax return. A formal donation appraisal by a qualified appraiser is not needed unless you are making a contribution of non-cash property worth more than $5,000. A qualified appraiser is someone authorized to complete Part III, Declaration of Appraiser, of Section B, which must also be included with the tax return in that event.

The IRS permits taxpayers to only deduct the fair market value of the donated clothing and household good. Fair market value is the reasonable price that an ordinary buyer would pay for the item in a regular market situation such as at a flea market, on eBay, or at a thrift shop. Fair market value is not the original purchase cost but the second hand used price that could be obtained in an otherwise efficient market.

There are various used clothing charts and valuation tables on the internet to help determine worth. Both The Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries provide assorted valuation guides on their web sites, which may be used as templates for approximating fair market value. You should keep in mind that the donated value is frequently much less than the original purchase price. If you want additional clarification, please take at look at the official IRS publications on the subject:

  • Publication 561, Determining the Value of Donated Property - Useful if you want to examine a few valuation scenarios.
  • Publication 526, Charitable Contributions - Addresses the entire subject of charitable donations and provides a useful background.

4) Deliver Your Donated Clothing To The Charity - Most people donate clothing and other household products through charitable organizations such as their local church, or through Goodwill and the Salvation Army. I recommend visiting their websites to locate one of their many thrift shop locations nationwide where you can bring your bags of donated clothing to. There is no need to make a reservation or appointment. Just deliver your bags of clothing and your categorized list of items. Be sure you have properly compiled your list of donation items before bringing the items to the site. Don't expect the charity to sort the items and do the work for you on the spot.

Usually, the way it works is you drop off your items at the donation site and a staff member provides you with a receipt upon request. Although you are not obligated to obtain a written receipt from the charity if the total value of the donated clothing is under $250, you should still always request one for record keeping purposes. Sometimes, but not always, they'll make a note on the receipt for you about exactly what was dropped off, but the description is usually very general - such as "3 bags of clothing". Other times, they will simply hand you a blank receipt for you to fill out.

Some charitable thrift shop centers allow you to mail your clothing donations in, or even provide large clothing donation boxes where you can leave your clothes. Just be sure to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope so the center can send you a receipt later. Shipping costs are tax deductible as well.

5) Claim the Value Of Your Clothing Donation As A Charitable Deduction On Your Tax Return - Since you went through all the trouble of donating your used clothing, be sure to take the appropriate deduction on your tax return when you file. To claim the charitable tax deduction, you will need to report the value of your donated clothes on Schedule A of Form 1040 as an itemized deduction. The total value of your charitable deductions cannot be more than 50 percent of your adjusted gross income in any single year. However, donations exceeding the 50 percent limit can be carried forward to future years.

As with most things in life, I recommend that you plan ahead before making large clothing donations. If you don't usually carry significant itemizable expenses such as home mortgage interest and taxes, you should save up your donations until you have a sizable amount before making the contribution. While charitable giving is always a worthy cause, it doesn't mean you shouldn't try to fully maximize the tax advantages the government provides.

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57 Responses to “Tax Deductions | Clothing Donation Value | Money Blue Book” 

  1. Christy says:

    I have a couple of questions, I have a woodstove that I was going to take to Goodwill, however, a friend at work really needs one and I was wondering if I give it to her for free if I can claim it as a deduction? Also, my husband and I sold a truck to this kid and he was supposed to pay us every two weeks and he hasn't and somehow or another he was able to get the title in his name and has since sold it. We have not seen a dime, we do have a promissary note, however going to court will be a pain. Can we just have him sign that it was given to him in order for us to get a tax deduction for the truck? We are selling it for $3,500....and we just want to get our money back somehow because I doubt he will pay us.

  2. kotomi says:

    I have many items/clothing aren't like brand name or anything but they are very pretty dresses and tops. I just don't fit in them. They are about 10-16$ worth each. How do I list them?

    1. Black Chiffon dress
    2. Purple silk dress

  3. Karin says:

    This year I had to use a CPA to handle my tax return. He told me that I could deduct $200 PER BAG of clothing donated to Goodwill. After so many years of doing this, I never knew I could deduct so much.

  4. Dixie says:

    Karin, As retired IRS employee & current IRS Enrolled Agent, there is no such thing as X dollars per bag. You should keep a list of items for your records. I know it is common practice among a few tax preparers to do this to pad your deductions. However, for certain, IRS will request a reasonable detailed description of the items if you are audited.

    It seems there are quite a few confused people replying concerning the $250 & $500 limits which require forms. These limits are for SINGLE ITEMS (a bag of clothes would be multiple items), such as a fur coat or jewel ring. Generally, the total limit for charitable deductions is limited to %50 of your adjusted gross income, and may be limited to 30% or 20% of your adjusted gross income, depending on the type of property you give and the type of organization you give it to. Your deductions are also limited if your income is over $166,800. If you are over the limit, you are allowed to carry the difference over to you next year's return. I sincerely hope this clarifies these issues.

  5. ERIC says:

    I want to donate some good used clothes to a church. What do I need to do and do they suppose to give me a receipt? I do not know to much about this, so can someone show me what I need to do.

  6. hernanip says:

    Hi All,
    Last November 2009, me and my wife did a garage sale of our stuff in my cousins house. We have called the Salvation Army to pick up some stuff that are not sold. After a few days, the Salvation Army truck went to my cousin house to pick up the stuff. Unfortunately, me and my wife are not there on that day. I am not really sure on what happened, the Salvation Army guy placed my cousin name in the receipt instead of my name. For the Income Tax filing, can i just erase my cousin name in the receipt and placed my name? Will IRS noticed that and question the erasures? Please help.

  7. Karen says:

    Sandie, I am having the same exact problem. I am using TurboTax.

  8. John says:

    I dropped loads of clothing off at a Goodwill drop box last year and never thought about claiming any type of tax deduction from it. I have no receipt or anything, should I just forget about it and just start itemizing everything from now on or is there anything I can do now to claim some deductions?

  9. Jan Roberg says:

    Hey, now that it's garage sale season, remember--whatever you don't sell, you're probably going to give to charity. Take a few minutes to write down what you're donating now while it's fresh in your mind. And don't forget to get a receipt.

  10. dragons4 says:

    Instead of Goodwill or Salvation Army, you can donate to the Vietnam Veterans' of America.

    They take clothing, shoes, household items, small appliances, tools, small furniture.

    In my area, you call to schedule a pick-up and they come to your house. I bag the items in bags (I happen to have clear bin liners) and label them for VVA - I also sort similar items and bag and label (ie women's clothing, men's clothing, household items). I have a protected area to leave the bags in case of inclement weather.

    If you request a receipt for charitable donation, they will leave one

    No affiliation - I used to save stuff up and take it to a local Salvation Army... but they closed. The VVA is so convient - call and they come get it!!

  11. Holler says:

    Is it or is it not much more advantageous from a deduction standpoint to donate to a religious organization due to the percentage allowed for the deduction? A religious deduction is 100%.

  12. Common Cents says:

    Common Sense must be used. If you go to the charity and shop for clothes, you will understand the value of your donation. Underwear, 50 cents, pants $1.00, suits $10,00, dress $5-$10. Prom gowns $30.00 if valued over $150.00.
    You at best could estimate the value of your donation at 10%-25% of its value when new.
    You must itemize the items on the standard IRS form" Charitable Contributions" if you go over the maximun amount allowed for the reporting year as noted in the IRS publication for 2011..12..13...14.

    If you declare more then 10% of your adjusted income, you will be audited. So my friendssss, if you are donating hundreds of dollars in "clothes" you better itemize its value and you better record it.
    Realize, those precious shoes you paid 60 bucks for ,,,,,are now worth at most $6.00.
    You have the responsibility to record in writing your charitable contributions as noted each and every year, and to fill out the standard IRS reporting form each year. For 2010, you were allowed $250.00 for church and charity. Anything over that you must itemize.....

  13. Lynn says:

    Your income has to be rather high to even be able to use this deduction however.

  14. Maria L says:

    I would like to make a huge donation of clothing and other various items to your foundation. However, i would like to know how to go about
    1) getting picked up from our home
    2) how do we get a tax write off slip to claim at tax time.

    What items do you NOT take?
    I would appreciate if you could let me know. Thank you for your time.

  15. Karen says:

    I donate on a regular basis. I just went to both the Goodwill site and the Salvation Army website for their valuations. I like Goodwills better. its easier to read and is printable. (and where I have my receipts from). I moved and made lots of trips. Was it worth it? Absolutly! I love knowing what I am using can be used by another person. Oh and the valuation added up to a tune of 1,582 dollars. Depending on the tax bracket thats over $400 tax savings.
    I took the higher value on most things. Nine dollars for a $150 pair of shoes, for example, but middle values for tees and jeans those dont tend to be expensive or very fashionable.
    I have never taken photos of things. How about photographing the list on the pile of clothes, or the bags as you are dropping them off. The time stamp on the photo does the rest.
    Give your things while they are good condition so they will sell. ( I shop there too, even though thats not deductible).
    Your income does not have to be that high. If your expenses are higher than the standard deduction it serves you to itemize. Major medical expenses can easily put you over.

  16. Jon says:

    I am about to donate 350 brand new shirts with the MSRP tags still on to Children's Hospital.

    I am a student (don't pay tuition because of scholarship) and only work part-time and rent an apartment. When I file my taxes every year, I do not have to pay any expenses or tax. I receive money back from the government.

    Should I still try and deduct these clothings and how will that work?
    I paid only $1500 for these clothings (still have tags on) and it has an MSRP worth over $100,000.

  17. Indrek says:

    I would like to get donations, they need clothes, no money to buy: (
    If anyone has a chance to give away used clothing, please contact me by e-mail!
    I am very thank you

  18. Lisa Kay says:

    Thank you to Jan Roberg for taking the time to provide us with your expert advice. The $5,450 for itemized deductions information was what I needed to spare me the time and effort of proceeding with the detailed list. Your time and effort to do so is greatly appreciated. : )

  19. Antonio J. Larranaga Jr. MD says:

    I am a Physician practicing in the State of Florida. for several years. Now I practice Psychiatry Adolescent, Adult and Geriatric-Neuropsychiatry. I work as a Independent Contractor. my age is 58 years old and very active. working For Legacy Health Care in there #3 Out-Patient Offices Located in Vero Beach, Port St. Lucie, Okeechobee. We remain very busy and active one to one evaluating patients, tx. with medications. requesting EKG/ Psychological evaluations. Blood work . Medical/ neurological evaluations for my clients . doing consultations for my colleges patients referals . My frustration is: Could you clarify for me " IRS Rules on Work Clothing to be deductible.we are demanded by society by the medical insurances , by the Employer , The American Medical Association , American Psychiatric and Neurology Association ,and others in one words or others. again as a doctor we do not want to use this clothing " Uniforms if you will " off work . I would very much appreciate if in any way you could direct me how I can deduct some of this difficult deductions that the IRS make very unclear conflictual regulations to avoid any frodulental deductions with physicians working in different branches of medicines. AS now IRS changing my retirement age to 67 years old.

  20. Kyle W. says:

    Good information on donation of clothing, etc. It is always difficult to estimate the clothing and items donated. And certainly don't want to overestimate and draw a red flag for an audit. Thanks for sharing this information.

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