Economics Department


Date of this Version



CBO Report, May 2011, Congressional Budget Office, Washington D.C.


Under current law, taxpayers who itemize deductions may deduct the amount they donate to charities from their adjusted gross income (AGI) when determining how much they owe in federal income taxes. That deduction gives people who itemize an incentive to contribute to charities. Like other forms of preferential tax treatment, the deduction also costs the federal government revenues that it might otherwise collect. At current levels of charitable giving, the cost of that deduction— measured as the additional revenues that could be collected if the deduction was eliminated—will total about $230 billion between 2010 and 2014, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT).

Numerous proposals have been made in recent years to alter the income tax treatment of charitable giving by individual donors. Some proposals aim to reduce the cost to the government by imposing a floor (or minimum level) that a person’s charitable giving would have to exceed to qualify for preferential tax treatment. Other proposals would extend the current charitable deduction to taxpayers who do not itemize deductions or would replace the current deduction with a nonrefundable tax credit available to all taxpayers who make charitable contributions.

For this analysis, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) examined how much taxpayers in various income groups donate to charities and what types of organizations receive those donations. CBO also investigated how changing the structure of tax incentives for giving would affect the tax subsidy (the cost in forgone revenues to the federal government), the overall level of charitable giving, and the extent to which different income groups benefit from the tax preference.

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