Donating To Charitable Organizations

The holidays and year-end tend to be the time where people make donations to charitable organizations. One of the reasons for this is to take advantage of the tax benefits associated with making donations to legitimately registered 501(c)(3) charitable organizations by December 31st of the current tax year. Qualified donations may be taken as an itemized tax deduction on your tax returns, in accordance with IRS guidelines, for the applicable tax year. Tip: Consult with a certified tax professional for your individual tax situation.

Of course, another reason (and quite an important reason) to make donations is to help those less fortunate and those in need. This may include donating to an organization like the American Red Cross which provides disaster relief and vital services in times of need, the Make-A-Wish Foundation which helps to provide/fulfill wishes of children suffering from life-threatening medical conditions, educational institutions (like your Alma Mater) to help provide scholarships to future students and/or fund crucial programs and many other legitimate charitable organizations working for and supporting important causes.

However, before donating, be sure to do your due diligence especially when donating to charitable organizations for which you are unfamiliar or less familiar with. First, learn more about the charitable organization and what exactly they do. Make sure this organization is one you can associate and connect with. There are many legitimate charitable organizations out there; unfortunately, it’s not possible to donate to every single one so choose those charitable organizations that you have a strong bond with and whose cause/mission you deeply support.

Furthermore, you want to find out how the donations are spent and allocated. If the charitable organization states the donations are used for disaster relief, ask how much of it goes towards actual disaster relief vs administrative and other incidental costs. Also, ask what specific disaster relief programs are the funds used for, how and where exactly are those funds used. Think of this process of due diligence like a major investment (ex: buying a car or a home) and ask for specific, detailed information. If the charitable organization truly wants and needs your help and your donation, they will be forthcoming with the information and/or provide a means of getting you that information. You should also check to see if the charitable organization is registered as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. You can obtain this information through the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Once you’ve performed your due diligence and have determined that this is an organization that you want to donate to, donate what you can and not necessarily what the organization is asking for. An organization may ask for $100 but if you can only donate $25 then that’s what you donate. Donate within your means. A donation is not supposed to create an undue burden or hardship on yourself. If you cannot donate, make it clear right away that you simply cannot donate to the organization. While you may feel pressured to donate, this is a voluntary choice and you should not feel otherwise. A charitable organization working to support those in need should understand that if you cannot donate, you should not be forced or pressured to do so.

With some donations, you can specify where or what the donations should go towards (ex: where it’s needed most vs. a specific program) so feel free to specify how your donation should be spent. Throughout the year, some organizations may hold campaigns where there may be a matching gift program dollar for dollar. These are times where donating may have a greater impact (ex: if you donate $100 on a matching gift program, your donation will be doubled) so you don’t need to wait until the holidays or year-end to donate. Donate when you can and within your means. Also, donate in a manner that makes you feel most comfortable. Most charitable organizations take donations by phone, online, by mail and even in person so donate your way!

Once you make your donation, be sure to keep a record and retain the receipt provided by the charitable organization if you plan on taking the tax deduction. Your tax professional will need it when preparing your tax returns or if you prepare your own returns, you’ll need it for reference. This receipt should be kept with a copy of your tax return and other vital documents related to the tax return should you need to provide it to the IRS or a tax professional later.

Last Minute Gift Ideas

We’re coming down to the wire with Christmas only a week away. Whether you’re still shopping for Christmas gifts for someone else or perhaps you just want to treat yourself to something nice, here are a few suggestions to consider.

Portable Battery Charger

Our smartphones have become such an important part of our every day lives. They go practically everywhere with us and we utilize them for just about everything from phone calls to messaging to GPS to streaming video to paying bills. At one point or another, we’ve drained our smartphones down to near empty levels and probably tried desperately to borrow someone’s wall charger and find an open electrical outlet to give our devices a boost of life. With a portable battery charger (available in a variety of capacities), you can easily carry extra battery power on the go. These chargers are small enough to keep in a purse, backpack or even your pocket. Portable battery chargers are great to charge your smartphones while you are in transit or simply at a location where a wall outlet is not easily accessible. Some chargers may be used to charge your portable music players and tablets as well. They make for a perfect gift for the holidays.

Streaming Media Players

We love entertainment! Music, video, apps . . . whatever your preference, we love good entertainment and how better to enjoy that entertainment than through a variety of streaming media players currently available. Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Roku are just a few of the streaming media players out there. Each streaming media player has its benefits so you’ll want to do a bit of research to see which device best suits your needs or the needs of your gift recipient; but regardless of which device you get, it should make for quite a gift on Christmas Day.

Rechargeable Portable Wireless/Bluetooth Speaker

While we often listen to audio using our headphones or earphones on our devices (smartphones, portable music players, laptops), there may be occasions where we need to use the built-in speakers. However, sometimes the overall quality of those speakers just aren’t up to par with the audio quality we would expect or desire. There are plenty of rechargeable portable wireless/bluetooth speakers available that you can easily find a great one to use to enhance the quality of the sound coming from your devices.

JBL, Beats, Amazon and many other manufacturers have rechargeable portable speakers that truly reproduce audio & sound the way it was meant to be heard. It makes for quite a holiday gift.

Tip: While many devices support wireless/bluetooth connectivity, consider getting one that also includes a 3.5mm audio jack to support legacy devices.

Gift Cards

If you’re really in a bind, a gift card can make a great gift as well. However, don’t just get any gift card. Some gift cards have expiration dates or charge fees after a certain period of time. Look for gift cards that have no expiration dates and do not charge any fees that reduce the value of the gift card over time (ex: dormancy fees). Also, give a gift card that someone can actually use and not one that the gift recipient will have to try desperately to use.

Amazon.com gift cards are great for this purpose and there’s a pretty good chance the gift recipient will find something to use that gift card for. Amazon has a huge selection of products to choose from including digital music & video. There should be something for practically everyone.

For Apple users, an Apple Store or Apple iTunes gift card makes for a great gift. Keep in mind that Apple Store and Apple iTunes gift cards are not interchangeable. Apple Store gift cards can only be used towards the purchase of Macs, iPhones, iPads, iPods, Apple Watch, Apple TV, peripherals and accessories in Apple’s retail stores or online store. Apple iTunes gift cards can only be used for purchases in the Apple iTunes and App store.

Tech Tip: Malwarebytes & CCleaner

Two really good software utilities to have on your computer are Malwarebytes (http://www.malwarebytes.org) and CCleaner (http://www.piriform.com). Both software applications are available for Windows and Mac and come in free and paid versions.

Malwarebytes is a good utility to detect and remove malware on your computer especially malware that is not typically detected by traditional antivirus software. Malwarebytes can help to compliment and supplement your antivirus software. While many software manufacturers do offer a variety of comprehensive utilities, these packages may be difficult to manage & configure and be significantly more expensive. Malwarebytes is fairly simple to use, does not require significant configuration and is effective. While the free version does not offer real-time scanning protection, it is still quite effective when run periodically as part of a preventive maintenance routine.

CCleaner by Piriform is a good utility to help keep your computer clean and free up space consumed by temporary files. Web browsers tend to keep cached temporary files for a significant period of time if you do not custom configure the settings to automatically delete the cache, temporary files and browsing history associated with those browsers or manually purge those files periodically. Application installations may store temporary files in a variety of temp folders on your computer which can consume a substantial amount of storage space and web downloads can also do the same. CCleaner will search designated temporary folders and locations and provide a list of files which can be purged. Before purging the files, you will have an opportunity to review those files before choosing to remove those files. CCleaner can also help purge registry files (Windows) that are no longer required by the OS, provides an optimization tool to optimize your hard disk (Windows, non-SSDs) and offers up a selection of other useful maintenance tools. CCleaner is another useful tool to keep and use as part of your preventive maintenance routine.

Both Malwarebytes and CCleaner receive periodic software updates so make sure the notifications are enabled and/or you periodically check for the latest software updates.

If you are not comfortable or familiar with performing maintenance tasks or using these software utilities on your computer, consult with an experienced IT professional.

Tech Tip: Save Cellular Data, Turn Off Wi-Fi Assist

Wi-Fi Assist is a nice feature added to iOS 9 and iOS 10. In the event of a poor or weak wireless connection, Wi-Fi Assist, when enabled, automatically switches over to and utilizes your cellular data in order to maintain a stable, continuous Internet connection. Instead of having a webpage load partially due to a weak wireless connection, Wi-Fi Assist utilizes your cellular data to keep the connection smooth and allow the webpage to continue to load.

While Wi-Fi Assist certainly seems nice and generally beneficial, having Wi-Fi Assist enabled can also lead to an increase in utilization of cellular data. For users with small or moderate data plans, this potentially can result in unexpected monthly data overages and hefty data overage charges on your monthly bills. Some carriers charge a minimum of $10 to $15 per additional GB of data.

Wi-Fi Assist is enabled in iOS by default. As such, to disable Wi-Fi Assist, go into “Settings” then “Cellular”. Scroll all the way down the page to “Wi-Fi Assist” and toggle the on/off button to the off position. Wi-Fi Assist is now disabled!

While you may lose the benefit of having a stable, continuous Internet connection in the event of a poor or weak wireless signal, you can sleep a bit better knowing Wi-Fi Assist is not contributing towards your monthly data overages.