Household Items and clothing must be in good used condition or better in order for you to get a deduction. However, if you donate a single item worth over $500 you can claim a deduction, no matter its condition, but you have to submit an appraisal from a qualified appraiser. You can deduct furniture, furnishings, electronics, appliances, linens. Generally you can only get the fair market value for the items, basically what they will sell for at a thrift shop, like the Salvation Army. Special rules apply to donating cars, food, art objects, jewelry, furs and collections.
Phil, your readers should make sure the charity they are donating to is one that is approved by the IRS. They list of qualified charities is on IRS.gov, just type in "Publication 78" in the search box. You can access it on line and also download it. If you are claiming a donation of $5,000 or less you need to fill out Section A of IRS Form #8283, but you don't need a formal appraisal. If you claim a donation over $5,000 you need to fill out Section B of IRS form #8283. You will probably also have to submit an appraisal from a qualified appraiser. By the way, you can deduct the fee for the appraisal as a miscellaneous itemized deduction on Form 1040.
My mother had a couple of fur coats that I wanted to donate, but don't like the people-wearing-animal-fur thing. Found out about "Coats for Cubs" program from the Humane Society. Furs are given to wildlife rehabilitators who use them to warm and comfort orphaned wildlife. http://www.hsus.org/furfree/campaigns/c4c/ You can deduct up to $5,000, but you will need an appraisal. Make sure you take a picture of the fur and get a letter from the Humane Society documenting that they received your gift. Someone else on Boomerater mentioned they donated furs to the ASPCA, who uses furs to comfort abandoned cats and dogs.
Please donate eye glasses and hearing aids to Lions Club International, lionsclub.orgl. There are so many people around the world that you can give the gift of sight or the gift of hearing with your donation.
The Vietnam Veterans of America will pick up items from your house and give you a donation receipt for tax purposes. They accept clothing, shoes, baby items, glassware, books, toys, kitchen items, small furniture, tools, jewelry. About they only things they don't take are mattresses, appliances and large pieces of furniture. Please remember the Vets of Vietnam with your donation!
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