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Your guide to charitable giving

Charity guide

By Jessica Horton, Copywriter

The holiday season – and the end of the tax year – motivates many consumers to donate money to their favorite charities. In fact, the average person makes 24 percent of their annual donations between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, according to Charity Navigator.

And after a two-year drop in charitable contributions – the hardest hit to charities in more than forty years – from individuals, corporations and foundations, the trend is beginning to turn around, according to the Giving USA Foundation.

So with more than half a million federally recognized charities soliciting contributions, chances are high that you will be asked to make a donation this year. The following are some tips to ensure that you are giving wisely:

  • Ask questions. Request identification from the solicitor and read written information provided. Be certain that the organization has a clear mission and identifiable goals.
  • Be wary of high-pressure appeals. For example, be skeptical if someone thanks you for a pledge that you do not remember making. Legitimate charities should not intimidate you into making an on-the-spot donation.
  • Do your homework. Before making a donation, call the charity to find out if the organization is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name.
  • Do not give cash. For security and tax record purposes, pay by check. Write the official name of the charity on your check and always ask for a receipt in return. For additional help selecting a charitable organization, visit CharityNavigator.org. A little research up front will make sure that your dollars are put to good use.

If the process of selecting a charity seems daunting, remember that everyone benefits from giving:

  • Involving your children in the selection of and contribution to a charity teaches them valuable lessons about giving from their heart, not just about the value of a dollar.
  • By contributing to many groups and nonprofit organizations, you have the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life by furthering a personal cause.
  • Charitable gifts made to qualified organizations are tax-deductible. But be sure your organization meets IRS guidelines, because there may be different tax breaks when you donate certain types of assets to charity.

Finally, if your heart and your wallet have different ideas about making monetary donations, it may be time to summon your inner regifter. An unwanted gift, or your time, could be a welcome donation to a charitable organization. Also, consider making it your New Year’s resolution to contribute throughout the year. After all, it is good to remember that need knows no season.

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It's easy to get carried away during the "season of giving," so if you've been a tad bit overzealous this holiday season -- of if you just want to make sure you're sticking to your budget, this helpful calculator will help you determine how much you're spending.

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Give yourself the gift of financial stability 

Use these tips to prioritize your funds this holiday season

It is estimated that close to 500,000 people may find temporary employment this holiday season, putting some much-needed money into the wallets of consumers who haven’t had a paycheck in months.

There will be many legitimate uses for this money, but it will only stretch so far. Therefore, MMI and the NFCC suggest prioritizing the use of this money in the following order:

  1. Bring all living expenses current – Housing, utilities, and insurance payments are at the top of the living expense list, as these must-haves need to be seen as priorities. The basics of keeping a roof over your head, food on the table, gas in the car, and the lights on will go a long way toward restoring stability to your home life.
  2. Catch up on all secured debts – For most people, their largest secured loan is a vehicle. Don’t risk losing it to repossession. Down payment money was used at purchase, followed by monthly payments. This money will be lost if repossession occurs. Further, fees associated with the repossession will be added on. If you can’t totally catch up on past-due payments, call the lender to inquire about an extension, providing a specific payment plan that will bring you current.
  3. Pay past-due debt obligations – If you have credit card debt, you need to honor the commitment you made to repay per the conditions of the contract. Not doing so will result in negative marks on your credit report, a lower credit score, late fees, and the potential of a judgment or wage garnishment being filed against you. Your access to existing and future credit will be minimized.
  4. Make any needed home or auto repairs – With a reduced income, it is likely that home and auto repairs have been neglected. Now is the time to address those, as delaying may only worsen the problem. While you’re at it, consider weatherizing your home for the winter months which could result in a nice savings on your utility bills.
  5. Sock away 10 percent into savings – A well-funded savings account is insurance against financial disaster. Today is the time to protect tomorrow by opening and contributing to a savings account.

Even though it may be tempting to spend this money on holiday gifts, it is more important to think long-term and start the New Year on more solid financial ground.

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About Money Management International

Money Management International (MMI) is a nonprofit, full-service credit counseling agency, providing confidential financial guidance, financial education, counseling, and debt management assistance to consumers since 1958. MMI helps consumers trim their expenses, develop a spending plan, and repay debts. Counseling is available by appointment in branch offices and 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by telephone and Internet. Services are available in English or Spanish. To learn more, call
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