Sunday, December 07, 2008

My Last Arizona Tax Credit Column

With my Tribune column ending (along with the Tribune as we know it) on Dec. 31st, this is my last annual Arizona Tax Credit column, which (this being Arizona, where it only takes two times to make something a tradition) is a Thanksgiving weekend regular for me (and thus for you). In fact, my suggested headline was “My Last Annual Arizona Tax Credit Column,” but the editor gave it the same headline as in 2007. Same tax credit amounts, too. You can get the newspaper version here if you want a smaller version to print out for your year-end tax planning and donations.

Schools with Heart is the only suggestion that doesn’t have a website, for them you’ll need a stamp. That’s the PTSO that helps The Family School, which was the preschool that our son and the rest of Troop 6 BSA painted for the first time in their lifetimes for his Eagle Scout project. Plus if you didn’t come to the Devereux Arizona 40th anniversary celebration at the Phoenix Zoo last month like I asked, now’s your chance to atone on a no-net-cost basis. (And those of you who did send a check, don’t forget to take the state tax credit for the contribution!)

East Valley Tribune, Nov. 30, 2008

Tax laws do affect behavior. You spend months worrying about declines in your investments, but in December, suddenly you're happy to "harvest" tax losses.

In Arizona, the tax laws encourage you to listen to year-end appeals for charitable donations. Of course, you should be giving to charity anyway. But in Arizona, we make it really easy even for die-hard libertarians (a/k/a "the obnoxiously cheap") to become charitable -- because it's free.

Several tax credits let you reduce your state income taxes by the amount of your donation. I'm assuming you itemize deductions and don't pay Alternative Minimum Tax. If so, donate by December 31, then in April, pay the same amount less in state tax as you gave away. All it costs you is the stamp and the time to write the checks. And for most of these charities, you can contribute online and save the stamp.

First, contributions to "private school tuition organizations" that offer scholarships to private schools qualify for a tax credit for individuals of up to $500 and for married couples up to $1,000. For your PSTO contribution, please consider Schools With Heart, 1131 E. Highland, Phoenix, AZ 85014, or call (602) 252-5866, and designate your contribution for The Family School.

You contribute now, then report your contribution on Form 323 when filing state income taxes in April, getting a full dollar-for-dollar credit up to the cap. But make sure to include these donations as charitable contributions on your federal return to get the full benefit.

Second, the less-generous public school tax credit lets single taxpayers give and get back up to $200, and married taxpayers, up to $400. You write the check directly to the school, not to a PTO or foundation, and report this credit on Arizona Form 322.

Of course, wealthier school districts benefit more from these tax credit donations, so if you want your money to make more of a difference, you should contribute to the Isaac School District, 3348 W. McDowell Road, Phoenix, AZ 85009, or at Your gift is far more significant in a school district with 90 percent of its students at or below poverty and two-thirds from non-English-speaking homes.

Third, donations to charities which assist low-income residents qualify for another tax credit if you exceed the "baseline" of your charitable contributions for 1996 or the first year you itemized, if later. Lots of Arizona charities qualify for this Form 321 credit, which is available up to $200 for single taxpayers and $400 for couples.

I serve on the board, and having mentioned that can urge you without any guilt whatsoever to contribute to Devereux Arizona's behavioral health programs. Devereux serves children in foster and residential programs who won't get holiday gifts without contributions like yours. You can give gifts at no cost because you'll pay exactly that much less in state income taxes. Send your check to Devereux Arizona, 11000 N. Scottsdale Road, Suite 260, Scottsdale, AZ 85254, or go to and click on the "My Little Stocking" link.

A fourth credit may not be around much longer; a federal judge (who would be called an "activist" except that she's ruling the way the 'wingers want, which makes her a patriot) seems likely to eviscerate Arizona's publicly-financed state elections. But while it lasts, this tax credit is surprisingly generous, $610 for individuals and $1,220 for couples, or up to 20% of your total state tax liability, whichever is greater. Send your contribution to Citizens Clean Election Fund, 1616 W. Adams, Suite 110, Phoenix, AZ 85007, or visit For this credit, there's no separate form, you credit the donation on Form 140 itself.

Finally, after making your cash donations, give something else that you won't miss. Call United Blood Services at (602) 431-9500, or make an appointment online at, to donate blood. Easy, fast, and the post-donation cookies are tasty and guilt-free, too.

So make some donations by Dec. 31 and reduce your state taxes on April 15. Yes, it's bad law, but please use it to do good.

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