Charitable Gift Options Using a Self-Directed 401(k)

Charitable contributions are a popular strategy among the wealthy for lowering tax payments. But this method isn't exclusively for the Michael Dells and Kim Kardashians of the world. Investors from all income levels, including you, can use it too. But even savvy investors don't always know that charitable gifts can be made from retirement accounts. So whether you simply want to donate money from your 401(k) to a cause close to your heart, save on your taxes, or both, this article is for you. Read on to learn more about your options for giving charitable gifts with your Self-Directed 401(k).

Why You Should Consider Giving Your Retirement Funds to Charity

The funds in IRAs and 401ks are among the most heavily taxed that the average investor will hold, and redirecting them towards charity can make a meaningful difference. Charitable donations help you save money by reducing your taxable income. This is why many highly wealthy individuals give in large quantities. Sure, many of them are philanthropic at heart, but there is also a distinct tax advantage to donating. The higher your taxable income, the greater your tax responsibilities when Uncle Sam comes around to collect his bills.
Giving to charity also qualifies you to receive a Charitable Gift Tax Credit. Literally anyone can take advantage of this. Generally, the credit is computed by taking the market value of an item or actual amount of cash donated, then subtracting the percentage of your tax bracket.
Strategic donations can lead to thousands returning to your pocket. Of course, there are limits: you cannot donate more than half of your income in a given year. Similarly, for these benefits to apply, you must itemize each donation.

What Options You Have For Giving to Charity

You're likely already familiar with some types of donations. Others are less obvious. Here are some, but not all, of the many methods you can use to your taxable income to a charitable cause:

  •  Real Property Gifts (includes real estate, stocks, etc.)
  •  Trusts (Charitable Remainder Trusts, Charitable Lead Trusts, and more)
  •  Charitable Sales
  •  Deferred or Traditional Charitable Annuities
  •  Life Estate Gifts
  •  Retirement Plan Asset Gifts (including the Self-Directed 401(k) plan)
  •  Life Insurance Gifts

Which Options Are The Most Beneficial?

While any of these options is certainly beneficial and altruistic to the receiving organization, smart investors may be wondering which will benefit their own bottom lines. You may be surprised to learn that retirement and life insurance donations are among both your strongest and lesser-known gift choices.
Many potential donors do not know much about life insurance or retirement plan asset gifts simply because charities are less likely to request them. Many nonprofit organizations have a need for immediate cash that is simply not addressed with these types of donations. They are nonetheless useful for the charities--and you.

Ways to Give To Charity From Your 401(k)

Below, we'll describe the two simplest options for donating to causes you care about with your 401(k) funds.

Option 1: Donate Directly From the Plan

You can liquidate an asset (or several) held by your plan, then directly donate the funds to the nonprofit group or cause of your choosing.

Option 2: Name a Charity as a Beneficiary of Your Plan

Naming the charity of your choosing as a beneficiary works the same way as designating any other beneficiary. However, this option has the added advantage of allowing plan funds to pass through to the charitable organization completely tax-free. If you have tax-deferred funds, this is actually the smarter expense than passing those same funds on to your heirs. Your heirs would have to pay the taxes, but the charity does not. Though this may not directly benefit you as much, it is certainly the most efficient use of money that would otherwise be gifted to the U.S. Government. That you can control the funds by selecting any qualifying charity means you have the luxury of supporting a cause you truly believe in.

Last Updated: 
August 30, 2018

Scott Royal Smith is an asset protection attorney and long-time real estate investor. He's on a mission to help fellow investors free their time, protect their assets, and create lasting wealth.

Learn How To Achieve Total Asset Protection While Growing Your Professional Network

Ready to know more than your attorney? Join our community platform where you'll get immediate FREE access to all our best educational resources for real estate investors. Including 8 Masterclasses, group mentoring replays, and much, much more.



Join thousands of real estate investors in all 50 states as they enjoy exclusive content, special promotions, and behind-the-scenes access to me and my guests. No spam, ever. Just great stuff!




Do you have asset protection questions? We can help!


© 2023 - Royal Legal Solutions