“Won’t these heavy taxes quite ruin the country?”
Benjamin Franklin, The Way to Wealth (1758)

What is the Point of a Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust (CRAT)? Let’s break it down.

Assume you are contemplating giving $1,000,000 to your beloved alma mater, Tiger University following their crushing defeat of a pretender to the college football championship.


A Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust (CRAT) allows you to:

  1. Get an upfront charitable deduction (reported on Schedule A of your personal IRS Form 1040 income tax return) in the year of contribution,
  2. Manage the charitable trust account yourself as Trustee of the CRAT account,
  3. Reserve a payment stream (the annuity) for a beneficiary named by you, for example, yourself, your spouse, or a descendant, and
  4. You can even reserve for the right to let the Trustee of your charitable trust account change the charitable beneficiary of the trust account if Tiger University loses its way in the future!


Sample Case – Tiger University and a Granddaughter in Medical School

Let’s say you were contemplating the following charitable contribution with these details:

  1. How much are you willing to deposit into the charitable remainder annuity trust account? – $1,000,000.
  2. Who should receive the annuity payments? – Your granddaughter.
  3. How much do you want your granddaughter to receive from your charitable remainder annuity trust account? – $100,000 per year.
  4. How many years of payments do you want your granddaughter to receive? – 5 years of payments, for a total of $500,000 of payments (5 years x 100,000 = 500,000). The first payment starts a year from the date of your contribution.
  5. What charity gets the remaining amount of the charitable trust account after all the 5 annual payments of $100,0000 are made to your granddaughter? – Tiger University. Go Tigers!
  6. How are you funding the charitable contribution to your charitable trust account? – For simplicity, assume you have $1,000,000 of cash in a savings account.


How the Cookie Crumbles

You might expect that you get a $1,000,000 deduction in the year you make the irrevocable contribution to the charitable remainder trust. Unfortunately, Uncle Sam does not look at the contribution to the charitable remainder trust this way. Uncle Sam looks at your $1,000,000 contribution as two parts:

  • Part 1. Part of the $1,000,000 will end up with Tiger University, so you can deduct that part of the $1,000,000 on Schedule A of your income tax return, subject to limitations below.
  • Part 2. The other part of the $1,000,000 contribution is going to a non-charitable entity, in this case, your granddaughter. Gifts to your granddaughter do NOT qualify for a charitable deduction.

So the issue becomes – how much of the $1,000,000 do I get to report as a charitable deduction?


Calculation of Your Charitable Deduction

Usually, you would use computer software to calculate the charitable contribution. You can use Google to find a number of free calculators! The steps below show what the software is doing.

  1. Find the IRS Section 7520 interest rate. You can use Google to find the IRS website that posts the IRS Section 7520 rate. This is the interest rate that the IRS annuity tables use to “translate” future payments of $100,000 into today’s dollars. Assuming we are doing this calculation for February 2020 the IRS Section 7520 rate is 2.20%.
  2. Find the applicable annuity factor from IRS Publication 1457, Table B. This is an Excel spreadsheet. Look for the (i) annuity factor that applies for a (ii) 5 Year Annuity at a (iii) 2.20% rate. In our case that annuity factor is 4.6862.
  3. Find the adjustment factor from IRS Publication 1457, Table K. The adjustment factor changes depending on how we intend to spread out the $100,000 payments to granddaughter. In our case, for simplicity, we are assuming annual payments of $100,000 so the adjustment factor is 1.
  4. Apply the adjustment factor (paragraph C) to the annuity factor (paragraph B) by multiplying them together. In this case, that product is 1 x 4.6862 = 4.6862.
  5. The value of the annuity to granddaughter (recall the annuity is an annual payment of $100,000 for 5 years beginning 1 year from now) translated into today’s dollars is the annual annuity amount multiplied by the adjusted annuity factor. In this case that is $100,000 x 4.6862 = $468,620.


What is the Value of This Charitable Deduction to Me?

There are typically two hurdles to getting an income tax benefit from a charitable deduction.

  1. You must have enough deductions to itemize your deductions. The standard deduction for a married couple in 2020 is $24,800. Remember that for 2020 the state and local tax deduction (e.g., property taxes for Texans) is capped at $10,000 for a married couple.If you do not have enough deductions (e.g., medical, mortgage interest, property taxes, charitable contributions) to qualify to itemize your deductions then the charitable deduction does NOT reduce your federal income tax bill.You can carry forward any unused portion of the charitable deduction for the next 5 years in an attempt to fully utilize the deduction.2. Assuming you have enough deductions to itemize, your charitable deduction may be limited to a certain percentage of your adjusted gross income. In our case, the charitable deduction limit is 50% of your adjusted gross income in the year of the contribution because we have a public charity as the beneficiary of your charitable remainder trust and we contributed cash to the charitable remainder trust.

If we assume:

  1. You are in the 37% tax bracket (taxable income of over $600,000 rounded, married filing jointly),
  2. You have enough eligible deductions to itemize your deductions, and
  3. Your charitable deduction is not limited by your adjusted gross income,

Then: the value of your charitable deduction will be in the ballpark of 37% x $531,380 = $196,610. Your particular benefit depends on your particular income tax return.

In other words, by contributing $1,000,000 to the charitable remainder trust and assuming the facts above you would reduce your income tax liability by about $190,000. The value of a charitable deduction depends on your specific tax situation. The example shown above is intended to show a “best case” scenario where you receive the full benefit of the charitable deduction.

To summarize the example above:

  • Total contribution to the charitable remainder trust account: $1,000,000
  • Amount going to granddaughter = $500,000 (before income taxes paid by daughter)
  • Amount going to Tiger University = around $500,000 depending on investment returns inside the charitable remainder trust account.
  • Federal income tax reduction to you assuming facts above = $190,000.

Do I Owe Gift Taxes on the Amount Given to Gr