The holidays always seem to sneak up on me every year but ready or not, they are upon us – and that means it’s time to start thinking about what to get for all the friends & family on your gift list.  If you are like me you might feel a little overwhelmed trying to come up with ideas for everyone.  I never have a problem coming up with ideas for my children, they are more than happy to provide me a very lengthy list of things Santa should bring.  But what about parents, grandparents or adult siblings who “don’t need a thing”, or teachers who are probably overwhelmed with coffee mugs, tree ornaments or other knick-knacks they really have no use for?  Not to mention babysitters, clients or co-workers whose name you draw in the Secret Santa exchange.

Instead of brooding over gift ideas or running around to different stores in the busy holiday traffic, this year you might consider making a charitable donation on behalf of that person for whom you have no idea what to get.  Think about issues or interests that are important to that person.  If you need ideas, you can visit www.charitynavigator.org which lets you browse by category including Animals, Education, Military and more.  Your holiday card can include a note letting them know that you have made a contribution on their behalf.  And if you don’t want to make the choice for them, you can give them a charity gift certificate which allows the recipient to choose the charity that will receive the donation.  As the donor, your purchase is 100% tax-deductible.  Go towww.charitygiftcertificates.org to choose from over 100 local & national charities.

In general cash contributions may be deducted in full up to 50% of your adjusted gross income.  Remember that only taxpayers who itemize their deductions can claim a write-off for charitable contributions.  In recent years itemized deductions have been phased-out for high-income taxpayers so that they did not get the full benefit of charitable contributions, mortgage interest, state & local taxes and other miscellaneous deductions.  For 2010 only, the phase-out rules do not apply, although they are scheduled to reappear in 2011.  It’s important to note that contributions are not tax-deductible if given to individuals, political parties and for-profit schools or hospitals.  For more information on charitable contributions, see IRS Publication 526 at www.irs.gov

Happy Holidays & Happy Gift-Giving!