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Last day to claim special tax relief for donations to Haiti

If you want to take advantage of the opportunity to claim Haiti relief donations on your 2009 return, time is running out to make a donation. Qualifying contributions must be made after January 22, 2010, and before March 1, 2010 -- that makes today your last chance. You have until midnight to make a contribution. That means you have to text or charge your payment by the end of the day; additionally, checks need to be in the mail (with sufficient funds in your account to clear).

The rush is on because of special, temporary tax provision. On January 22, 2010, Congress passed a new law to benefit those who donate to Haiti relief efforts. The provision allows taxpayers who itemize deductions to deduct charitable donations to qualified Haiti relief organizations on their 2009 tax returns. The donations must be in cash or cash equivalent. This means cash, check, credit card or debit card contributions -- as well as text message donations. In-kind donations, such as donations of water or medical supplies, won't count for purposes of the accelerated deduction; those deductions will have to be claimed as they normally would, on a taxpayer's 2010 return.

Of course, you can still make contributions throughout the year. You don't lose the opportunity to claim the deduction for contributions made later in the year; it just means those donations must be claimed on a 2010 return.

In order to be considered a proper charitable deduction, the contribution must be made to qualified charitable organizations and meet all other requirements for charitable contribution deductions. You can search the IRS database of organizations eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions here. It's worth noting that contributions to foreign organizations generally are not deductible.

For more information about qualifying organizations and contributions, check out IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions.

For purposes of this special provision, contributions must be made specifically for the relief of victims in areas affected by the January 12 earthquake in Haiti. Remember that gifts made directly to individual victims, no matter how charitable, are not deductible.

You'll need to keep good records of your contributions. The normal record-keeping rules apply. If you donated by text message, a telephone bill will meet the record keeping requirement if it shows the name of the organization, the date of the contribution and the amount of the contribution. If your text message donations total $250 or more, you'll also need a written acknowledgment from the charity.

Information related to record keeping requirements for text donations is relatively new. Traditionally, the IRS has not encountered massive instances of texting for donations; technology has changed the way that we respond to tragedy. The Haiti relief effort saw a record breaking response to the crisis. In fact, the nearly instant availability of texting and online donations contributed to the scramble to pass the new law.

This, of course, begs the question:

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