Income Tax Reporting for
Rule #1: The General Rule
The income tax regulations specify, “ordinarily, a contribution is made at the time delivery is affected. The unconditional delivery or mailing of a check, which subsequently clears in due course, will constitute an effective contribution on the date of delivery or mailing.” According to this language, a check dated December 31, 2015, but physically delivered in January 2016 is deductible only on the donor’s 2016 federal tax return. This is so even though a donor backdates a check to read “December 31, 2015” during church services conducted in January 2016, or in fact completed and dated the check on December 31, 2015, but deposited it on or after January 1, 2016.
Rule #2: The Exception
The only exception to the general rule is a check that is dated and mailed (and postmarked) in December 2015. The fact that the church does not receive or cash the check until January 2016 does not prevent the donor from deducting it on his or her 2015 federal tax return. These rules are summarized in the following table.