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I’d like to donate my RMD to my church — how does that work?

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Q: I have given shares of securities to my church in past years to fulfill my pledge and gift away the capital gains. As soon as I turn 72 and the RMD kicks in, I can do donations from my IRA too. Is that a better way to go?

— Harry

A.: Harry, your ability to make charitable donations directly from your IRA is based on age and not dependent on whether you are subject to Required Minimum Distributions. You are eligible to make a Qualified Charitable Distribution as soon as you turn 70½.

Once you are eligible to make Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCD), determining which is better starts with whether you will itemize deductions or use the standard deduction. Taxpayers may use the standard deduction or the total of itemized deductions when calculating their taxable income. Most people use the larger of the two figures. Itemized deductions are recorded on Schedule A and include items like some medical expenses not paid by insurance, state and local taxes, mortgage interest, and charitable contributions.

Read: The government suspended required minimum distributions this year — should you take one anyway?

If you use the standard deduction or would use the standard deduction if you made no donation, QCD is a better method than donating appreciated assets from a taxable account. By making a QCD in this case, none of the QCD is taxable. In years when Required Minimum Distributions (RMD) are enforced, QCDs count toward the RMD but gross income excludes 100% of the donated amount. Donating shares will only reduce taxable income to the extent the donation makes the total of all the items on Schedule A greater than the standard deduction. In some cases, donations will not reduce taxable income at all.

If you itemize and you would pay tax on capital gains in the year you expect to sell the appreciated securities, donating shares can be the better choice. This is especially true if you are itemizing even without a charitable donation because in that case, all of the donation becomes deductible, subject to certain limits. The attraction to donating shares versus donating cash is that you not only get a deduction for the fair market value of the shares, you also give away any untaxed gain, as you noted.

A side note. The SECURE Act of 2019 lifted the starting age for RMD to 72 and for the first time, allowed workers subject to RMD to make contributions to IRAs. If you are going to make deductible IRA contributions to an IRA at age 70½ or older and intend to make QCDs, see your advisor as the SECURE Act added language making doing both post age 70½ tricky.

One other comment. Thank you for your generosity. I encourage other readers to give to charity if they can too. The COVID-19 shutdowns of 2020 have been hard on a lot of people and many nonprofits that are trying to help are struggling. Many donors are less able to give and many organizations have had to cancel fundraising events. Your donations ins 2020, regardless of form or deductibility, may be more impactful than ever.

If you have a question for Dan, please email him with “MarketWatch Q&A” on the subject line.

Dan Moisand is a financial planner at Moisand Fitzgerald Tamayo in Orlando, Melbourne, and Tampa, Fla. His comments are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for personalized advice. Consult your adviser about what is best for you. Some questions are edited for brevity.



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‘I could live on my Social Security and still save money’: This 66-year-old left Chicago for ‘calming’ Costa Rica — where he now plans to live indefinitely

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Editor’s note: This article was first published in September 2019.

A school break changed 66-year-old Martin Farber’s life forever.

In 2007, his daughter — who at the time was attending Illinois State University — decided she wanted to spend a college holiday volunteering in Costa Rica and staying with a local family, he explains. She came home raving about the experience, so, in 2008, Farber — who at the time was living in Evanston, Ill., just outside Chicago, and selling cars — took his first trip there.

“It was a big surprise to me — bumpy roads, dogs barking in the streets,” he says. “I wasn’t enamored at first.”

But as his daughter began traveling there more and eventually moved there for a year, he took additional trips to Costa Rica. It quickly grew on him — in particular, the people. “The Costa Rican people are warm, open and friendly. I felt less invisible in a strange country in a strange town where I didn’t speak the language than I did in Evanston.”

And the more time he spent there, the more it impacted him: “On one of my trips there, I thought: My daughter’s life makes more sense than mine,” he says. “There was nothing wrong with my life, but I felt that my life was out of context with who I’d become. … I would have bills and make money to pay them, but that had ceased to be satisfying,” he recalls. “I knew I needed to change my life — there was no more joy in what I was doing.”

What’s more, when he’d return from his Costa Rica trips, people noticed. “I would come back, and my friends and therapist would say: You seem better after you go,” he says with a laugh.

A view from the hot springs near Martin Farber’s home in Costa Rica.


Martin Farber

So in 2014, he packed up and moved to Orosi — a picturesque, lush small town with waterfalls and hot springs a little over an hour’s drive from San Jose — promising himself he’d stay for two years. It’s been five, and he now plans to stay in Costa Rica indefinitely. (Though Farber notes that, to him, “it’s not a retirement; it’s a chance to lead a new and different life.”)

Here’s what his life is like, from costs to health care to residency to everyday life:

The cost: While many expats spend way more living in Costa Rica, Farber says: “I could live on my Social Security and still save money.” He says “a person can live on $1,200 per month, two people on $2,000.” The key, he says, is to live more like he does and as the Costa Ricans do — in a modest home, eating local food and purchasing local goods.

Indeed, Farber himself spends just $300 a month for rent (he rents a home from a friend who moved recently and gave him a good deal), roughly $225 a month on groceries and just $50 a month total on water and electricity (the temperate climate in Orosi means you rarely need heat or air conditioning). The veteran Volkswagen
VOW,
+0.96%

 
VLKAF,
+0.98%

salesman saves money by not owning a car (those over 65 ride municipal buses for free), which can be a significant expense in Costa Rica; for his cellphone, “I pay as I go … roughly $10 may last me a couple weeks or more,” he says, adding that “many people handle there their cellphones this way. You can get them recharged anywhere.”

His major expense is travel: He goes back to the U.S. to visit his mother in Florida several times a year and lately has spent part of the summer in Chicago helping out a friend with a dealership there. He also spends a good amount of money on health care. He says that while flights can be had for as little as $350 roundtrip during offseasons, the cost can be much higher the rest of the year.

In the saddle.


Martin Farber

Health care: Farber, who has permanent resident status in Costa Rica, says he pays about $90 per month to participate in the country’s health-care system — adding that the health care he’s received has been very good. (A 2018 study of health-care quality and access in more than 190 nations ranked Costa Rica No. 62.)

When he developed a detached retina, though, he paid for the procedure out of pocket so that he didn’t have to wait for the required surgery, he says — adding that the entire procedure cost him about $5,000. “I would have had to have waited four days,” he says, if he had not paid to expedite matters. “That might have been fine, but it might not.” And he adds that the quality of care depends on where you get it in the country.

Lifestyle: Though Farber says that he “moved here with no goals and no agenda,” he’s found plenty to do. “I take Spanish lessons two days a week for two hours a day. It’s been great. I never thought I would acquire a usable language in my 60s,” he says. He also rides his bike all around the area, does some writing and belongs to a community group that undertakes projects to improve the area.

And he often simply takes in nature, which he says has been an essential part of why he feels calmer and more relaxed in Costa Rica than in the U.S. “I live at 3,000 feet but in a valley surrounded by coffee fields and lime trees and water. At night, if I open the windows, I can hear the river rushing by,” he says. “It is very calming … hundreds of trees everywhere … you know the Earth is alive.”

The historic Iglesia de San José de Orosi.


iStock

Cons: “I don’t want to overglorify. It’s not without its problems,” Farber says of Costa Rica. “There are social problems and downsides.” He notes that crime and petty theft can be a problem (“I am cautious,” he says of his approach) and seem to have increased since he moved there, and adds that he misses out on some cultural things because of where he lives. And, he says with a laugh, “I can’t order Thai food at 9 at night.” But, he adds: “These are trade-offs — in the afternoon, I get to walk in the coffee fields and see flocks of parrots.”

Residency: To qualify for Costa Rica’s pensionado visa, expats must prove that they have a pension of at least $1,000 coming in each month. (Here are the details of that program.) Once you have lived in Costa Rica for three years, you can apply for permanent residency. Farber used a lawyer to help him figure out the ins and outs of residency options; his entire path to permanent residency took about a year, he says.

The bottom line: “After five years I am still amazed and surprised that I made the decision to lead a life I never thought I would,” he says. And while he may not stay in Orosi forever — “the town doesn’t have an ambulance, [and] I don’t know what it will be like to be 80 there,” he says — he does plan to stay in Costa Rica in no small part because of the people and sense of community. “I have the feeling that life is good here,” he says. “It’s hard sometimes, but we are all in it together.”



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Mutual Funds Weekly: These money and investing tips can help you read the market’s signs and stay on your path

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