A tax form.

If you’re planning to give money to charity this year, and you’re hoping for a tax break on your donation, you may want to fine-tune your strategy.

That’s because a tax law change, which took effect Jan. 1, will prevent many households from claiming a charitable deduction. There are still a few ways to get a tax break, especially if you’re older and making required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your traditional IRA. But you’ll need to plan ahead.

First, a quick review of tax rules on charitable deductions. You can only claim itemized deductions, including write-offs for charitable giving, when the amount exceeds the standard deduction. That's a lot harder to do under the new tax law, which has nearly doubled the standard deduction to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly.

Would-be itemizers are also challenged by new limits to the state and local tax deduction. What was once an often hefty amount is now limited to a maximum of $10,000 per return for both single and joint filers.

“Charitable giving and mortgage interest are the two big deductions left, and most people won’t have large enough mortgages to qualify for itemizing,” says Jeffrey Levine, a certified financial planner and CPA at BluePrint Wealth Alliance in Garden City, N.Y. 

More on Charitable Giving

Charitable deductions are expected to drop sharply as a result. In 2016, 37 million households claimed a charitable deduction on their federal return, but that figure is likely to decline by more than 50 percent, according to estimates by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. 

To figure out if you can still deduct your giving, add up your potential write-offs. Single filers who own their own homes may be better positioned to qualify for itemizing, says Levine. That's because their potential write-offs—interest on mortgage loans up to $750,000, plus the $10,000 deduction for state and local income taxes—are more likely to exceed the $12,000 standard deduction. For married couples filing jointly, however, it's tougher to accumulate write-offs that exceed the $24,000 standard deduction.

Of course, no one donates to charity just for the tax benefit. But any tax savings can encourage even more giving—and doing well while doing good holds plenty of appeal. Here are three tax-smart ways to donate.  

'Bunch' Your Charitable Donations

If the numbers show that you're better off taking the standard deduction, consider a "bunching" strategy—that is, timing your gifts to shift more donations into a single tax year. By consolidating your giving in this way, you may be able to donate and still claim a tax break.

Say a married couple has $18,000 in deductible expenses, which include $4,000 a year in charitable donations. Under the new tax law, they would be better off claiming the $24,000 standard deduction. But by making an $8,000 gift every two years, raising their deductions to $26,000, they could get a write-off and still give the same amount. 

If you prefer to make annual gifts, consider a donor-advised fund, which allows you to bunch and make frequent donations, says Levine. These personal charitable-giving accounts are available at many fund companies, including Fidelity, Schwab, and Vanguard. Your entire contribution is deductible in the year you give, and you can spread out your donations to charities you choose in future years. 

Donate Appreciated Assets

Another way to generate a tax break is to donate an appreciated asset, such as shares of a stock, mutual fund, or exchange-traded fund that has grown in value over time. The asset must be held in a taxable account that you have owned for at least a year.

With this strategy you can take advantage of two tax breaks. First, by making the donation, you avoid any long-term capital gains tax on the asset. "That will help you reduce your taxable income," says Ed Slott, a CPA who educates financial advisers on IRA and retirement planning strategies. You can also claim a charitable deduction, assuming you can itemize in the year you donate.

An easy way to donate an appreciated asset is to move it to a donor-advised fund, where it can be sold and that money can be sent to the charity.

There's an annual deduction limit on donating an appreciated asset, which is 30 percent of your adjusted gross income. For larger donations, you can claim additional deductions over the next five years. 

Give a Portion of Your IRA Withdrawals

One of the biggest tax breaks on giving is one the new law didn't touch: the so-called Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD), which provides tax benefits to older Americans who give to charity through withdrawals from their traditional IRAs.

“With a QCD, you can take the new, higher standard deduction and still get a tax break for your donation,” says Slott. 

To qualify for a QCD, you must be at least 70.5 years old and taking required minimum withdrawals from your traditional IRA. (You won't be able to take advantage of this tax break with donations from a Roth IRA.) You can give as much as $100,000 annually, but the money must go directly from the IRA to the charity. You can donate more or less than your RMD.

Be aware that a QCD is only allowed for required withdrawals from IRAs. "You can't do this with a 401(k) RMD; you would first need to rollover your plan to an IRA," Slott says.

Your donation is counted as part of your RMD. But because the money doesn't go to you, it's not counted toward your adjusted gross income (AGI), which may help you avoid taxes on those withdrawals. A lower AGI also means you may also owe less taxes on Social Security income, as well as qualify for lower Medicare Part B and Part D premiums.