Make Giving Easier
Americans are a charitable bunch. Last year, we gave a record-breaking $358 billion to good causes, according to a Giving USA Foundation estimate. But while many of us have every intention of giving, we might not have the time to do so, or might feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of worthy causes. Fortunately, various options have sprung up to make charitable giving almost automatic by adding small donations to transactions we already make.
The usual caveat about rewards programs apply to all these methods of charitable giving: They shouldn't encourage you to overspend or go into debt, since the value of any reward is more than wiped out by any credit card interest you pay. And unlike the donations made directly to charities you've researched and know to be sound, these donations don’t qualify for a tax break if you itemize your deductions.
Still, these donations are a great way to chip in a little extra here and there without feeling the pinch.
Target's credit and debit cards give you free shipping, 5 percent discounts, and extra time for returns. But the cards also allow you to direct an amount equal to 1 percent of your purchases to the eligible K-12 school of your choice. The chain's Take Charge of Education program says it has donated more than $400 million to schools and is on track to bump that total to $1 billion by the end of this year.
Start your online shopping trip at smile.amazon.com, and Amazon will donate .5 percent of your eligible purchases to the nonprofit you select on your first visit. You can choose from one of the highlighted charities, such as the ASPCA and the American Red Cross, or search AmazonSmile’s database of nearly one million charities, schools, and other nonprofits.
To raise money for your school or nonprofit, start by registering select store loyalty cards, credit cards, and debit cards with eScrip. Then shop at affiliated merchants — either locally or through eScrip's online shopping portal — and the retailers will donate a small percentage (which varies by store) of your purchase to your designated charity.
Charity Credit Cards
You're familiar with rewards cards, which offer points, miles, cash back, and other benefits for charges. Cards affiliated with charities instead funnel the rebates to a good cause. The Credo Visa card, for example, donates 10 cents of every purchase to causes such as Common Cause and Public Citizen. The Pink Ribbon MasterCard offers cash-back rebates to users while donating .08 percent of purchases to the Susan G. Komen breast cancer awareness and research charity. Issuer Bank of America has given $6 million already to Susan G. Komen and has pledged to donate another $3 million through 2020.
Most frequent-traveler programs have ways to donate miles or points to good causes, either directly or by exchanging the reward for a cash donation. Likewise, rewards credit cards often have a charitable donation option. Some programs have a minimum donation, while others don't: The Hilton HHonors Giving Back program, for example, requires donations in 10,000-point increments, while Discover Giving allows cash-back bonus contributions as small as one penny. The exchange rate for points and miles is typically low — that 10,000-point donation from Hilton HHonors, for example, is worth just $25 — but donations might be a good option for rewards that are about to expire or that are in "orphaned" accounts you don't plan to use.
Round Up at the Cash Register
Some grocers and other retailers offer the option of adding a buck or five to your tab to benefit a good cause. However, this practice is somewhat controversial; there's little regulation to ensure the money gets where it's supposed to go. Some programs, though, have a good track record: The Safeway Foundation, which collects register donations from Safeway, Vons, Pavilions, Randalls, Tom Thumb, and Carrs stores, donates an average of $200 million a year to various good causes. Before you give at a register, ask for name of the organization handling the donations and check it out on Charity Navigator or GuideStar.
Liz Weston is an award-winning journalist and author of several money books, including the best-selling 'Your Credit Score.' She writes about personal finance at her site AskLizWeston. You can like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.