skip navigation

Search Help
Navigation Help

Main Topics
S T U V W X Y Z #

Tax Topics

About Tax Map
IRS Tax Map 2008
Current IRS Tax Map

Publication 561

the Value of 



This publication is designed to help donors and appraisers determine the value of property (other than cash) that is given to qualified organizations. It also explains what kind of information you must have to support the charitable contribution deduction you claim on your return.
This publication does not discuss how to figure the amount of your deduction for charitable contributions or written records and substantiation required. See Publication 526, Charitable Contributions, for this information.

Comments and suggestions.(p1)


We welcome your comments about this publication and your suggestions for future editions.
You can write to us at the following address:

Internal Revenue Service 
Individual Forms and Publications Branch 
1111 Constitution Ave. NW, IR-6406 
Washington, DC 20224

We respond to many letters by telephone. Therefore, it would be helpful if you would include your daytime phone number, including the area code, in your correspondence.
You can email us at * (The asterisk must be included in the address.) Please put "Publications Comment" on the subject line. Although we cannot respond individually to each email, we do appreciate your feedback and will consider your comments as we revise our tax products.

Ordering forms and publications.(p2)

Visit to download forms and publications, call 1-800-829-3676, or write to the address below and receive a response within 10 business days after your request is received.

National Distribution Center 
P.O. Box 8903 
Bloomington, IL 61702–8903


Tax questions.(p2)

If you have a tax question, visit or call 1-800-829-1040. We cannot answer tax questions sent to either of the above addresses.


Useful items

You may want to see:

 526 Charitable Contributions
Form (and Instructions)
 8282: Donee Information Return
 8283: Noncash Charitable Contributions
 8283-V: Payment Voucher for Filing Fee Under Section 170(f)(13)
See How To Get Tax Help, near the end of this publication, for information about getting these publications and forms.

What Is Fair 
Market Value (FMV)?(p2)


previous topic occurrence Fair Market Value next topic occurrence

To figure how much you may deduct for property that you contribute, you must first determine its fair market value on the date of the contribution.

Fair market value.(p2)


Fair market value (FMV) is the price that property would sell for on the open market. It is the price that would be agreed on between a willing buyer and a willing seller, with neither being required to act, and both having reasonable knowledge of the relevant facts. If you put a restriction on the use of property you donate, the FMV must reflect that restriction.

Example 1.(p2)

If you give used clothing to the Salvation Army, the FMV would be the price that typical buyers actually pay for clothing of this age, condition, style, and use. Usually, such items are worth far less than what you paid for them.

Example 2.(p2)

If you donate land and restrict its use to agricultural purposes, you must value the land at its value for agricultural purposes, even though it would have a higher FMV if it were not restricted.


In making and supporting the valuation of property, all factors affecting value are relevant and must be considered. These include:
These factors are discussed later. Also, see Table 1 for a summary of questions to ask as you consider each factor.

Date of contribution.(p2)


Ordinarily, the date of a contribution is the date that the transfer of the property takes place.


If you deliver, without any conditions, a properly endorsed stock certificate to a qualified organization or to an agent of the organization, the date of the contribution is the date of delivery. If the certificate is mailed and received through the regular mail, it is the date of mailing. If you deliver the certificate to a bank or broker acting as your agent or to the issuing corporation or its agent, for transfer into the name of the organization, the date of the contribution is the date the stock is transferred on the books of the corporation.


If you grant an option to a qualified organization to buy real property, you have not made a charitable contribution until the organization exercises the option. The amount of the contribution is the FMV of the property on the date the option is exercised minus the exercise price.


You grant an option to a local university, which is a qualified organization, to buy real property. Under the option, the university could buy the property at any time during a 2-year period for $40,000. The FMV of the property on the date the option is granted is $50,000.
In the following tax year, the university exercises the option. The FMV of the property on the date the option is exercised is $55,000. Therefore, you have made a charitable contribution of $15,000 ($55,000, the FMV, minus $40,000, the exercise price) in the tax year the option is exercised.

Fair Market Value(p2)


previous topic occurrence Fair Market Value next topic occurrence

Determining the value of donated property would be a simple matter if you could rely only on fixed formulas, rules, or methods. Usually it is not that simple. Using such formulas, etc., seldom results in an acceptable determination of FMV. There is no single formula that always applies when determining the value of property.
This is not to say that a valuation is only guesswork. You must consider all the facts and circumstances connected with the property, such as its desirability, use, and scarcity.
For example, donated furniture should not be evaluated at some fixed rate such as 15% of the cost of new replacement furniture. When the furniture is contributed, it may be out of style or in poor condition, therefore having little or no market value. On the other hand, it may be an antique, the value of which could not be determined by using any formula.

Cost or Selling Price of 
the Donated Property(p2)


Cost or Selling Price of the Donated Property

The cost of the property to you or the actual selling price received by the qualified organization may be the best indication of its FMV. However, because conditions in the market change, the cost or selling price of property may have less weight if the property was not bought or sold reasonably close to the date of contribution.
The cost or selling price is a good indication of the property's value if:


Tom Morgan, who is not a dealer in gems, bought an assortment of gems for $5,000 from a promoter. The promoter claimed that the price was "wholesale" even though he and other dealers made similar sales at similar prices to other persons who were not dealers. The promoter said that if Tom kept the gems for more than 1 year and then gave them to charity, Tom could claim a charitable deduction of $15,000, which, according to the promoter, would be the value of the gems at the time of contribution. Tom gave the gems to a qualified charity 13 months after buying them.
The selling price for these gems had not changed from the date of purchase to the date he donated them to charity. The best evidence of FMV depends on actual transactions and not on some artificial estimate. The $5,000 charged Tom and others is, therefore, the best evidence of the maximum FMV of the gems.

Terms of the purchase or sale.(p2)


The terms of the purchase or sale should be considered in determining FMV if they influenced the price. These terms include any restrictions, understandings, or covenants limiting the use or disposition of the property.

Rate of increase or decrease in value.(p2)


Unless you can show that there were unusual circumstances, it is assumed that the increase or decrease in the value of your donated property from your cost has been at a reasonable rate. For time adjustments, an appraiser may consider published price indexes for information on general price trends, building costs, commodity costs, securities, and works of art sold at auction in arm's-length sales.


Bill Brown bought a painting for $10,000. Thirteen months later he gave it to an art museum, claiming a charitable deduction of $15,000 on his tax return. The appraisal of the painting should include information showing that there were unusual circumstances that justify a 50% increase in value for the 13 months Bill held the property.

Arm's-length offer.(p3)


An arm's-length offer to buy the property close to the valuation date may help to prove its value if the person making the offer was willing and able to complete the transaction. To rely on an offer, you should be able to show proof of the offer and the specific amount to be paid. Offers to buy property other than the donated item will help to determine value if the other property is reasonably similar to the donated property.

Sales of Comparable 


Sales of Comparable Properties

The sales prices of properties similar to the donated property are often important in determining the FMV. The weight to be given to each sale depends on the following. The comparable sales method of valuing real estate is explained later under Valuation of Various Kinds of Property.

Example 1.(p3)

Mary Black, who is not a book dealer, paid a promoter $10,000 for 500 copies of a single edition of a modern translation of the Bible. The promoter had claimed that the price was considerably less than the "retail" price, and gave her a statement that the books had a total retail value of $30,000. The promoter advised her that if she kept the Bibles for more than 1 year and then gave them to a qualified organization, she could claim a charitable deduction for the "retail" price of $30,000. Thirteen months later she gave all the Bibles to a church that she selected from a list provided by the promoter. At the time of her donation, wholesale dealers were selling similar quantities of Bibles to the general public for $10,000.
The FMV of the Bibles is $10,000, the price at which similar quantities of Bibles were being sold to others at the time of the contribution.

Example 2.(p3)

The facts are the same as in Example 1, except that the promoter gave Mary Black a second option. The promoter said that if Mary wanted a charitable deduction within 1 year of the purchase, she could buy the 500 Bibles at the "retail" price of $30,000, paying only $10,000 in cash and giving a promissory note for the remaining $20,000. The principal and interest on the note would not be due for 12 years. According to the promoter, Mary could then, within 1 year of the purchase, give the Bibles to a qualified organization and claim the full $30,000 retail price as a charitable contribution. She purchased the Bibles under the second option and, 3 months later, gave them to a church, which will use the books for church purposes.
At the time of the gift, the promoter was selling similar lots of Bibles for either $10,000 or $30,000. The difference between the two prices was solely at the discretion of the buyer. The promoter was a willing seller for $10,000. Therefore, the value of Mary's contribution of the Bibles is $10,000, the amount at which similar lots of Bibles could be purchased from the promoter by members of the general public.

Replacement Cost(p3)


previous topic occurrence Replacement Cost next topic occurrence

The cost of buying, building, or manufacturing property similar to the donated item should be considered in determining FMV. However, there must be a reasonable relationship between the replacement cost and the FMV.
The replacement cost is the amount it would cost to replace the donated item on the valuation date. Often there is no relationship between the replacement cost and the FMV. If the supply of the donated property is more or less than the demand for it, the replacement cost becomes less important.
To determine the replacement cost of the donated property, find the "estimated replacement cost new." Then subtract from this figure an amount for depreciation due to the physical condition and obsolescence of the donated property. You should be able to show the relationship between the depreciated replacement cost and the FMV, as well as how you arrived at the "estimated replacement cost new."

Opinions of Experts(p3)


Generally, the weight given to an expert's opinion on matters such as the authenticity of a coin or a work of art, or the most profitable and best use of a piece of real estate, depends on the knowledge and competence of the expert and the thoroughness with which the opinion is supported by experience and facts. For an expert's opinion to deserve much weight, the facts must support the opinion. For additional information, see Appraisals, later.

Table 1. Factors That Affect FMV

IF the factor you are considering is... THEN you should ask these questions...
cost or selling priceWas the purchase or sale of the property reasonably close to the date of contribution?
Was any increase or decrease in value, as compared to your cost, at a reasonable rate?
Do the terms of purchase or sale limit what can be done with the property?
Was there an arm's-length offer to buy the property close to the valuation date?
sales of comparable propertiesHow similar is the property sold to the property donated?
How close is the date of sale to the valuation date?
Was the sale at arm's-length?
What was the condition of the market at the time of sale?
replacement costWhat would it cost to replace the donated property?
Is there a reasonable relationship between replacement cost and FMV?
Is the supply of the donated property more or less than the demand for it?
opinions of expertsIs the expert knowledgeable and competent?
Is the opinion thorough and supported by facts and experience?

Problems in Determining 
Fair Market Value(p3)


Problems in Determining Fair Market Value

There are a number of problems in determining the FMV of donated property.

Unusual Market 


Unusual Market Conditions

The sale price of the property itself in an arm's-length transaction in an open market is often the best evidence of its value. When you rely on sales of comparable property, the sales must have been made in an open market. If those sales were made in a market that was artificially supported or stimulated so as not to be truly representative, the prices at which the sales were made will not indicate the FMV.
For example, liquidation sale prices usually do not indicate the FMV. Also, sales of stock under unusual circumstances, such as sales of small lots, forced sales, and sales in a restricted market, may not represent the FMV.

Selection of 
Comparable Sales(p3)


Selection of Comparable Sales

Using sales of comparable property is an important method for determining the FMV of donated property. However, the amount of weight given to a sale depends on the degree of similarity between the comparable and the donated properties. The degree of similarity must be close enough so that this selling price would have been given consideration by reasonably well-informed buyers or sellers of the property.


You give a rare, old book to your former college. The book is a third edition and is in poor condition because of a missing back cover. You discover that there was a sale for $300, near the valuation date, of a first edition of the book that was in good condition. Although the contents are the same, the books are not at all similar because of the different editions and their physical condition. Little consideration would be given to the selling price of the $300 property by knowledgeable buyers or sellers.

Future Events(p4)


You may not consider unexpected events happening after your donation of property in making the valuation. You may consider only the facts known at the time of the gift, and those that could be reasonably expected at the time of the gift.


You give farmland to a qualified charity. The transfer provides that your mother will have the right to all income and full use of the property for her life. Even though your mother dies 1 week after the transfer, the value of the property on the date it is given is its present value, subject to the life interest as estimated from actuarial tables. You may not take a higher deduction because the charity received full use and possession of the land only 1 week after the transfer.

Using Past Events to 
Predict the Future(p4)


A common error is to rely too much on past events that do not fairly reflect the probable future earnings and FMV.


You give all your rights in a successful patent to your favorite charity. Your records show that before the valuation date there were three stages in the patent's history of earnings. First, there was rapid growth in earnings when the invention was introduced. Then, there was a period of high earnings when the invention was being exploited. Finally, there was a decline in earnings when competing inventions were introduced. The entire history of earnings may be relevant in estimating the future earnings. However, the appraiser must not rely too much on the stage of rapid growth in earnings, or of high earnings. The market conditions at those times do not represent the condition of the market at the valuation date. What is most significant is the trend of decline in earnings up to the valuation date. For more information about donations of patents, see Patents, later.