Consumer Watch: Smart Charitable Giving

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With more than one million charities and countless causes to choose from, deciding where to donate your hard-earned dollars can be tricky. (KFSN)

Americans donated more than $350 billion to charities last year. With more than one million charities and countless causes to choose from, deciding where to donate your hard-earned dollars can be tricky. Consumer Reports says you really have to do your homework.

Organizations can spend as much on marketing and overhead as on actually helping people. But there are plenty of ways to research charities. Online resources like Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, and Give.org from the Better Business Bureau evaluate groups on their costs and effectiveness, and provide easy-to-understand ratings.

In general, they suggest staying away from charities that spend more than 30 to 40 percent of their budget on fundraising. If you'd like to learn more about an organization, consider volunteering first to get to know the group. If you are a repeat donor, look at last year's contributions to see what the charity accomplished with gifts like yours.

And Consumer Reports says to be careful of look-alike charities. The names and logos of some low-rated charities look a lot like those of more respected organizations. They're preying on your confusion.

For example, the highly-rated Leukemia and Lymphoma Society spends about three-quarters of its budget on charitable programs, according to Charity Watch. The Childhood Leukemia Foundation spends one-quarter of its budget on charitable programs.

Be wary of telemarketing calls, especially high-pressure or overly emotional appeals. Legitimate charities will be just as happy to receive your contribution after you've hung up and checked them out.

If you're one of those who wait until the last minute, know that you can deduct credit-card donations on your 2015 tax returns even if you don't pay your bill until January.
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