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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 10 Issue 5
May 2016
Want to get rid of an old computer? Don't sell it, donate and deduct it instead

The problem
Do you have a computer or tablet or printer that still works but that you no longer need? Your first thought might be to sell it, and if you can find an interested buyer and make that work, that's great! However the wide availability of inexpensive new and used equipment means that you'll have a lot of competition, so this may take a fair amount of time and effort.

My advice
Instead, I suggest you consider donating your equipment to a qualified nonprofit and taking a tax deduction. They'll get the use of the equipment, and you'll get a tax benefit and the satisfaction of helping a nonprofit organization.

How much can you deduct?
This is a little complicated. I'm not a tax expert, but here's what I understand:
  • Like most people, you probably remember exactly what you paid for your computer, but when you donate equipment you normally cannot deduct that same amount, unless you donate it unopened and immediately following your purchase.
  • In general, it's not the charity's job to place a value on your donated equipment. They will probably only acknowledge in writing what you've given them by listing the make and model of the equipment along with the date of your donation.
  • You should first determine the equipment's current "fair market value" in a reasonable way, which will probably be less than what you paid for it. One good approach is to find 3 or 4 current listings for the same make and model on amazon.com or by looking at "Buy It Now" (fixed price) items on eBay.com, and then using the average or middle value. You also should keep a copy of these listings to justify your valuation in case you're ever audited.
  • Your deduction may then turn out to be the fair market value, but there are a number of factors to consider, such as whether the equipment was used in a business (and thus may have already been deducted or depreciated), whether its value has increased since you bought it, along with other factors, so talk to your accountant to find the right approach for your particular situation.
Direct donation: Sounds good, but less likely to work out well
How can you find an organization to donate your equipment to? Well, at first the direct approach seems like a good idea:
  • You contact a nonprofit organization that you care about, like your local church or synagogue, a local office of a national charity, or a school or hospital or community center or homeless shelter or veterans group, and offer your computer.
  • You talk to someone who might tell you that your computer doesn't fit their needs, so you would then start over and call another nonprofit.
  • Or, the person you talk to welcomes your donation and it might work out great. But it's also possible that your equipment might create an internal problem at the nonprofit, because even though your computer may be newer or faster or better on paper, actually moving someone from one computer to another takes time and effort, compatibility issues can complicate matters, and all of this may disrupt the staff or cause other unforeseen problems in the organization.
The problem with the direct approach is that it is often sudden and unplanned, and may not be best for the nonprofit.

Indirect donation: Find a computer refurbisher who supplies computers to nonprofits and individuals
There are many computer professionals who specialize in preparing donated equipment for use not only by nonprofit organizations, but also for specific populations of individuals who might otherwise not be able to afford a computer. Such a refurbisher is either associated with a nonprofit, or it might be a nonprofit on its own, so your equipment donation would be deductible.

A nonprofit refurbisher may have 3 separate but related missions:
  • To make refurbished computers available to anyone who could not otherwise afford one, as well as to individuals, companies, and other organizations, asking only for a modest donation to help cover expenses.
  • To train volunteers to refurbish computers, who work side-by-side with the professional staff preparing the donated computers for actual end-users, and at the same time these volunteers learn a valuable skill.
  • To share those donations with their associated nonprofit whose mission is to help a particular population of people in need, like the homeless, veterans, unemployed, etc.
You can probably find a refurbisher whose nonprofit mission or target population fits your values, but there are not as many of them as there are regular nonprofit charities.

See "Where to go from here" below for my advice on finding this type of computer refurbisher.

Is getting a tax deduction important to you, or are you only interested in finding a good home for your equipment?
If getting a deduction is important to you, then be careful to confirm that donations to the given organization are tax-deductible. For example, political contributions usually aren't deductible.

However, if finding a good home for your equipment matters more to you than getting a tax deduction, then you'll have a wider range of organizations to choose from, and you'll have less work and recordkeeping to do.

Can the organization use your equipment?
No matter which organization you choose to receive your equipment, contact them first (or check their website) to confirm that they are looking for computer donations. If so, make sure that yours meets the organization's minimum requirements, including:
  • Whether it's a laptop or a desktop
  • For a desktop computer, the type of monitor: CRT vs. LCD
  • The amount of RAM
  • The size of the internal hard drive
  • The type and version of the operating system: Windows XP, Vista, 7, or 10 vs. Macintosh 10.6, 10.7, etc.
  • The age of the equipment
  • For a printer, whether it's an inkjet, a black & white laser, a color laser, etc.
When in doubt, call the organization and talk to them. They'll probably be grateful for your interest.

How should you prepare your equipment?
There are a number of things you should do to prepare your equipment for donation:
  • Be kind! Dust it off and confirm that everything actually works. Don't leave it to the organization's staff or volunteers to find this out, especially if they're not equipped to revive or repair nonworking equipment.
  • If you haven't already, make sure that you've copied any important data to an external hard drive or flash drive that you're keeping, or to another computer.
  • Include any cables, disks, manuals, ink or toner cartridges, and accessories.
  • If you're donating multiple computers, use bags, boxes, or packing tape to keep corresponding items together, or label items that might get separated.
  • Either remove any user passwords, or write them down on a piece of paper and tape it to the computer.
  • If you're expecting to get a tax deduction, make a list of the make and model of each item so they can list them properly in their acknowledgement letter to you.
  • Ask whether the organization will pick up the equipment. Many can't, so be prepared to deliver.
Securely erase your data
If you're concerned about privacy, don't assume that the organization will securely erase your data. You should erase any personal data before donating using a modern, industry-standard secure method. Deleting files and emptying the Recycle Bin or Trash is not enough. If you're not sure how to do this, ask someone you know and trust who can show you how or do it for you.

Here are 3 reasonable approaches:
  • Create a new computer user, delete your old user, and then securely erase the internal drive's free space.
  • Completely erase the internal drive, but you should confirm that the organization is prepared to reinstall the operating system.
  • Remove the internal drive and keep or destroy it, but again you should confirm that the organization is prepared to install a replacement.
Also, if you're donating a fax machine or multifunction printer that includes a fax, you should erase any stored faxes and phone numbers.

Where to go from here
If you're in the Boston area, here are 3 nonprofit computer refurbishers that I can recommend based on my own experiences as well as my colleagues':
  • http://EthiopianWomen.org - The Adbar Ethiopian Women's Alliance serves low-income women and girls - Click "Donate" to read about their associated "Get Connected!" computer donation and refurbishing program, which trains people to prepare the computers, makes that refurbished equipment available to any interested individuals and companies, and only asks for a modest donation.
  • http://tech-center-enlightentcity.tv - The South End Technology Center (SETC) is a community-based program that provides many opportunities for children and adults to learn about computers, as well providing refurbished computers to people in need.
  • http://tecschange.org/classic - Tecs Change (Technology for Social Change) provides refurbished technology to individuals and groups working for social change, locally and internationally.
If you're not in the Boston area, if you call one of the above refurbishers they can probably help you find one in your area.

Suggested Google searches - To the keywords below, add the nonprofit mission you're interested in (church, homeless, veterans, etc.) plus the name of your state or town to narrow the results:
  • Google: nonprofit computer refurbisher
  • Google: nonprofit computer donation
  • Google: donate equipment deduction
  • Google: seek computer donation
General resources:
How to contact me:
email: martin@kadansky.com
phone: (617) 484-6657
web: http://www.kadansky.com

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

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I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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