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Trusts not just for Carnegies

Setting up a charitable trust used to be something reserved for the wealthy, but several mutual-fund groups and banks have put trusts within reach of average investors.

A trust is an investment fund for which contributions are tax deductible and from which you can generally distribute income to the charities of your choosing.

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Fidelity Investments and Vanguard Group offer them. With the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund (800-682-4438), you must initially invest at least $10,000. Anytime after that, you can distribute the proceeds to your choice of charities. Some $1.3 billion has been invested in the program, and Fidelity has made more than 57,000 grants. Fidelity also offers a Pooled Income Fund ($20,000 minimum) that provides income to the donor and benefits to the charity.

The Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program (888-383-4483) requires a $25,000 donation. The program has $28 million invested.

And check with your local bank about a charitable trust. PNC Bank (617-443-6300) has a popular program.

Under the charitable trust concept, the donor usually receives a full or partial tax deduction. But be sure to check with the plan administrators.

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