In late June 2021, social media users shared a meme misinforming viewers that Walmart and other large businesses were taking customers’ point-of-sale charitable donations and writing them off on their taxes. Readers have been asking Snopes about this meme since at least August 2020.
The meme addresses a phenomenon called “checkout charity,” in which many large businesses ask customers to donate a small amount to a charitable cause upon checkout:
The meme is misleading. If you are at a business, like a grocery store or big box retailer, and are asked to donate a small amount to a charitable organization when you check out at the cash register, you (the customer, not the business) can legally write that amount off, so long as you don’t get anything in exchange for the donation, keep the receipt, and note that the donation went to an eligible charity, according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, a tax policy-oriented think tank based in Washington, D.C.
What happens to the money you donate at the cash register?
This is where you round up your bill to give to a charity designated by the retailer, and the donation amount appears on your receipt. The store serves only as a collection agent for your gift. Assuming the business is following the law, it will not include your donation as part of its business receipts, or income, nor will it claim the charitable gift as an expense.
In other words, your gift has zero impact on the store’s income taxes. Keep in mind that the store chooses the receiving charity, so make sure it is one you can support. As a customer, the donation will appear on your receipt and you can claim it as a charitable deduction when you file your income tax return. But you probably won’t.
A whopping nine out of ten customers don’t write those donations off, even with a receipt, according to the Tax Policy Center, which estimates only 9% of households claim deductions for charitable donations.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that the practice is gaining in popularity because both charities and businesses benefit from it:
“Checkout charity, as it’s sometimes called, has become big business for nonprofits and retailers. Charities love it because it raises money from the masses at little cost. Companies love it because it makes them look caring and generous, even if it comes on the backs of customers.”