Thanksgiving is a good time to be thankful for those charitable, educational and religious groups that provide your community with valuable services.

And now may be a good time to consider supporting these groups because, if you contribute before the year is over, you may "do well by doing good" through valuable tax deductions.

To illustrate the benefit of these deductions, let's assume you're in the 25 percent tax bracket. If you give $100 to a qualified charity, you can deduct $100 (with a tax benefit of $25) when you file your taxes. Consequently, the real cost of your donation is just $75 ($100 minus the $25 tax savings).

As you consider your charitable gifts, keep the following points in mind:

You must donate - not just pledge. You can make a pledge to donate, but the amount is not deductible until you actually pay it. You must contribute to a qualified charitable group. For your gift to be deductible, it must go to a qualified tax-exempt organization - either a religious group or a group that has received 501(c)(3) status from the IRS. If you're unsure if the group you want to support is tax-exempt, just ask. You must itemize. To claim a charitable deduction, you must itemize deductions on your taxes.

Thus far, we've talked only about cash gifts. But you may have other financial assets, such as stocks, that you can give to charitable groups, and these gifts also can earn you tax benefits.

For example, suppose you give $500 worth of stock in "XYZ" Company to a charitable group.

If you're in the 25 percent tax bracket, you can deduct $125 when you file your taxes for 2010. But by donating the "XYZ" stock, you avoid paying any capital gains taxes you might have incurred if you had sold the stock yourself.

Making charitable gifts now may help you reduce the size of your estate and potentially lower any future estate tax burden on your heirs. Right now, federal estate tax laws are in flux, but it's possible that, one day, your estate might be large enough to generate estate taxes.

If you wanted to formalize your charitable gifts and help your estate planning, you might consider establishing a charitable remainder trust. Under such an arrangement, you would place some assets, such as stocks or real estate, in a trust, which could then use these assets to pay you a lifetime income stream.

When you establish the trust, you may be able to receive a tax deduction based on the charitable group's "remainder interest," the amount the charity is likely to ultimately receive. This figure is determined by an IRS formula.

Upon your death, the trust would relinquish the remaining assets to the charitable organization you've named.

Keep in mind, though, that this type of trust can be complex. To establish one, you'll need to work with your tax and legal advisors.

In any case, be generous during this season of giving. You'll be helping a charitable group accomplish its worthy goals - and you may be helping yourself when tax time arrives.

Warren Albrecht is a contributing columnist for The Nueces County Record Star. Readers may contact him at (361) 242-1013.