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.

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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