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Tax on gifts


This question comes up a lot when a parent makes a cash gift to a child or when a grandparent gifts to a grandchild.  When you make a cash gift to someone else, who pays the tax on that gift?  The short answer is “typically no one does”.    Each individual has a federal “lifetime gift tax exclusion” of $5,400,000 which means that I would have to give away $5.4 million dollars before I would owe “gift tax” on a gift.  For married couples, they each have a $5.4 million dollar exclusion so they would have to gift away $10.8M before they would owe any gift tax. When a gift is made, the person making the gift does not pay tax and the person receiving the gift does not pay tax below those lifetime thresholds.

“But I thought you could only gift $14,000 per year per person?”  The $14,000 per year amount is the IRS “gift exclusion amount” not the “limit”. You can gift $14,000 per year to any number of people and it will not count toward your $5.4M lifetime exclusion amount.  A married couple can gift $28,000 per year to any one person and it will not count toward their $10.8M lifetime exclusion.  If you do not plan on making gifts above your lifetime threshold amount you do not have to worry about anyone paying taxes on your cash gifts.

Let’s look at an example.  I’m married and I decide to gift $20,000 to each of my three children.  When I make that gift of $60,000 ($20K x 3) I do not owe tax on that gift and my kids do not owe tax on the gift.  Also, that $60,000 does not count toward my lifetime exclusion amount because it’s under the $28K annual exclusion for a married couple to each child.

In the next example, I’m single and I gift $1,000,000 my neighbor. I do not owe tax on that gift and my neighbor does not owe any tax on the gift because it is below my $5.4M threshold. However, since I made a gift to one person in excess of my $14,000 annual exclusion, I do have to file a gift tax return when I file my taxes that year acknowledging that I made a gift $986,000 in excess of my annual exclusion.  This is how the IRS tracks the gift amounts that count against my $5.4M lifetime exclusion.

Important note: This article speaks to the federal tax liability on gifts. If you live in a state that has state income tax, your state’s gift tax exclusion limits may vary from the federal limits.


Michael Ruger

About Michael………

Hi, I’m Michael Ruger. I’m the managing partner of Greenbush Financial Group and the creator of the nationally recognized Money Smart Board blog . I created the blog because there are a lot of events in life that require important financial decisions. The goal is to help our readers avoid big financial missteps, discover financial solutions that they were not aware of, and to optimize their financial future.

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