Gifts Given and Received – Taxable?

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

December 27, 2013

I remember when I was growing up, every year for Christmas, my grandfather would send a check to my brother and I for $75 each.  That seemed like an incredible amount of money to me at the time, and it really boosted my treasury each year!  One of those years, I can remember going to the bank with my mom to cash the check, and wanting to see what $75 felt like in my own two hands; I asked the teller to give it to me…all in ones.  She smiled, pulled some crisp ones from under her drawer, and counted them out for me.  I had never felt a wad of bills like that in my hands!  I tried folding them over, but I could not get them all in my pocket it was so thick, so I put them in lengthwise, and they just about stuck out the top of my pants pocket – I was a rich man!

After a week or so, we came back and deposited about half of them back into my bank account.  My dad had always encouraged us to save half of whatever we received or earned when we were growing up.  I admit, that ratio did not quite remain when I got into high school, and discovered a new and expensive hobby called, girls, but saving was ingrained in me.  When I left for college I had a measurable chunk of change in my bank account.

Throughout those years, it never occurred to me to wonder about the tax implications of the gifts I received.  Now, however, I think a lot about those things!

I do not know anyone that would hesitate to put a gift of $75 into his or her bank account.  But if you throw two or three zeroes on the end, then I definitely get questions from people wondering if it they will have to pay tax.  As the recipient of a gift, whether it is $75 or $75 million dollars, you do not have to pay taxes or report the receipt of the gift (with one exception that I can think of to be explained later).  If you receive something other than cash, such as stocks, real estate, or tangible property, you could have tax if you sell it.  The catch is that when you receive noncash gifts, you also receive the giftor’s cost basis, and when you sell you have taxable gain on the difference between the sales price and the cost basis.  For example, if someone gives you a share of stock worth $100, and that person bought it for only $10, you have to pay tax on the $90 gain if you sell it.

If you put yourself in the shoes of the person giving the gift, there are different rules you need to follow.  As long as you give less than $14,000 (2013 and 2014) a year in combined cash or noncash items to any one person, you have nothing to worry about, except providing the person evidence of your cost basis if the items are noncash items.  (You are doing a disservice if you do not provide proof of cost basis, since the person you give the noncash items to could potentially be held liable for tax on the entire amount of the gift if they sell it, and cannot prove your cost basis – this is often overlooked.)  You could give $14,000 to every person on earth each year and not have to file a gift tax return.

If you give $14,001 to just one person, then you have to file a Form 709 United States Gift Tax Return.  The portion in excess of $14,000 per person is then subtracted from your combined gift and estate tax exemption (currently $5.25 million and indexed for inflation).  For most people this is just an informational filing as they will never reach the limits, but it is required (and limits have gone up and down in the past).  If you exceed the limits, however, the person giving the gift has a tax liability at a rate as a high as 40 percent.  The only possible time I can think of that the IRS could pursue the recipient of a gift for taxes would be if the giftor gave away so much money that he or she had a tax liability and could not pay it.  The IRS in that case, could pursue the person receiving a gift for tax.

Keep in mind that a gift is different from inheriting when someone passes away.  You generally do not have tax on inherited amounts either, with the exception of tax liability on any earnings the assets you are entitled to accumulate between the date of the peron’s passing, and the date you receive the property.  Your cost basis with inherited assets is also generally more favorable as the cost basis you receive is typically the fair market value at the date the person passed away, and not their old, often lower, cost basis.

Crafty minds will sometimes think of schemes to call income a gift since gifts are not taxable.  Be careful of this – substance over form will rule the day.  Yes, it would be nice if I would do your tax preparation for free, and you also happen to be kind enough to give me money, but it ain’t gonna fly!

Prior articles are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog.

IRS Circular 230 Notice: To the extent this article concerns tax matters, it is not intended to be used and cannot be used by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law.

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.

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