Britannica Money (2024)

The so-called gift tax. It’s one of the more perplexing taxes in the U.S. Unlike other types of IRS levies—sales tax, income tax, property tax—gift tax rules are best understood in terms of how gifts are excluded from the tax.

That’s because contrary to almost everything else in the IRS rule book, the gift tax is really designed to let most people give money or other valuables—up to a point—without owing any tax. For 2024, the basic allowable (that is, non-taxable) gift amount is $18,000 per year, per person giving the gift, per recipient. But even if you exceed that amount, there are some exceptions, including a lifetime gift tax exclusion, that could prevent you from owing any tax on gifts you make.

Key Points

  • The gift tax is what the giver pays if they exceed certain gift limits in any given year.
  • The exclusion limit for 2023 was $17,000 for gifts to individuals; for 2024, it’s $18,000.
  • There is also a lifetime limit on tax-free gifts that numbers in the millions.

What is the gift tax?

The gift tax is what the giver pays if they exceed certain gift limits (a) per year and (b) in their lifetime. Gift taxes can range between 18% and 40% on a graduated basis (the more you give, the higher the tax). The donor is responsible for these taxes in almost all cases.

Gifts in this context are anything of monetary value you give to another person for which you do not receive any or equal compensation. Cash, property deeds, stocks, and benefits from insurance are all examples of gifts that could be taxed. Even forgiving a debt or making an interest-free or below-market loan to someone is considered a gift.

Does this mean you might have given something to someone at some point—not knowing it was taxable—and now you could be on the hook? While that’s possible, it’s highly unlikely, thanks to something called the gift tax exclusion.

What is the gift tax exclusion?

The basic gift tax exclusion or exemption is the amount you can give each year to one person and not worry about being taxed. The gift tax exclusion limit for 2023 was $17,000, and for 2024 it’s $18,000. That means anything you give under that amount is not taxable and does not have to be reported to the IRS.

Again, there are some loopholes, so let’s take this a step at a time. By understanding a few of the rules about gift taxes, you can give away considerably more without any tax implications.

Are there types of gifts that are not taxable?

Yes. There are a few categories that, in general, are not subject to gift taxes, including:

  • Tuition paid directly to a college
  • Medical bills paid directly to a care provider
  • Gifts to your spouse
  • Gifts to political organizations

There may be exceptions even in these cases, so if you’re making a large gift, it’s probably best to check with a professional to make sure there are no tax implications.

For instance, if you and your spouse are U.S. citizens, gifts to your spouse are unlimited and exempt from tax. If your spouse is a non-citizen, there is a 2024 gift tax exemption of $185,000—but anything above that amount is taxable.

How many people can you give to without owing any tax?

This is a great question—because it illustrates the real value of the gift tax exemption. Under the current rules, you can give up to $18,000 to any individual in one year—and to as many people as you choose.

This is an annual limit. You can give up to $18,000 to as many individuals as you choose every year without owing a gift tax.

Suppose you have three kids. In 2024, you can give $18,000 to each of them—for a total of $54,000—without owing any taxes on those gifts.

What’s more, the exemption rules apply to individuals, not families. This means your spouse could also give your three children $18,000 each. Each child could receive $36,000 total from both parents without any tax implications or any forms to fill out.

Do contributions to a child’s 529 College Savings Plan count as gifts or educational expenses?

Contributions to a 529 plan are counted as gifts and are subject to the $18,000 limit for the annual gift tax exclusion. (There is an election available that lets you split a large 529 gift over a five-year period.) Paying a tuition bill directly, as noted above, is not considered a gift.

What happens if I give more than the exempt amount?

If you make a gift in excess of $18,000 in 2024 (or more than $17,000 for 2023), you’ll need to file Form 709 with the IRS as part of your annual return.

But even then, you may not have any taxes to pay. That’s because there’s also an inflation-adjusted lifetime gift tax exclusion that provides an even bigger umbrella for tax-free gifts over the course of your entire life. (As noted above, the gift tax rules are really set up to permit most gifts.)

If you die during 2024, there is no tax implication on $13.61 million in total gifts given during your lifetime. Again, the limit applies on an individual basis, so your spouse has a 2024 lifetime limit of $13.61 million as well.

Note that this lofty threshold is scheduled to come down to $6.8 million in 2026. It’s possible that Congress may act to keep the current exemption limit in place. But it’s something to consider if you anticipate giving away significant assets in the coming decade.

Are gift amounts below the exclusion threshold tax deductible?

Only if you are giving to a charity or cause that has tax-deductible status. There are no tax benefits if you are simply giving part of your wealth to a relative.

The bottom line

As of 2024, the gift tax really only comes into play if the gifts you’ve given over your lifetime approach $14 million in value. True, Congress could opt to reduce that lifetime exclusion, but the reality is that most people won’t get anywhere near that amount.

That leaves you free to give just about as much as you want to as many people as you want. Make sure to keep track of your gifts in a safe place so you can tell if you’re getting close to the lifetime limit. And if you exceed $18,000 in gifts to any one person in a single year, be sure to file the right form to let the IRS know. Again, given the size of the lifetime exclusion, it’s unlikely you’ll owe tax. But you don’t want any surprises for you or your heirs down the line.

Britannica Money (2024)

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