Is Your Holiday Gift-Giving Creating a Tax Liability?

Is Your Holiday Gift-Giving Creating a Tax Liability?

With the holidays and the start of a new year approaching, it’s natural to start thinking about who’s on your gift list this season. Gifts and charitable contributions given in 2015 can help make your tax burden lighter, which could be an especially important consideration if your year has been a prosperous one. If you’ve given gift or inheritance this year, you need to know whether these assets are taxable.

‘Tis the season to talk to your CPA to learn how gifts affect your tax status and what gifting and donations before year’s end could mean for your 2016 tax return.

Like an inheritance, a gift can count as taxable income. In 2015, the annual exclusion for gifts received is $14,000. In other words, if you make a gift below that amount, you do not need to report the amount on your income tax forms for the year. In the case of a cash gift, figuring the value is straightforward, but for gifts of property, assessing fair market value for tax purposes is vital. Working through a local Long Island CPA firm ensures you won’t face any surprises in 2016.

How are gifts that are more volatile in value such as property or stock estimated for tax purposes? Timing is critical here because the IRS evaluates the gift based on its fair market value at the time it was given. In other words, if you received shares of stock valued at $5,000 in January 2015 and sell them for $10,000 in December, you are responsible for taxes on the $5,000 profit even though the total value of the gift in 2015 did not exceed the $14,000 individual gift limit.

Let’s look at a popular gift for the holidays that will almost certainly exceed the exemption limit: a new car.

That $14,000 2015 limit is not without exceptions, but these are limited to special cases. Some medical expenses, tuition, and other education expenses may be exempt from taxation even if they exceed the cap. In the case of tuition, the gift must be paid directly to the educational institution. If, for example, you were to pay for a semester of college for a child or grandchild, you would need to do so directly to ensure it remained a tax-exempt gift; if the money goes to the student first, it then becomes taxable once it exceeds the individual cap. Similarly, medical expenses can qualify as gifts too, but only if the giver pays the care provider or insurance company directly.

The IRS tracks annual gift-giving because every person has a lifetime exemption amount past which gifts become taxable. Currently, this lifetime limit is $5.43 million per person. If you’re married, you and your spouse can combine to exclude up to $10.86 million from taxes. Gifts of property, businesses, and other highly valuable assets count toward this lifetime sum so the IRS can ensure that owners pay the appropriate taxes on them.

While the IRS takes no notice of the usual cashmere sweaters and colognes that get exchanged as gifts for the holidays, it does require larger gifts to be noted on tax returns. If you have given generous gifts this year, talk to your Long Island accountant to learn more about your tax responsibilities.

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