Archive for November, 2012

Nov
13

Give Your Money Away – Tax Free!

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The end of the year is coming fast, which makes tax season right around the next corner.  Quite a lot of people receive income tax refunds, so they are in a hurry to file and get that money back! There are bills to pay and things to do!  The kids need shoes! 

There are things you can do now that will make filing your income taxes easier when the time comes.  In the coming months I’ll be writing about different tax topics you should be aware of, and tax saving tips you can use to get back the maximum refund you’re owed! 

White Gift Box with Red Ribbon BowJanie is a friend of mine, and every year her parents gift Janie and her husband Steve a 5 figure check – each.  This year, each of them received $13,000 from her parents – for a total of $26,000 – and that is completely tax free income.  Janie and Steve don’t owe any taxes on the money, and Janie’s parents don’t have to pay any gift taxes for giving their money away.

If your estate is sizable, and you’re trying to minimize estate taxes, you can use the Annual Gift Tax Exclusion to reduce your estate tax liability.  You can give away up to $13,000 tax free this year to any individual, and to as many individuals as you want – and, if you are married filing joint, your spouse can also give $13,000 to the same people.  Tax free!

According to the tax code, any gift is a taxable gift.  Gifts can be property, money, the use of property, or the right to receive income from a property.  According to the tax code, there are exceptions to this “any gift is a taxable gift” rule.  (Of course there are, Congress wouldn’t have it any other way!)

The following gifts are usually not considered taxable:

  • Gifts that are not more than the annual calendar year exclusion (from 2009 through 2012 this has been $13,000 annually for each gift)
  • Tuition or medical bills paid for someone else (you must pay the institution directly, not the person)
  • Gifts to your spouse
  • Gifts to a political organization
  • Gifts to charities

If someone receives a gift that is valued at more than $13,000, taxes are owed on the amount that is above the $13,000 exclusion.

Any gift you receive is not treated as income.  The person giving the gift is responsible for paying the gift tax.

For example:

1.  Mary gave Joe a cash gift of $9,000 during the calendar year.  This gift is not taxable because it is under the $13,000 exclusion.

2.  Jack gave Susan a cash gift of $16,000 during the calendar year to pay for college tuition.  IF Jack had paid this gift directly to the state university Susan attended, the entire $16,000 would be non-taxable due to the education exclusion.  BUT, Jack gave Susan the money personally – so the first $13,000 is not taxable due to the annual exclusion, but the remaining $3,000 is considered a taxable gift.  Jack, as the donor or gift giver, is responsible for paying any gift tax due.

3.  Aunt Joan gave Lisa $20,000 cash to purchase a used car.  The first $13,000 of this gift falls under the yearly exclusion and is not considered taxable, but the remaining $7,000 is considered a taxable gift.  Aunt Joan is responsible for paying any gift tax due.

4.  Pete and Sally are married.  Sally gave a cash gift of $25,000 to her daughter during the calendar year.  Pete gave his son a gift of $15,000.  Neither of the gifts are taxable, both are completely excluded from the the gift tax.

This example messed up your thinking, didn’t it?  If Sally gave her daughter $25,000, then the amount over $13,000, which is $12,000, should be taxable, right?  What about the gift Pete gave his son – that was $15,000, or $2000 over the exclusion limit.  That $2000 is taxable, isn’t it?

Not so fast.

When you are married, and both spouses agree to the gift, Gift Splitting becomes a factor.  When Pete and Sally agreed to split the gifts they made during the year, each gift was split equally between the two of them.  That $25,000 Sally gifted her daughter?  When split, Sally gave $12,500 and Pete gave $12,500 – this is under the exclusion amount of $13,000, and therefore this gift is not taxable.  The same math works with Pete’s son:  his gift was $15,000, but when equally split between Sally and Pete, the gift becomes $7500 from each – well under the $13,000 exclusion and not taxable.

Take a minute and realize how powerful a tool this can be – you can get creative and give gifts that will benefit you as well as the gift receiver.  You can gift your children yearly to the max, and not only build a nest egg for their future, you can do it relatively tax free.

Let’s try one more example:

5.  This year, Sonny decided to give 10 of his grandchildren checks for $13,000 each.  Sonny also paid the college tuition for a nephew, writing a check to the local college for $15,000.  Sonny paid a local hospital $14,000 for medical care his son, Carl, received.  The $14,000 bill was the balance due after Carl’s health insurance paid in full.  Carl was off work for 3 months, recuperating from his injuries.  During this time, Sonny also paid $2500 in health insurance premiums for his son.  Carl’s wife, Connie, took an unpaid leave of absence from her job to care for Carl.  Sonny gave Connie a gift of $25,000 to replace her lost income.  Sonny gave $20,000 to Shari, a good friend of his.  Shari promptly sailed to Hawaii.  Sonny also gave $25,000 to his sister, Ellen.

  • None of the $130,000 gifted to the grandchildren is considered a taxable gift.  The $13,000 exclusion applies in each case.
  • The $15,000 paid for college tuition falls under the education exclusion.  This gift is non-taxable.
  • The $16,500 Sonny paid for Carl’s medical bills and health insurance premiums is non-taxable due to the medical exclusion.  (Sonny paid the hospital and the insurance company directly, which classifies this as medical exclusion.  If Carl would have been paid directly, only $13,000 would have been excluded from tax)
  • The first $13,000 of Connie’s gift is not taxable.  $12,000 remains after applying the exclusion and is considered taxable.
  • $7000 of the gift Sonny gave Shari is taxable.  ($20,000 – $13,000 = $7000)
  • Sonny owes gift tax on $12,000 of the gift he gave Ellen.  ($25,000 – $13,000 = $12,000)
  • Sonny gave away $231,500 in cash gifts this year.  $31,000 of that is subject to gift tax.

Sonny will be required to file a Form 709, US Gift Tax Return, and $6,220.00 in taxes will be assessed on the $31,000 we’ve determined is the taxable amount of all the gifts Sonny gave this year.  But guess what?  Sonny won’t pay a dime in gift tax.

I’ve really confused you now, haven’t I?  (Please don’t bang your head on your desk, and stop pulling your hair – this will eventually make sense) Let me explain about the Unified Credit to Gift Tax.

You see, because Congress writes the tax code, and because Congress is made up of of millionaires and billionaires, they write the tax code to benefit themselves and their friends.  Become familiar with what is in the tax code as it applies to your situation, and use the law to your benefit.

In addition to an Annual Gift Tax Exclusion amount, and in addition to a list of gifts that are not considered taxable, there is a Unified Credit available.  This credit is used to eliminate and/or reduce any gift tax due.  As an added bonus, any Unified Credit not used to eliminate gift tax can be used to eliminate or reduce estate tax.

Back in 1979, the Unified Credit available was capped at $38,000.  In the year 2012, the Unified Credit is $1,772,800.  (The Unified Credit to may increase – it was steady at $330,800 from 2002 through 2010, but then jumped to $1,730,800 in 2011 and increased another $42,000 in 2012)

Remember:  this is a tax credit – as you can see by the example above, $31,000 in gifts generated $6220 in tax – the Unified Credit available is $1,772,800 – and Sonny will use this credit to offset his gift tax due.  Tax credits are applied to tax due, reducing or eliminating tax.  A tax credit “pays” for the tax instead of you – and everyone gets the credit.

Do you understand how powerful gift giving can be when it comes to reducing your estate tax burden?  You can give away your money, not pay any taxes on it when giving it away, reduce your estate, and in the end save major dollars when it comes to any estate tax assessed!  Set up accounts for your children, gift them to the max, and they don’t have to report the gift as income.  It sounds unbelievable, doesn’t it?  See how nice Congress is when it comes to making the law concerning gifts and taxes – and take note that one of those examples above of non-taxable gifts is money given to “political organizations”!

I hope I’ve given you food for thought when it comes to your income, giving cash gifts throughout the year if you can afford it, building wealth for family members, and possible tax strategies when it comes to the tax on those gifts and your estate.

 

There is a spirit in the world of generosity that brings good things to all of us, whoever we may be … A Christmas Carol

Note:  Please consult a qualified tax professional when mapping out your gift giving.  This is a brief overview, and there are more rules when it comes to the definition of a non-taxable gift.  If a husband and wife are gift-splitting, certain tax forms must be filed.  The gifts you give may or may not have have to be reported to the IRS.  When gifting to grandchildren, Generation-skipping Transfer Tax may apply.  Giving away real property may come with tax disadvantages, and may be better left in an estate until death.  Usually, the gift giver is responsible for paying the gift tax, but if he doesn’t, the gift recipient may have to pay the gift tax.  Nest eggs built for children could impact them in a negative way when it comes to qualifying for college financial aid.  Exclusion and credit amounts are subject to change based on changes to the current law.

 

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Nov
12

A Death In The Family

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White Dove in FlightTwo weeks ago, my mother-in-law passed away very unexpectedly.  She left a surviving spouse, four children, seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.  She did not leave any life insurance.  She did not have any sort of pre-paid burial plan in place, nor were any funeral arrangements made in advance.

When a death occurs in a family, the living are busy grieving.  On top of the emotional hit that happens, there are many things to do when it comes to a funeral.  We had people coming in from out of town and out of state to stay here for most of the week, others stopping by as they were coming and going.  In addition to shopping for extra groceries, we were also shopping for new clothes to wear to the service.  For almost a week, daily trips were made “home” and back, driving more than an hour each way.  A lot of stress was added to the grief.

Take a minute, right now, to stop and think about your own situation.  What is in store for your loved ones when faced with your demise?  It could happen tomorrow, you know – or six months from now.  Or six years.  Or 60 years.  There is only one thing absolute in life, and that is death.  You never know when it is going to happen – and that’s the rub.  You just don’t know.

When death happens, when your family is grieving, do you want your loved ones to suddenly have to deal with a lot of decisions concerning your death and funeral?  There are medical decisions to be made, legal decisions, financial decisions, plus many more.  Do you want family members arguing about what casket to choose, what music to play, or what pictures should be selected for the video memorial?  Do you want your loved ones to make your funeral arrangements based on what may or may not be in their bank account, or yours?  Do you want to leave your loved ones struggling emotionally and financially over what kind of service they want to give you vs. what they can really afford?

Death is a necessary part of financial planning.  You should treat life insurance as a mandatory expense, as mandatory as your car insurance, or your homeowners policy.  There are situations where life insurance may not be a viable or affordable choice, and there are alternatives.  Pre-paid funeral plans are available through just about every mortician or funeral home.  Buy a plan now and have it in place for the future – it doesn’t matter if you are 26 or 76.  Do it now.

A funeral home here in my village has a pre-paid program that allows you to make all of your funeral arrangements in advance.  You decide what kind of ceremony to have, whether there will be a casket and what color, what kind of vault, and does that vault need a name plate, what kind of flowers, the type of music, what kind of printed funeral programs, how many pall bearers, whether there should be a family car – there is a long list of decisions when it comes to a funeral. Prices are locked in at the time you make the arrangements.  The funeral home will present you with a price quote and a contract.  You can pay in full or set up a payment plan.  Payment plans are normally set up through a third party (usually a bank), who collects the money in trust and forwards it to the funeral home.  Everything is arranged and paid for in advance.  When the time comes, your family will be dealing with the only thing they should have to deal with at your passing – their grief.

Most funeral homes will also work with you if life insurance is pending when death occurs.  When my grandmother passed away twenty years ago, she had all of her funeral arrangements in place, down to her dress.  She had made a partial payment when she set up the arrangements years before, and she had life insurance.  The funeral took place, and a month later when the life insurance paid out, the balance due was paid.  If you do have life insurance that will be used for your funeral, you still need make your own funeral arrangements.  Don’t leave that kind of stress to your family.  It’s going to be all they can do to handle the loss of you.

Can your survivors survive the sudden financial burden of a funeral?  A few years ago, a grandfather died in our family.  We soon found out that his life insurance policy had been cashed in a few years before, and there was no pre-paid funeral plan or funeral arrangements made in advance.  It fell to a few of the grandkids to pay for his funeral.  At the time, we were able to write a check for our portion – but can your family do the same?  Can your family afford to be saddled with a bank or finance company loan and a monthly payment that will be due 30 days after your death and continue for 2 to 5 years?

None of us want to leave our loved ones with these type of circumstances.  Pick up the phone, get quotes on a term life insurance policy, and set that up to automatically pay through your bank account or a credit card.  Check into pre-paid funeral plans, check the history and reputation of the company, make those plans, and pay that bill while you are living.  Do it today, and do it for your family.

You must prepare for the only absolute in life you can count on:  your death.

 

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