FAQ: When does a gift require a gift tax return?

If you’ve made, or are planning to make, a big gift before the end of 2009, you may be wondering what your gift tax liability, if any, may be. You may have to file a federal tax return even if you do not owe any gift tax. Read on to learn more about when to file a federal gift tax return.

When you must file

Most gifts you make are not subject to the gift tax. Generally, you must file a gift tax return, Form 709, U.S. Gift (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return, if any of the following apply to gifts you have made, or will make, in 2009:

  • Gifts you give to another person (other than your spouse) exceed the $13,000 annual gift tax exclusion for 2009.
  • You and your spouse are splitting a gift.
  • You gave someone (other than your spouse) a gift of a future interest that he or she cannot actually possess, enjoy or receive income from until some time in the future.

Remember, filing a gift tax return does not necessarily mean you will owe gift tax.

Gifts that do not require a tax return

You do not have to file a gift tax return to report three types of gifts: (1) transfers to political organizations, (2) gift payments that qualify for the educational exclusion, or (3) gift payments that qualify for the medical payment exclusion. Although medical expenses and tuition paid for another person are considered gifts for federal gift tax purposes, if you make the gift directly to the medical or educational institution, the payment will be non-taxable. This applies to any amount you directly transfer to the provider as long as the payments go directly to them, not to the person on whose behalf the gift is made.

Unified credit

Even if the gift tax applies to your gifts, it may be completely eliminated by the unified credit, also referred to as the applicable credit amount, which can eliminate or reduce your gift (as well as estate) taxes. You must subtract the unified credit from any gift tax you owe; any unified credit you use against your gift tax in one year will reduce the amount of the credit you can apply against your gift tax liability in a later year. Keep in mind that the total credit amount that you use against your gift tax liability during your life reduces the credit available to use against your estate tax.

Let’s take a look at an example:

In 2009, you give your nephew Ben a cash gift of $8,000. You also pay the $20,000 college tuition of your friend, Sam. You give your 30-year-old daughter, Mary, $25,000. You also give your 27-year-old son, Michael, $25,000. Before 2009, you had never given a taxable gift. You apply the exceptions to the gift tax and the unified credit as follows:

  • The qualified education tuition exclusion applies to the gift to Sam, as payment of tuition expenses is not subject to the gift tax. Therefore, the gift to Sam is not a taxable gift.
  • The 2009 annual exclusion applies to the first $13,000 of your gift to Ben, Mary and Michael, since the first $13,000 of your gift to any one individual in 2009 is not taxable. Therefore, your $8,000 gift to Ben, the first $13,000 of your gift to Mary, and the first $13,000 of your gift to Michael are not taxable gifts.
  • Finally, apply the unified credit. The gift tax will apply to $24,000 of the above transfers ($12,000 remaining from your gift to Mary, plus $12,000 remaining from your gift to Michael). The amount of the tax on the $24,000 is computed using IRS tables for computing the gift tax, which is located in the Instructions for Form 709. You would subtract the tax owe on these gifts from your unified credit of $345,800 for 2009. The unified credit that you can use against the gift tax in a later year (and against any estate tax) will thus be reduced. If you apply the unified credit to the amount of gift tax owe in 2009, you may not have to pay any gift tax for the year. Nevertheless, you will have to file a Form 709.

Filing a gift tax return

You must report the amount of a taxable gift on Form 709. For gifts made in 2009, the maximum gift tax rate is 45 percent. You can make an unlimited number of tax-free gifts in 2009, as long as the gifts are not more than $13,000 to each person or entity in 2009 (or $26,000 if you and your spouse make a gift jointly), without having to pay gift taxes on the transfers.