Are Family Loans (Taxable) “Gifts” in Disguise?

In today's tough economy, you may decide to loan money to a cash-strapped family member. While this may be a noble cause, please take my advice and make the loan the tax-smart way.

Sometimes ensuring that a loved one has the assets they need – for a project or just for general use – will mean that you’ll be treading a fine line between making a “gift” and making a “loan.” The problem is that these are very different concepts, especially as far as the IRS is concerned.

In brief, if you’re going to make a family loan, make it a real one or else consider an outright gift to be taxed by the IRS accordingly.

The fine line between a loan and a gift is not a new one. This topic was explored in a recent article in SmartMoney titled “Making a Tax-Smart Family Loan.” Essentially, you need to remember that “loans” are what you make when when you aren’t interested in losing money and are probably trying to gain. To be a loan, the transferred amount must come with a standard interest rate. In fact, to be considered a “loan” the interest rate must be at least equal to the “applicable Federal Rate,” as determined monthly by the IRS.

If you don’t charge the objective rate of interest, then you’ve essentially given that much away. Not surprisingly, that’s exactly how the IRS chooses to view the situation and, in return, it will hold you accountable for the interest not charged. As a result, this imputed interest can eat into your gift tax exemption amounts, whether annual or lifetime.

Essentially, no loan to a family member should be considered a strictly off-the-books and casual affair. If you find yourself caught between making a gift or a loan, then you must choose one or the other and properly frame the transfer as such.

Reference: SmartMoney (June 13, 2012) “Making a Tax-Smart Family Loan

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