If you are a grandparent there are a number of things you can do to teach your grandchildren financial responsibility and set aside money for their future education and retirement. Before we get into actual suggestions, it is important that you understand the gift tax rules. You can give anyone, every year, an amount up to the annual gift tax exclusion. The gift tax exclusion is inflation-adjusted and is currently $14,000, which means that, in 2014, you can give any number of recipients up to $14,000. Thus, you can give each grandchild $14,000 per year; and, if you are married, both you and your spouse can each give $14,000 for a total of $28,000 per year. Gifts in excess of $14,000 per donee can certainly be made, but doing so will mean the grandparent must file a Gift Tax Return (Form 709) and pay gift tax on taxable gifts in excess of a lifetime gift and estate tax exclusion ($5.34 million for 2014).
Of course, just handing out money to your grandchildren will not teach financial responsibility or meet specific goals you might have in mind for the money.
The following are some suggestions.
Savings for College: The tax code allows taxpayers to put away large amounts of money limited only by the contributor’s gift tax concerns and the contribution limits of the intended state plan. There are no income or age limitations for these plans, often referred to as Sec. 529 Plans (the tax code number) or Qualified Tuition Plans. The maximum amount – per beneficiary – that can be contributed is based on the projected cost of a college education and will vary among state plans. Some states base their maximum on an in-state four-year education, while others use the cost of the most expensive schools in the U.S., including graduate studies. These plans allow for tax-free accumulation provided the funds are used for qualified college expenses. Thus, a grandparent can currently contribute up to $14,000 per year to a Sec. 529 Plan. There are also special provisions that permit 5 years’ worth of contributions up front (this requires filing gift tax returns).
Savings for Education: Funds from a Sec. 529 plan can only be used for college. Coverdell Education Accounts also provide tax-free accumulation like Sec. 529 plans; but, unlike Sec. 529 Plans, the funds can be used for education beginning with kindergarten and continuing through college. So, you might want to consider contributing the first $2,000 (Coverdell annual contribution limit) to a Coverdell account. One downside to a Coverdell account is that it becomes the child’s account to do with as the child wishes when the child reaches the age of majority (age varies by state); while, with the Sec. 529 plan, the contributor maintains control of the plan’s distributions.
Roth Retirement Account: You may have a teenage grandchild who has a part-time job. To the extent the child has earnings from work, you – the grandparent – could fund an IRA for him or her. Generally, a child with a part time job will benefit very little, if any, from a traditional IRA deduction, so a Roth IRA is generally a better choice. Any contribution for 2014 would be limited to the lesser of $5,500 or the child’s earned income. A Roth IRA accumulates earnings tax-free and distributions are tax-free at retirement age. The amount of the IRA contribution you pay is considered a gift to the grandchild, and it goes against the annual gift tax exclusion amount. For example, if your grandchild had $3,500 of wage income in 2014 and you funded $3,500 into an IRA for the grandchild, the remaining balance of the $14,000 annual exclusion would be $10,500. If you decided to buy your grandchild a $12,000 used car later the same year, you would be over the annual exclusion amount by $1,500 and would need to file a gift tax return. You would likely not owe any gift tax unless you’ve previously made large gifts, but the $1,500 does reduce your lifetime gift and estate tax exclusion.
Tuition and Medical Gift Exclusion – In addition to the annual exclusion, a grandparent may make gifts that are totally excluded from the gift tax in the following circumstances:
- Payments made directly (Sec. 529 plans are not direct) to an educational institution for tuition. This includes college and private primary education. It does not include books or room and board. This could also create a tax credit of up to $2,500 for the individual who claims your grandchild as a dependent.
- Payments made directly to any person or entity providing medical care for the donee. In both cases, it is critical that the payments be made directly to the educational institution or health care provider. Reimbursement paid to the donee will not qualify. The tuition/medical exclusion is often overlooked, but these expenses can be quite significant. Grandparents interested in reducing the value of their estate should strongly consider these gifts.
Establish Trusts – Although a somewhat more complicated possibility and one that will require the services of a trust attorney, there are a variety of trusts that can be established to make future distributions to a grandchild based upon the grandchild’s future achievements, such as completing his or her college education, holding a job, overcoming an addiction, etc.
Although none of these suggestions provides any current tax benefits for grandparents other than reducing the value of their future estate, they will help grandchildren get off to a good start in life.