Most of what we, as taxpayers, understand about taxation comes from our focus on taxes and how they affect us either individually or as a business. With the business owner, tax strategies will often be managed in aggregate between the business tax return and the owner’s personal return so as to optimize benefits and deductions and minimize taxes.
Rarely, however, do households look at aggregate family taxation to develop strategies for life’s expenditure requirements or desires – college education, first time homebuyer assistance, weddings, family member ‘support’, inter vivos wealth transfers, etc., etc., etc. The concept here is one of wealth and resources management through family income shifting and tax effect optimization. When, as practitioners, we do see family taxation considered in family financial activities there is usually a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNING™ professional involved.
So what are some of those family taxation considerations that the “pro’s” use for income shifting and tax effect optimization?
ASSETS YOU WON’T NEED AND ASSETS FOR SPECIFICALLY FUNDED PURPOSES
If you gift assets away, $14,000 per individual in 2013, they become the property of the transferee, your daughter for example, presuming you made what is called an irrevocable gift. The income on that asset will now become the income of, in this case, your daughter. If the asset gifted away is sold by your daughter, a gain or loss may be recognized by her based on your original purchase value and the tax rate upon the sale by the daughter will generally be based on the holding period (long term or short term) starting with you, not your daughter’s date of ownership. The strategy here for tax effect optimization is to have the income or gain from the asset taxed at the lowest rate of a family member.
If the gift was made to a minor, it would be made through a Uniform Transfer to Minors Account or a Uniform Gift to Minors Account. The purpose of this type of arrangement is to provide oversight of the asset until the child reaches the age of majority in the state. One issue that comes up with gifts to minors (and to those under age 24) is what is called the “Kiddie Tax”. The “Kiddie Tax” may limit the tax benefit from this income shifting opportunity by subjecting amounts of unearned income exceeding $2,000, in 2013, to taxation at the applicable parent’s tax rate.
This shifting assets (income) strategy also is designed to take assets that might be taxed upon death at an estate tax rate that might reach 40% and puts them into the hands of the beneficiary whose individual tax rates might be, today, perhaps as high as 43.4%. The ‘estate’ tax ‘individual’ tax rate differential obviously is not as compelling today (individual rate is higher than the estate rate) for the avoid estate taxation argument of inter vivos wealth transfers nonetheless they should be looked at depending on the facts of each situation. Additionally estates are not even taxed until they exceed $5,250,000 in 2013 so for most there will never be, lol, an estate tax to worry about.
An advantage to your receiving an asset after someone dies rather than having it gifted to you during their lifetime is that there is a step-up in value (presuming an increased value in the asset) to the value at the date of death. For example, if Mom was the last to die and she and Dad paid $100,000 for a home that you inherit when it is valued at $900,000 and you sell it for $900,000 there is no gain or loss. Under the gift scenario, based on these facts alone, the $800,000 gain would not be ‘stepped up’ so a tax would be due on that appreciated value upon a dispositive event – a sale. With respect to this ‘step up in value concept’, one should be aware that IRA’s, annuities, Pensions and Retirement Accounts that have never been taxed do not get a step up in basis.
So if we know we would not need an asset in our lifetime, or if we know that we are dedicating an asset for a specific life expenditure occurring at some date in the future (college, bar or bat mitzvah, etc.), would we benefit from shifting that asset, and the income thereupon, to another in order to most optimally accumulate funds for our dedicated expenditure purpose? Would that give us more available for the expenditure or, perhaps, give us the amount needed sooner? Should we do this type of thing now, and if not, when? In doing so, would we be putting assets into the hands of someone, a child for example, who then would be precluded, for example, from getting financial aid for school because they ‘owned’ too much in assets? Would the asset transferred become subject to the control or potential attachment of another? There are lots of causes and effects to any strategy hence the need to think not only of tax optimization but asset preservation and protection.
EMPLOYING FAMILY MEMBERS IN A BUSINESS OR IN THE HOUSEHOLD
If we have a business, or if we have a housekeeper or maintenance worker (gardener), rather than employing other than a family member to work in those activities, we could employ our child, family member, or related children in doing that work. An advantage to employing family members in our business or in our household is that they will have earned income shifted to, or earned by, them by being paid a wage. Earned income can be excluded from taxation up to the amount of our personal exemption and standard deduction. So for a 16 year old child claimed as a dependent on her parent’s tax return helping with filing and office clean up during the year in Mom’s business they could earn $6,100 + $1,000 in income and not pay any taxes on that income. With just $6,000 of ‘earned’ income the child could fund a Roth IRA which would not be a tax deduction to the child but it wouldn’t be needed as such anyway. The advantage to a Roth over other types of IRAs is that you can access your contributions to a Roth IRA at any time. You do not have to wait five years. You do not have to wait until age 59 ½. Contributions to Roth’s can be accessed at any time, earnings on Roth’s, however, are another story.
Even if there is not a business for a child to work in they certainly can do work around the home, do gardening or do baby-sitting, for example, all of which are examples of earning ‘earned’ income in a household doing domestic services. Of course, unlike the business activity, employment of your children in the household would not provide a tax deduction to the family just like the gardener or pool man is not deductible to the family today. For certain businesses employing under age 18 family members there may even be payroll taxes avoided (See Pub 15 Page 12).
Making the most of what we are able to earn and keep for ourselves is so important to families today. Parents who have worked their whole lives to have what they have want to ensure what they have earned and accumulated is most fully shared by those they wish to benefit. Having income or transfer taxes eat up what we have or are able to acquire is a terrible thing if it can be avoided. Making the best of good family tax strategies is a wonderful thing. Take the time to think about your fiscal responsibilities and life’s expenditures and see if you are optimizing your resources for them.
David Bergmann, CFP®, EA, CLU, ChFC
The David Bergmann Group
Marina Del Ray, CA