What is the Gift Tax Limit? (2024)

Adrianna Adams, CFP®
Dec 26
 · 
8
 min read · 
Tax
Gift Tax Limit 2024

Gift Tax Limit 2024

Are you familiar with the gift tax? 

There are many common misunderstandings about the gift tax. This is a tax that may apply when property is transferred from one living person to another, including cash, real estate, and other investments. It’s important not to confuse this with estate tax, which applies to the transfer of property after a person’s passing. The intention behind this tax is to prevent people from bypassing estate taxes by simply giving away their property before they pass away.

Here’s how it works: If you give someone a gift, the person receiving the money does not pay any taxes. However, the person giving the gift may incur tax consequences in the long-term as a result. Don’t be alarmed though - the tax only applies if your gift is above certain annual AND lifetime limits. Although the limits are very high, they are changed frequently by Congress. We’ll discuss the 2024 guidelines in more detail below. 

Gift Tax Limits 2024

It’s important to stay up to date with the most recent changes to the gift tax limits. In 2024, the annual limit is $18,000 per recipient. This means that you can give someone up to $18,000 per year, without reporting the gift to the IRS. Spouses can double the size of their gift to $34,000 by “splitting” it for one recipient. The limit applies to each recipient separately, so you can give $18,000 to multiple people without worrying about tax consequences. For example, a married couple with 3 children can make a cash gift of $34,000 to each child per year (totaling $102,000) without worrying about the gift tax. 

So, What happens if you exceed the annual limit?

If you give over $18,000 per year to one person, the excess amount is considered a “taxable gift”. This means, you will need to file a gift tax return to report the transfer that year. However, this does not mean you actually have to pay taxes. This is a common point of confusion around the gift tax.

Taxes are only due after the donor has exceeded their “lifetime” limit, which is $12.29 million in 2024. Any excess annual contributions reduce this lifetime limit. Consider this example:

Your generous Aunt Sally decides to give you $1 million in cash in 2024. Any amount over the $18,000 annual limit is now considered a “taxable gift”. So, your Aunt Sally needs to report a $983,000 gift to the IRS by filing a gift tax return for 2024. However, she doesn’t owe any taxes on that amount.

The $983,000 is now subtracted from Aunt Sally’s lifetime gift limit of $12.29 million. So, she can now give $11.3 million more in “taxable gifts” over her lifetime before she owes taxes on her gifts. If she doesn't give any more gifts, the remaining balance of $11.3 million will pass to her heirs free from estate tax.

The gift tax rate ranges from 18% to 40%, depending on the amount of the gift and your tax bracket. But remember, these taxes only apply after you exhaust your $12.29 million lifetime limit. So, unless you have previously made a large sum of gifts, chances are that no gift tax is owed. 

What is considered a “Gift”?

Some situations can inadvertently trigger the need to file a gift tax return. Although you might not consider these transfers a “gift”, the IRS does:

Loans: Lending money to a friend or family is considered a gift - if the loan is interest free, or if you decide later they don’t need to repay you.

Joint Bank Accounts: Opening a joint bank account with a non-spouse may be considered a gift. For example, if your Aunt adds you to her joint bank account, she is essentially giving you the right to withdraw funds at any time. This arrangement would be considered a gift, since your Aunt originally funded the account.

529 Plans: Although transfers directly to a college are exempt from gift tax rules (we’ll explain this in more detail below), a transfer to a 529 plan is not. 

Gift Tax Exemptions

There are certain exceptions to the gift tax rule which may apply. This means, gifts of this nature are not counted toward your annual OR lifetime limits:

1. Gifts to a spouse who is a U.S. citizen are exempt from the gift tax. You can give any amount to your spouse without worrying about the gift limits.

2. Charitable donations are also exempt from the gift tax. If you make a gift to a qualified charitable organization, it will not be considered a taxable gift.

3. Gifts made to cover educational or medical expenses are exempt - as long as you pay these expenses directly to the educational institution or medical provider. For example, someone paying for their child’s college education should make payment directly to the school, rather than give the funds to their child first.

Should I be worried about the gift tax?

It's important to remember that gift taxes are paid by the giver, not the recipient of the gift. So, you do not need to report anything if someone else gives you a gift. However, if you do give a gift, be sure to file a gift tax return if you exceed 2024 annual limits. This requirement simply allows the IRS to track and deduct from your lifetime gift limit of $12.29 million.

Wealthy individuals should be especially careful when transferring property, using gift limits wisely to maximize tax-free transfer of wealth. For many individuals, it makes more sense to utilize the annual limits and gift property slowly over time, rather than reduce their lifetime limit. If you own a significant amount of property and investments, it's best to speak with a financial advisor to understand how the gift tax may impact your financial situation. A financial advisor at Domain Money can help you use the gift tax rules to your advantage.

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