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What Is a Gift Loan and How Does It Work?

A mother and daughter calculating the interest for a gift loan.

A gift loan is essentially a loan with an interest rate well below the market average, or even no interest at all, which can be a strategic way to support family members financially or for estate planning purposes. As beneficial as these loans may appear, with their potential tax benefits and flexible repayment options, they demand a clear understanding of the legal and financial requirements involved as they can be classified as gifts. A financial advisor can help you determine the way you need to structure any gifts or loans that you might be considering.

What Is a Gift Loan?

A gift loan is a financial arrangement that straddles the line between a gift and a traditional loan. It’s a loan given at an interest rate below the market average, or sometimes, with no interest at all. This crucial feature distinguishes it from conventional loans, where interest rates reflect current market conditions. You might be giving, or receiving, a loan without realizing that it may be classified as a gift. That can have big tax implications.

This type of loan is commonly used to offer financial support to family members without the stringent conditions of a bank loan. And in terms of estate planning, gift loans can also be a strategic way to transfer wealth to heirs while maintaining control over assets.

Generally, a gift loan can offer potential tax benefits and flexible repayment options:

  1. Tax advantages: By structuring the transaction as a gift loan, the donor may utilize gift tax exemptions or deductions that could potentially reduce their taxable estate.
  2. Flexible repayment: The borrower enjoys flexibility in repayment terms, which can be tailored to their financial situation, including no repayment obligation if the loan is structured as an outright gift.
  3. Income tax savings: Depending on the arrangement, the borrower may also benefit from reduced income tax liabilities when compared with traditional loans, especially if the interest rate is below market rates or if interest payments are waived entirely.

You should note, however, that in some circumstances you could be offering a gift loan to someone without realizing that it could be taxed as a gift. And that can create a financial issue for the borrower, and potentially for you.

Gift Loan vs. Gift vs. Loan

While a gift loan involves lending money to a family member or friend with the intention of repayment, a gift generally entails transferring assets or money to another person without the expectation of repayment.

The IRS may view the forgone interest on a loan you provide as a taxable gift, especially if you don’t require interest to be paid on the loan you’re providing. However, the annual gift exclusion could exempt the lender from gift tax obligations if the amount is within the allowed limit, which is currently $18,000 for the 2024 tax year.

When compared with a traditional loan, a gift loan may offer more flexible terms and potential tax benefits. Traditional loans typically require repayment with interest according to predetermined terms and conditions, without the same potential tax advantages or flexibility in repayment options.

Understanding Interest Income in Gift Loans

A woman looking up how the IRS defines imputed interest for gift loans.

Imputed interest refers to interest that is not paid, but is considered to have been earned for tax or accounting purposes. It typically arises in situations where a transaction involves a loan or financing arrangement with below-market interest rates or no interest charged at all.

The IRS has specific regulations concerning gift loans and the reporting of interest income, which are aimed at preventing the avoidance of income tax through undercharged loans. Any actual interest received, as well as the interest that would have accrued at the market rate, must be reported.

To illustrate how this works, let’s say you lend $10,000 to a sibling with no interest for one year. If the applicable federal rate (AFR) is 3%, the foregone interest you should report is $300. This calculation is vital for lenders to understand, as it affects the assessment of the gift loan’s benefits and the lender’s taxable income.

How to Prepare Your Taxes for Potential Gift Loans

If you’re considering a gift loan, you’ll want to keep thorough records, including a formal written agreement that outlines the loan terms so that you can report anything that needs to be reported.

If the gift loan surpasses the annual exclusion limit, filing Form 709 becomes mandatory. Income from imputed interest must be reported using Schedule B (Form 1040), “Interest and Ordinary Dividends,” and in some cases, Schedule 1 (Form 1040), “Additional Income and Adjustments to Income.”

Additionally, if the loan is tied to an investment that yields income, the lender may benefit from an interest deduction on Schedule A (Form 1040), “Itemized Deductions.” So, for example, if a gift loan is used to buy a rental property, the interest on that loan could potentially get deducted by the lender as an investment interest expense.

Bottom Line

A woman researching the potential tax requirements for a gift loan.

A loan you make to a loved one might actually be considered a gift if you don’t charge enough interest. Therefore, you should understand the potential tax consequences, including applicable federal rates and the proper use of tax forms like Schedule B and Form 709.

Tips for Tax Planning

  • You might need to enlist the help of a financial advisor who specializes in tax planning to help with all of your long-term financial needs. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • You can estimate what your tax liability is with a free income tax calculator.

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