With the holiday season of giving just around the corner, it’s a good time to revisit down payment gifts for home buyers. Getting money for a down payment on a home purchase could be the best gift ever, but there are lender and IRS rules for gifts that you must know to make sure everything goes smoothly. Here’s a rundown.
Gifts must be from family members
As an overarching rule, mortgage lenders require gifts for down payments to be from family members. Lenders might make case-by-case exceptions, and if so, will require that the relationship of the non-relative and the other factors of the loan profile be strongly compelling. For example, if you were receiving down payment gift funds from your godparents and could document that they’ve been close to you and your family all your life, that might be a case certain lenders would accept.
The likelihood of a non-relative being accepted as a gift donor is greater if a lender intends to keep that loan on its balance sheet rather than sell to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or some other future investor after the loan closes. Even then, most lenders would still want to see strong income history and career trajectory as well as top-tier credit scores for you as a borrower (these stronger factors of an overall profile that offset a factor where an exception is being made are known as “compensating factors”).
Gift tax is imposed on the donor, not the receiver
When starting the gift conversation with family members, make sure they know that gift tax implications are imposed on the donor. Conversely, you don’t have tax implications for receiving the gift. Two main provisions of gift tax law impact donors, and if handled properly, can enable the donor to have no tax liability, even for large gifts.
Annual gift tax exclusion limit
First, under 2014 annual gift tax exclusion law, any individual can gift any other individual $14,000 per year tax free. So a married set of parents can each give $14,000 to their single child for a total of $28,000. Or that same set of parents could gift to a married couple a total of $56,000.
This doesn’t need to be filed on annual tax returns, but you need to make sure it’s easy to document gift tax compliance later if needed. The clearest way to handle the $56,000 example is to have the mom write two $14,000 checks: one to her son and one to her daughter-in-law. Then the dad would do the exact same thing, for a total of four checks of $14,000 each. Then if the parents were ever asked by the IRS to demonstrate they were within the 2014 annual exclusion limit, it would be easy.