Dear Liz: Regarding the grandparent who would like to pay off a grandchild’s student loans.
You wrote that paying off the loans would be considered a gift. However, if the grandparent paid the funds to the institution that originated the student loan, would it then not be a gift? This would exempt the grandparent from filing the gift tax return.
Answer: You may be thinking of the unlimited exception for a family member’s medical expenses or education. Unfortunately, payments made to a student lender aren’t included in this exception.
Normally, any gift that’s larger than the annual gift exclusion limit — which is currently $17,000 per recipient — would require filing a gift tax return. Gift taxes aren’t due, however, until the amount given away over the annual limits exceeds the lifetime gift and estate exemption limit (which is currently $12.92 million). Clearly, someone has to be quite wealthy, and quite generous, before gift taxes are a concern.
But even the necessity to file a gift tax return can be avoided for larger gifts if you’re paying someone else’s education or medical expenses. The unlimited exception for these expenses, however, applies only to tuition payments made directly to the educational institution and payments for medical care made directly to a healthcare provider. Payments to other parties, such as lenders or insurance companies, aren’t included in this exception.
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