Is your kid earning money from a summer job or some other activity? If so, what are the tax implications? And BTW, what kid-related tax breaks can you collect? Good questions. Here are some answers.
Q: Does my kid need to file a tax return?
A: Maybe. For 2019, a dependent child must file a federal income tax return on Form 1040 in any of the following situations:
- The child has unearned income of more than $1,100. If your child has more than $2,200 of unearned income, he or she may be subject to the dreaded Kiddie Tax. More on that later.
- The kid’s gross income exceeds the greater of: (1) $1,100 or (2) earned income up to $11,650 plus $350.
- The child’s earned income exceeds $12,200.
- The kid owes other taxes such as the self-employment tax or the alternative minimum tax (AMT). Relatively unlikely, but it happens.
The good news is your child can shelter his or her income with the standard deduction. For 2019, the standard deduction for a dependent kid with only investment income is $1,100. If your child has earned income from summer jobs or whatever, the standard deduction equals the lesser of: (1) earned income plus $350 or (2) $12,200. So up to $12,200 of earned income can be sheltered with the standard deduction. Good.
Key Point: Even if no return is required for your child, one should be filed if federal income tax was withheld for any reason and would be refunded if a return is filed. Filing a return is also necessary to benefit from certain beneficial tax elections, such as the election to currently report accrued Savings Bond income that would be sheltered by your kid’s standard deduction.
Q: Who is responsible for filing the kid’s return?
A: According to IRS Publication 929 (Tax Rules for Children and Dependents), a child is generally responsible for filing his or her own federal income tax return on Form 1040 and for paying any tax, penalties, or interest. If a child cannot file for any reason, the child’s parent, guardian, or other legally responsible person must file for the child. If the child can’t sign the return, a parent or guardian must sign the child’s name followed by the words “By (signature), parent (or guardian) for minor child.” Your child may also need to file a state income tax return. If so, that probably winds up on your plate too.
Key Point: If you sign a return on your child’s behalf, you can deal with the IRS on all matters related to the return. In general, a parent or guardian who doesn’t sign can only provide information concerning the return and pay the child’s tax bill.
Q: Can’t I just report the kid’s income on my own return?
A: Probably. If your child will be under age 19 (or under age 24 if a full-time student) as of 12/31/19 and his or her only income is from interest and dividends, including mutual fund capital gain distributions, you can generally choose to report the kid’s income on your return by including Form 8814 (Parents’ Election To Report Child’s Interest and Dividends) with your Form 1040. Read the Form 8814 instructions to see if you qualify for this option. If you do, it may or may not result in a lower tax bill for the kid’s income.
Q: What’s that ‘Kiddie Tax’ I’ve heard about?
A: Good thing you asked. For 2018-2025, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) revamped the Kiddie Tax rules to tax a portion of an affected child’s or young adult’s unearned income at the higher rates paid by trusts and estates. Those rates can be as high as 37% or as high as 20% for long-term capital gains and dividends. Before the TCJA, the Kiddie Tax rate equalled the parent’s marginal rate--which for 2017 could have been as high as 39.6% or 20% for long-term capital gains and dividends.
If your kid is a student, the Kiddie Tax can potentially be an issue until the year the child turns age 24. For that year and future years, your child is finally Kiddie-Tax-exempt.
To calculate the Kiddie Tax, first add up the child’s net earned income and net unearned income. Then subtract the child’s standard deduction to arrive at taxable income. The portion of taxable income that consists of net earned income is taxed at the regular rates for a single taxpayer. The portion of taxable income that consists of net unearned income and that exceeds the unearned income threshold ($2,200 for 2019) is subject to the Kiddie Tax and is taxed at the higher rates that apply to trusts and estates.
Unearned income for purposes of the Kiddie Tax means income other than wages, salaries, professional fees, and other amounts received as compensation for personal services. So among other things, unearned income includes capital gains, dividends, and interest. Earned income from a job or self-employment is never subject to the Kiddie Tax.
Calculate the Kiddie Tax by completing IRS Form 8615 (Tax for Certain Children Who Have Unearned Income). Then file Form 8615 with your kid’s Form 1040. Beware: the Kiddie Tax rules are complicated.
Q: What kid-related tax breaks can I claim?
A: Here are the most-common ones.
$2,000 tax credit for under-age-17 child
For 2018-2025, the TCJA increased the maximum child credit to $2,000 per qualifying child (up from $1,000 under prior law). Up to $1,400 can be refundable, meaning you can collect it even when you don’t owe any federal income tax. Under the TCJA, the income levels at which the child tax credit is phased out are significantly increased, so many more families now qualify for the credit.
$500 tax credit for over-age-16 dependent child
For 2018-2015, the TCJA established a new $500 tax credit that can be claimed for a dependent child (or young adult) who is not under age 17 and who lives with you for over half the year. Dependent means you pay over half the child’s support. However a child in this category must also pass an income test to be classified as your dependent for purposes of the $500 credit. According to IRS Notice 2018-70, your over-age-16 dependent child passes the income test for 2019 if his or her gross income does not exceed $4,200.
Two higher education tax credits
The American Opportunity credit can be worth up to $2,500 during the first four years of a child’s college education. The Lifetime Learning credit can be worth up to $2,000 annually, and it can cover just about any higher education tuition costs. Both credits are phased out as your income goes up, but the Lifetime Learning credit is phased out at much lower income levels than the American Opportunity credit.
Head of household filing status
HOH filing status is preferable to single filing status because the tax brackets are wider and the standard exemption is bigger. HOH status is available if: (1) your home was for more than half the year the principal home of a qualifying child for whom a personal exemption deduction would be allowed under prior law and (2) your paid more than half the cost of maintaining the home.
Student loan interest deduction
This deduction can be up to $2,500 for qualified student loan interest expense paid by a parent, subject to phase-out for higher-income parents.
The bottom line
There you have it: most of what you need to know about kids and taxes. As always, kids are a chore and an expense. But they usually turn out to be worth it in the end. Fingers crossed.
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