What is the Kiddie Tax?
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By Kathryn Flynn

February 10, 2021

Before the Kiddie Tax, parents could save on taxes by putting investment accounts in a child’s name. Parents would gift stocks and other assets to their children, and income earned on the assets would be taxed at the child’s (lower) income tax rate, instead of the parent’s (higher) income tax rate. The Kiddie Tax closed this loophole by taxing children’s passive income at higher rates.

History of the Kiddie Tax

The Kiddie Tax was created as part of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 to prevent parents from shifting income-producing assets into the child’s name to take advantage of the child’s lower tax rate. Under the Kiddie Tax, all unearned income above a certain threshold is taxed at the parent’s marginal income tax rate instead of the child’s tax rate.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 temporarily changed the rules effective with the 2018 tax year, substituting the tax rates that apply to trusts and estates for the parent’s tax rate, making the Kiddie Tax much more expensive for some families. This caused an uproar because of the impact on Gold Star families and scholarships.

In response to the backlash, Congress included a provision in the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (SECURE Act)  to retroactively revert the Kiddie Tax to the old rules.

For 2020 and going forward, the first $1,100 of a child’s unearned income qualifies for the standard deduction, the next $1,100 is taxed at the child’s income tax rate, and unearned income above $2,200 is taxed at the parent’s marginal income tax rate. 

Parents who reported a child’s unearned income in 2018 or 2019 have the option to recalculate the tax based on the 2020 rules. This can be done by filing an amended return using IRS Form 1040-X.

How does the Kiddie Tax work?

The Kiddie Tax applies to dependent children who are younger than 19 years old, or who are full-time students who are between the ages of 19 and 23. An exception to the Kiddie Tax is a child with earned income totaling more than half the cost of their support. Another exception is for children who file tax returns as married filing jointly. Income from wages, salary, tips or self-employment is not subject to the Kiddie Tax. 

A child’s unearned income may include:

  • Taxable interest
  • Dividends
  • Capital gains
  • Taxable scholarships
  • Income produced by gifts from grandparents
  • Income produced by custodial accounts under the Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA)
 

 

How to calculate the Kiddie Tax

To calculate the Kiddie Tax, first determine the child’s taxable income:

Child’s Net Earned Income + Child’s Net Unearned Income – Child’s Standard Deduction = Child’s Taxable Income

The first $1,100 of a child’s unearned income is tax-free, and the next $1,100 is subject to the child’s tax rate. Any additional earnings above $2,200 are taxed at the child’s parents’ marginal tax rate. 

In 2020, a child’s standard deduction amount is the greater of $1,100, or the sum of $350 plus the child’s earned income, if the child can be claimed as a dependent. Otherwise, the standard deduction for a single filer is $12,400.

For example, if a dependent child has no earned income and $3,500 of unearned income, $1,300 would be subject to the Kiddie Tax and is taxed at their parents’ marginal federal income tax rate. 

$0 (Earned Income) + $3,500 (Unearned Income) – $1,100 (Standard Deduction) = $2,400 (Taxable income)

$3,500 (Unearned Income) -$2,200 (kiddie tax threshold) = $1,300 (Net Unearned Income)

$2,400 (Taxable Income) – $1,300 (Net Unearned Income) = $1,100 (Earned Taxable Income)

2020 Federal Income Tax Brackets 

Tax RateMarried Filing JointlyHead of Household
10%0 to $19,7500 to $14,100
12%$19,751 to $80,250$14,101 to $53,700
22%$80,251 to $171,050$53,701 to $85,550
24%$171,051 to 326,600$85,551 to $163,300
32%$326,601 to $414,700$163,301 to $207,350
35%$414,701 to $622,050$207,351 to $518,400
37%Above $622,050Above $518,400

Families who have unearned income that is subject to the Kiddie Tax must file IRS Form 8615 with their federal tax return. A separate tax return must be filed for children who have unearned income that is greater than $11,000 or any amount of earned income. If a child’s unearned income is less than $11,000 and greater than $1,100, the child’s unearned income can be included on their parents’ income tax return. 

Are 529 plan earnings subject to the Kiddie Tax?

Interest earned on 529 plans and custodial 529 plan accounts is not subject to the Kiddie Tax. 529 plans are investment accounts designed to help individuals save for college. Contributions are made with after-tax dollars, and any interest earned on the investment grows tax-deferred. Distributions are completely tax-free when the funds are used to pay for qualified higher education expenses.

Investment earnings in other custodial accounts, however, are subject to the Kiddie Tax. Custodial accounts used for college savings may be converted to custodial 529 plan accounts to take advantage of the tax benefits. Savings held in a custodial 529 plan account also have less of an impact on a student’s need-based financial aid eligibility than traditional custodial accounts.

[Originally published on  September 26, 2019. Updated on February 10, 2021.]

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