A child with earned income above a certain level is generally required to file a separate tax return as a single taxpayer. However, a child with a certain amount of unearned income (from investments, including dividends, interest, and capital gains) may find that this income becomes subject to tax at his or her parent’s highest marginal tax rate. This is referred to as the “kiddie tax,” and it is designed to prevent parents from transferring income-producing investments to their children, who would generally be taxed at a lower rate.
Does the kiddie tax apply to my situation?
The kiddie tax applies if:
- The child has investment income greater than the annual inflation-adjusted amount ($1,900 for 2013; $2,000 for 2014);
- At least one of the child’s parents was alive at the end of the tax year;
- The child is required to file a tax return for the tax year;
- The child does not file a joint return for the tax year; and
- The child meets one of the following requirements relating to age and income:
The child was under age 18 at the end of the tax year; or
The child was age 18 at the end of the tax year and the child’s earned income does not exceed one-half of the child’s own support for the year; or
The child was a full-time student who was under age 24 at the end of the tax year and the child’s earned income does not exceed one half of the child’s own support for the year (This does not include scholarships.)
Computing the kiddie tax
If the kiddie tax applies to a child, the child’s tax is calculated as the greater of one of two items:
- The tax on all of the child’s income, calculated at the rates applicable to single individuals; or
- The sum of two things:
The tax that would be imposed on a single individual if the child’s taxable income were reduced by net unearned income, plus
The child’s share of the allocable parental tax.
The allocable parent tax is the amount of the increase in the parent’s tax liability that results from adding to the parent’s taxable income the net unearned income of the parent’s children who are subject to the kiddie tax. If a parent has more than one child with unearned income subject to the kiddie tax, then each child’s share of the allocable parental tax would be assigned pro rata according to the ratio that its net unearned income bears to the aggregate net unearned income subject to the kiddie tax.
Which tax form should I use?
A parent with a child or children whose unearned income is subject to the kiddie tax must generally complete and file Form 8615, Tax for Certain Children Who Have Investment Income of More Than $1,900, along with his or her tax return. However, if the child’s interest and dividend income (including capital gain distributions) total less than $9,500 for 2013 ($10,000 for 2014), the parent may be able to elect to include that income on the parent’s return rather than file a separate return for the child. In this case, the parents should complete Form 8814, Parents Election To Report Child’s Interest and Dividends. However, the IRS cautions that the federal income tax owed on a child’s income may be lower if the parent files a separate tax return for the child, which would enable him or her to take certain tax benefits that cannot be taken on the parents’ return.
Divorced, separated, or unmarried parents
The kiddie tax is based on a parent’s tax return, but what happens when parents do not file joint returns? Several special rules determine what should happen. If the parents are married, but file separate returns, then the child should use the return of the parent with the largest taxable income to figure the kiddie tax.
If the parents are married, but do not live together, and the custodial parent is considered unmarried then generally the custodial parent’s return would be used. However, if the custodial parent is not considered unmarried, the child should use the return of the parent with the largest amount of taxable income.
If the child’s parents are divorced or legally separated, and the custodial parent has not remarried, the child should use the custodial parent’s return. If the custodial parent has remarried, the child’s stepparent, rather than the noncustodial parent, is treated as the child’s other parent. Similarly, if the child’s parent is a widow or widower who has remarried, the new spouse is treated as the child’s other parent.
If the child’s parents never married each other, but lived together all year, the child should use the return of the parent with the greater taxable income. If the parents were never married and did not live together all year, the rules are the same as the rules for parents who are divorced.
Calculating the kiddie tax can become confusing as a taxpayer attempts to sort through the numerous rules governing who is subject to the tax, which income is subject to the tax, and how to report it properly. Please do not hesitate to contact our tax professionals with any questions.