“The kiddie tax was created long ago to prevent wealthy parents from cutting their taxes by transferring a large amount of investments to their dependent children, who would be taxed at a lower rate.”
Families were hurt by a change in the kiddie tax that took effect after 2017, but they’ll be able to undo the damage from 2018 and 2019 now that a fix has become law. The SECURE Act contains a provision that fixed this unintended change, as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle’s recent article, “Congress reversed kiddie-tax change that accidentally hurt some families.”
The kiddie tax was created many years ago to prevent wealthy families from transferring large amounts of investments to dependent children, who would then be taxed at a much lower rate than their parents. It taxed a child’s unearned income above a certain amount at the parent’s rate, instead of at the lower child’s rate. Unearned income includes investments, Social Security benefits, pensions, annuities, taxable scholarships and fellowships. Earned income, which is money earned from working, is always taxed at the lower rate.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 changed the kiddie tax in a way that had severe consequences for military families receiving survivor benefits. Instead of taxing unearned income above a certain level—$2,100 in 2018 and $2,200 in 2019—at the parent’s tax rate, it taxed it at the federal rate for trusts and estates starting in 2018.
Hitting military families with a 37% tax rate that starts at $12,750 in taxable income is unthinkable, but that’s what happened. Low and middle-income families whose dependent children were receiving unearned income, including retirement benefits received by dependent children of service members who died on active duty and scholarships used for expenses other than tuition and books, were effectively penalized by the change.
Under pressure from groups representing military families and scholarship providers, Congress finally added a measure repealing the kiddie tax change to the SECURE Act, which seemed as if it was going to be passed quickly in May. The bill was stalled until it was attached to the appropriations bill and was not passed until December 20, 2019.
There is a specific provision in the bill: “Tax Relief for Certain Children” that completely reverses the change starting in 2020. It also says that subject to the Treasury Department issuing guidance, taxpayers may be able to apply the repeal to their 2018 and 2019 tax years, or both.
The IRS has not yet issued guidance, but the expectation is that amended returns will be required, if a taxpayer elects to use the parents’ tax rate for that year.
Some parents whose children have investment income may be better off using the estate-tax rate for the two years that it is in place. In 2019, those trust brackets may actually allow more capital gains and dividends be taxed at the 0% and 15% rates than by using the parents’ rates.