Let’s say you decide to loan $5,000 to your daughter who’s been out of work for over a year and is having difficulty keeping up with the mortgage payments. While you may be tempted not to charge an interest rate, you should resist the temptation because:
- When you make an interest-free loan to someone, you will be subject to “below market interest rules”. IRS rules state that you need to calculate imaginary interest payments from the borrower, which are then paid to you. You will be required to pay taxes on these interest payments when you file a tax return. Further, if the imaginary interest payments exceed $14,000 for the year, there may be adverse gift and estate tax consequences.
- The exception is for small loans of $10,000 or less. The IRS lets you ignore the rules for small loans as long as the aggregate loan amounts to a single borrower are less than $10,000 and the borrower doesn’t use the loan proceeds to buy or carry income-producing assets.
- In addition, if you don’t charge any interest, or charge interest that is below market rate, then the IRS might consider your loan a gift, especially if there is no formal documentation (i.e. written agreement with payment schedule). It is best to have a written promissory note that includes the interest rate, a repayment schedule showing dates and amounts for all principal and interest, and security or collateral for the loan, such as a residence. Make sure that all parties sign the note so that it’s legally binding.
As long as you charge an interest rate that is at least equal to the applicable federal rate (AFR) approved by the Internal Revenue Service, you can avoid tax complications and unfavorable tax consequences.