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Do you own stocks that you want to give as a gift to a family member or close friend this holiday season? If so, that’s very generous of you, and no doubt it will be appreciated very much. But before you give stock to someone else, make sure you understand the tax implications of gifting stock—it can save you and the person receiving the shares a lot of money.

From a tax perspective, there are generally two federal taxes to worry about when gifting stock: gift taxes and capital gains taxes. For the most part, the person who gives the property (i.e., the donor) pays the gift tax, while the person receiving the gift pays the capital gains tax.

But there’s some good news: You can reduce or even eliminate these taxes if you’re smart about how you give the stock.

Yes, the rules can be tricky. But I’ll clue you in on the tax ramifications of giving stock to another person, and provide tips on how to avoid related taxes. I’ll also cover special considerations when giving stock to a child, suggest a couple of alternatives to gifting stock, and offer guidance and recommendations on how to transfer stocks. 

Hopefully, your generosity will be rewarded with an easy transition and a smaller tax bill!

Related: Financial Gifts for Babies, Kids & Grandkids [No More Toys]

Gift Tax If You Give Stock To Someone Else


sign up bonus gift box cash

Let’s start with the federal gift tax, which generally applies to the transfer of property from one person to another if nothing, or something that’s worth less than the transferred property, is received in return. The person giving away the property is generally responsible for paying any gift tax due, so the person receiving the gift doesn’t have to worry about this particular tax. (Gifts received are not subject to federal income taxes, either.)

The fair market value (FMV) of the gifted property on the date the gift is made is used to determine if the tax applies. A stock’s FMV is generally the average of the highest and lowest selling prices quoted on the date the stock is gifted.

If any gift tax is due, the rates range from 18% to 40% of the combined total of taxable gifts. That’s pretty steep, so you want to avoid or minimize this tax if at all possible.

Fortunately, thanks to two separate exemptions—an annual one and a lifetime one—most people are able to dodge the federal gift tax entirely. As I’ll discuss in a minute, you won’t have to pay the gift tax on any property you give to other people if you’re careful and don’t exceed either of the exemption amounts.

Related: Why Shrinking Inflation Could Be the Best Christmas Gift

Annual Gift Tax Exclusion

Gifts of property with a FMV below the annual gift tax exclusion amount are not subject to the federal gift tax. For 2023, the annual gift tax exclusion is $17,000. It will rise to $18,000 in 2024 (it’s adjusted annually for inflation).

The annual exclusion applies per person. So, if you’re married, you and your spouse can give a combined total of $34,000 to a family member or friend in 2023 ($36,000 in 2024). Plus, it also applies on a per recipient basis. That means you can give up to $17,000 (or up to $34,000 for a married couple) to as many people as you like in 2023 without having to pay any federal gift tax.

Since it’s an annual limit, all gifts of stock under the $17,000 limit for 2023 must be made by Dec. 31, 2023.

Example

Andrew and Becky are married with three married adult children and four grandchildren. In 2023, they can give up to $34,000 in stock (or other property) to each child, their children’s spouses, and all four grandchildren (i.e., gifts to all 10 of them) without owing any federal gift tax. That’s a grand total of $340,000 in tax-free gifts ($34,000 x 10 = $340,000).

What happens if you go over the annual gift tax exclusion amount?

If a gift exceeds the annual exclusion amount, will you have to pay federal gift taxes? Probably not.

You’ll have to file a gift tax return (Form 709) to report the gift (and any other gifts during the year that exceed the annual limit) to the IRS. However, just because you file Form 709 to report gifts for the year doesn’t necessarily mean you must pay taxes on the gifts.

The federal tax on gifts only kicks in if the lifetime exclusion amount is surpassed.

Lifetime Gift Tax Exclusion

So, now we get to the point where you might get a federal gift tax bill. You only have to pay taxes on your gifts if the combined total of all gifts reported on Form 709 during your life exceeds the lifetime gift tax exclusion.

For 2023, the lifetime gift exclusion is $12.92 million (it’s also adjusted annually for inflation and will be $13.61 million for 2024). As with the annual exclusion, the lifetime gift exclusion amount is doubled for married couples (i.e., $25.84 million for 2023; $27.22 million for 2024).

So, as you can see, most people won’t ever come close to owing federal gift taxes—it’s pretty much a tax that’s only paid by the wealthiest of Americans.

WealthUp Tip: We highly recommend hiring a tax professional if you plan on making large gifts that exceed the annual limit. You’ll want a qualified tax advisor by your side to deal with and help plan any tax and estate repercussions stemming from gifts of substantial value.

Examples

In 2023, Nicholas gives $100,000 of stock as a gift to a family member. He files a gift tax return reporting the $83,000 amount exceeding annual gift tax exclusion ($100,000 – $17,000 = $83,000). Nicholas has been gifting stock to family members for the past 15 years. The total amount of gifted property over the annual exclusion amounts during his lifetime is $2.5 million. Nicholas does not owe gift tax at this time because the total amount reported during his lifetime ($2.5 million) is not above the $12.92 million lifetime limit for 2023.

Cindy gives $1 million of stock to her grandchild in 2023 and files a gift tax return reporting the amount over the $17,000 annual exclusion. Cindy has been gifting stock to other family members for the past 10 years. Over the course of her life, the total amount of her gifts reported to the IRS is $13 million. Cindy owes gift tax on $80,000, which is the amount of reported lifetime gifts exceeding the $12.92 million lifetime limit for 2023 ($13 million – $12.92 million = $80,000).

Federal estate tax exclusion

The lifetime gift tax exclusion and the federal estate tax exclusion are joined at the hip. So, if you’re wealthy enough to worry about the lifetime limit, giving away property now can impact the estate tax owed when you die.

First, both exemption amounts are the same: $12.92 million for 2023 ($25.84 million for married couples); $13.61 million for 2024 ($27.22 million for married couples).

Second, and more importantly, any amount counting toward your lifetime gift tax exemption is subtracted from your estate tax exclusion amount. So, for instance, if you had a total of $7 million of gifts surpassing the annual exclusion amount during your lifetime, and you die in 2023, your estate tax exclusion will only be $5.92 million ($12.92 million – $7 million = $5.92 million).

WealthUp Tip: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 doubled the lifetime gift and estate tax exclusion from 2018 to 2025. In 2026, the limit is scheduled to drop back down to pre-2018 levels, as adjusted for inflation (estimated to be between $6 million and $7 million). Fortunately, the IRS has already stated that people who take advantage of the higher exclusion amounts won’t be adversely impacted after 2025 when the exclusion amount goes back down.

Related: 30 Tax Statistics and Facts That Might Surprise You

Other Gift Tax Exemptions

If you plan to make other gifts, you still might be able to avoid the federal gift tax. That’s because the following gifts generally aren’t subject to the tax:

  • Tuition paid directly to an educational institution for someone else
  • Medical expenses paid directly to a doctor or other medical care provider for someone else
  • Gifts to a spouse who is a U.S. citizen
  • Gifts to a political organization
  • Gifts to certain tax-exempt civic or business leagues, chambers of commerce, recreational clubs, and similar organizations
  • Gifts to charities

Watch out for special rules and requirements for these exceptions, though. Check with a qualified tax advisor if you think one of these exemptions might apply to you.

WealthUp Tip: You might also get an income tax deduction for donating stock to charity. However, tax deductible contributions to charity could be limited to a percentage of your adjusted gross income. If you donate appreciated property like stock to a charitable organization, you also won’t have to pay capital gains tax on the increase in value.

Related: How to Make Money in Stocks [Investing in the Stock Market]

Capital Gains Tax on the Sale of Gifted Stock


capital gains tax button on keyboard

Now let’s look at the capital gains tax, which is imposed on any gain (i.e., profit) from the sale of stock or other capital assets. The good news is you don’t have to pay capital gains tax if you gift stock to someone else because there’s no “sale.” The bad news is the gift recipient will have to pay the tax on any gain if he or she sells the stock later. (The recipient will also have to pay income tax on any dividends paid on the stock before it’s sold.)

When you boil it down, calculation of the tax on capital gain from the sale of stock generally depends on the stock’s sales price, basis, and holding period. However, there are some special rules affecting the stock’s basis and holding period if stock is given as a gift.

WealthUp Tip: If you give stock to someone else, you’re better off giving appreciated stock (i.e., stock that has increased in value since you bought it). That way you’ll avoid the tax on capital gains that you would otherwise have to pay if you sold the stock.

Related: Best Dividend King Stocks for Royally Resilient Income

Basis of Gifted Stock

When you sell stock, if the amount you receive from the sale minus your “adjusted basis” in the stock is a positive number, the gain is subject to the capital gains tax. If that calculation results in a negative number, you have a capital loss, which can be used to offset capital gains and other income.

Your adjusted basis is generally the amount you paid for the stock (i.e., your “cost basis”), plus broker commissions and any other expenses related to your purchase. That amount can also be increased or decreased after you purchase the stock by certain events (e.g., reinvesting dividends or stock splits). That’s the general rule.

However, there are a few twists when you gift stock … and it can get complicated. The basis of stock received as a gift depends on whether the stock gained or lost value in the donor’s hand, the donor’s adjusted basis right before the stock is given, the stock’s FMV at the time of the gift, and whether any gift tax was paid for the exchange.

That’s a lot of factors, but I’ll break it down below and provide some examples to show how the rules work.

Appreciated stock

If the stock’s value is greater than or equal to the donor’s adjusted basis (i.e., appreciated stock), the recipient’s basis is the donor’s adjusted basis at the time the gift is received, plus any adjustments to the basis while the gift recipient holds the stock.

In addition, the recipient’s basis is increased by all or part of any gift tax paid as follows:

  • If the stock was given before 1977, the recipient’s basis is increased by any gift tax paid on it, but the basis can’t be increased above the stock’s FMV at the time of the gift.
  • If the stock was given after 1976, the recipient’s basis is increased by the part of the gift tax paid that’s attributed to the stock’s net increase in value when it was held by the donor.
Examples

In 1976, Greyson was given stock with a FMV of $21,000. The donor’s adjusted basis was $20,000. The donor paid a gift tax of $500. After Greyson received the stock, no events occurred to increase or decrease his basis. Greyson’s basis is $20,500, which is equal to the donor’s adjusted basis plus the gift tax paid. However, If the gift tax paid had been $1,500, Greyson’s basis would be $21,000, which is equal to the donor’s adjusted basis plus the gift tax paid, but limited to the stock’s value at the time of the gift.

In 2022, Cheri received a gift of stock that had a FMV of $50,000. The donor’s adjusted basis was $20,000, which resulted in a net increase in value of $30,000 when the stock was held by the donor. The amount of the gift for gift tax purposes was $34,000 ($50,000 minus the $16,000 annual exclusion for 2022), and the donor paid a gift tax of $6,880. The gift tax attributable to the stock’s net increase in value is $6,054 [$30,000 ÷ $34,000 = 0.88; $6,880 x 0.88 = $6,054]. After Cheri received the stock, no events occurred to increase or decrease her basis. As a result, Cheri’s basis is $26,054 ($20,000 + $6,054 = $26,054).

Depreciated stock

If the stock’s value when the gift is given is less than the donor’s adjusted basis (i.e., depreciated stock), the recipient’s basis is as follows:

  • For determining a gain, the donor’s adjusted basis
  • For determining a loss, the stock’s value when the gift is received

In either case, any adjustments to the basis while the gift recipient holds the property is added or subtracted as necessary.

In addition, if the donor’s adjusted basis is used to figure a gain but the gift recipient ends up with a loss, and the recipient then uses the stock’s value to figure a loss but ends up with a gain, there’s neither a gain nor loss on the recipient’s sale of the stock.

Example

Charlie received 100 shares of stock as a gift. The stock was worth $8,000 at the time of the gift. The donor’s adjusted basis in the stock was $10,000. After Charlie received the stock, no events occurred to increase or decrease his basis. If Charlie sells the stock for $12,000, he’ll have a $2,000 gain because he must use the donor’s adjusted basis ($10,000) at the time of the gift as his basis to figure gain. If he sells the stock for $7,000, Charlie will have a $1,000 loss because he must use the stock’s FMV ($8,000) at the time of the gift as his basis to figure a loss.

If Charlie sells the stock for any amount between $8,000 and $10,000, he won’t have either a gain or a loss. For instance, if the sales price was $9,000 and Charlie tried to figure a gain using the donor’s adjusted basis ($10,000), he would get a $1,000 loss. If Charlie then tried to figure a loss using the FMV ($8,000), he would get a $1,000 gain.

Holding Period of Gifted Stock

When stock or another capital asset is sold, the tax rate that applies to any gain depends on whether the gain is long-term or short-term, which is based on your “holding period.”

Generally, if you hold an asset for more than one year, any gain from the sale is long-term capital gain. If you hold the asset for one year or less, any gain is short-term capital gain.

The long-term capital gains tax rates are 0%, 15%, or 20%, and which rate applies depends on your taxable income. The short-term capital gains rate is the same as the income tax rate you pay on wages, tips, taxable Social Security benefits, and other “ordinary” income. These tax rates range from 10% to 37%, depending on which federal income tax bracket applies to you.

In most cases, your long-term rate will be lower than your short-term rate. As a result, you’re generally better off holding stock and other capital assets for more than one year before selling them.

Holding period for recipient of gifted stock

When stock is given to someone as a gift and the donor’s adjusted basis is used to determine the recipient’s basis, the donor’s holding period carries over to the recipient. In other words, it’s as if the recipient received the stock on the same day the donor acquired it. This applies with gifts of:

  • Appreciated stock
  • Depreciated stock where the recipient’s basis is used for determining a gain

On the other hand, if the stock’s FMV is used to determine the recipient’s basis, the recipient’s holding period begins on the day after the gift is received. This applies with gifts of  depreciated stock where the recipient’s basis is used for determining a loss.

So, if you want to put the recipient in the best position possible, gift stock that has increased in value since you acquired it and that you’ve held for over a year. That way, the person receiving your gift will have a better chance of being taxed at the lower long-term capital gains tax rates if he or she wants to sell the stock quickly.

Related: Child Tax Credit FAQs [What Every Parent Needs to Know]

Net Investment Income Tax


Heap of American dollar bills

If you gift stocks to someone else, the recipient might also be subject to the 3.8% tax on net investment income. This special tax is on the lesser of net investment income or the excess of the recipient’s modified adjusted gross income over the applicable threshold amount as shown in the table below.

Filing StatusModified AGI Threshold
Single; Head of Household$200,000
Married Filing Separately$125,000
Married Filing Jointly; Surviving Spouse$250,000

Generally, net investment income includes interest, dividends, capital gains, rental and royalty income, and non-qualified annuities. It doesn’t include wages, unemployment compensation, Social Security benefits, alimony, and most self-employment income.

So, if stocks received as a gift are later sold, any resulting capital gains could be subject to the net investment income tax (in addition to any capital gains tax due). However, the tax could also be due without selling the stock if dividends are paid on the stock.

Use Form 8960 to calculate the 3.8% tax.

Related: How to Grow Passive Income & Pay Little-to-No Tax Forever

Giving Stock As a Gift to Children


Child tax income filing responsibility

Giving stock to children is a great idea. Once they own stock, children are often eager to learn more about investing in the stock market, researching stocks (including conducting stock analysis), or generally gaining more experience with personal finance.

If you want to give stock to a child, a custodial brokerage account will first have to be set up in order to transfer ownership to the child. With a custodial account, an adult—typically a parent or guardian—can manage the account until the child reaches the age of majority. However, the custodian must always act in the child’s best interest.

There are also some special tax considerations when stock ownership is transferred to a child. For instance, children are likely to face lower tax rates on capital gains or dividends because their overall income is typically low (assuming the child is required to file a tax return). As a result, if the stock is sold, any capital gain has a good chance of being taxed at the 0% rate. For ordinary dividends, children are also usually in a lower tax bracket.

On the other hand, if the kiddie tax applies, capital gains and dividends from gifted stock can be taxed at the child’s parent’s federal income tax rate. For the 2023 tax year, the kiddie tax kicks in if a child’s total unearned income exceeds $2,500 ($2,600 for 2024). Unearned income generally includes all of a child’s income other than salaries, wages, and other amounts received as pay for work actually performed.

Related: What’s Your Standard Deduction?

How to Gift Stock In a Brokerage Account


stocks keyboard brokerage investing

To transfer ownership of stock as a gift, the person receiving the gift must have a brokerage account. If the recipient doesn’t already have an account, you might consider opening one for them and funding it as part of their gift. Some brokerage accounts even offer incentives for opening an account, such as free stocks for signing up.

If you’re gifting stocks to a child, there are also several investing apps for minors that allow kids and teens to trade stocks and invest in the stock market. A great addition to their portfolio might include various kid-friendly stocks, or companies with mass brand appeal and regular interaction with kids in their daily lives.

Once that’s established, you’ll still need to tackle a few logistical hurdles, such as getting the recipient’s account number and possibly more personal details like a Social Security number and other items to perform the stock transfer. The process is much easier with online brokerage accounts, but you can still transfer shares if you actually have a physical stock certificate.

If you or the person receiving your gift of stock is looking for a good online brokerage account, here are a few recommendations.

Fidelity Investments


Fidelity signup general

  • Available: Sign up here
  • Price: Commission-free stock and ETF trades

Fidelity is one of the best known online brokers—and for good reason. Like other popular online trading apps, they offer $0 commissions when you trade U.S. stock, ETFs, and options. (Though options do incur contract fees.) There’s also no minimum amount to open a brokerage account, and no annual maintenance fee.

Fidelity offers a wide variety of investment options to consider, including several target-date funds and low-cost index funds. You also get exclusive access to Fidelity’s ZERO line of zero-expense index mutual funds. As one of the big-boy brokerage firms, Fidelity also has a deep reservoir of free investing and general financial advice, tools, and fee-based wealth management services.

And if you’re gifting stock to a teenager who needs a custodial account, consider the Fidelity Youth Account, which is described below.

Related: Best Investments for Teenagers to Consider

E*Trade


etrade signup invest

  • Available: Sign up here
  • Price: Commission-free stock, ETF, mutual fund, and Treasury trades

One of the benefits of E*Trade is the access you receive to educational resources that help teach you how to evaluate different investment options, conduct analysis, and diversify your portfolio. They offer retirement planning advice, too.

E*Trade has two primary platforms, both of which are free and have no minimum investment limit:

  1. E*Trade is an easy-to-use, accessible retail investing platform that provides live market commentary, stock analysis, news, and more.
  2. Power E*Trade is an advanced platform that offers advanced charting, a powerful stock and trade scanner, paper trading, and more.

Each platform offers web and mobile versions, and each gives you access to a dashboard where you keep track of your accounts, investments, and make your trades. E*Trade does have small fees for options contracts, and some fees might also apply for retirement accounts.

Related: Best Investment Apps for Beginners

Robinhood


robinhood sign up

Robinhood is a pioneer of commission-free trading, jumping into the investing public’s consciousness in 2013 when they rolled out commission-free trading. They remain a standout option for cost-minded investors thanks to their continued $0 commissions on stocks, ETFs, and options, as well as for its fractional trading, which allows people to invest with as little as $1.

More importantly, though, Robinhood has evolved from a bare-bones app appealing to mostly beginner investors to a fuller-featured account suitable for a wider range of experience levels.

For instance, Robinhood now offers traditional individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and Roth IRAs via Robinhood Retirement. Functionally, it comes up short compared to many other IRA providers because of its investment options. It offers just stocks and ETFs; like with its brokerage account, mutual funds aren’t available. Options aren’t currently available, though Robinhood has explicitly stated that options will be made available soon.

However, Robinhood Retirement still stands out from the pack because it’s the only IRA provider that offers matching funds. If you open up an IRA with Robinhood Retirement, Robinhood will match 1% of any IRA transfers, 401(k) rollovers, and annual contributions to your account—and 3% if you pay for the Robinhood Gold service ($5 per month)—typically almost immediately after you make your contribution. Better still: Any matches made on annual contributions don’t count toward your contribution limit.

WealthUp Tip: The reason the IRA match doesn’t count toward your annual IRA contribution limit is because Robinhood treats it as interest income in your IRA.

Sign up for a Robinhood brokerage account or Robinhood retirement account today.

Related: Best Bar Mitzvah Gift Ideas

Alternatives to Giving Stock as a Gift


financial gift present

Gifting stock directly and unconditionally to someone else isn’t always the best way to transfer stock ownership. Other methods of giving stock to another person might work better for you or the recipient. And, in certain cases, you want to retain some control over use of the stock.

There are a few options if a straightforward gift isn’t right for you.

Selling Depreciated Stock and Gifting Cash

You might not want to gift stock that has decreased in value since you acquired it. Instead, selling the stock yourself and giving the proceeds as a cash gift might cut your own tax bill for the year. (But keep the annual gift tax exclusion in mind!)

Selling depreciated shares will generate a capital loss. You can use that loss to offset any capital gains for the year. Plus, if your losses are greater than your gains, you might be able to deduct up to $3,000 from your taxable wages and other “ordinary” income.

Gifting Stock In Your Will

While they’ll have to wait until you die to get the stock, there’s an advantage to inheriting appreciated stock when compared to receiving it now as a gift. That’s because of something called “stepped-up basis.”

Here’s how it works: If you inherit stock that has increased in value since the person who died acquired it, the heir’s basis in the stock is equal to the stock’s FMV on the day the decedent died. Theoretically, with this increase in basis, the person inheriting the stock can immediately sell it that same day and completely avoid the capital gains tax, since the heir’s basis would be the same as the sale price.

In reality, the heir probably isn’t going to be in a position to sell the inherited stock that same day. However, the higher (“stepped up”) basis will help reduce or eliminate any capital gains tax whenever the stock is sold.

Placing Stocks In a Trust

What if you want to give stock to a college student who isn’t quite ready to handle a large amount of money, or to someone who has already demonstrated poor financial habits. If you give stock to someone like that outright, you’ll be ceding control of the gifted stock to the recipient, who, in most cases, can then do most anything they want with the stock.

If that makes you nervous, you can attach limitations on what can be done with the stock through use of trusts. For instance, a trust can limit access to the stock until the recipient reaches a certain age. A trust can also be used to gradually grant access to the stock over a period of time instead of all at once.

This is not something you will want to do on your own, though. Consult with a qualified attorney if you want to set up a trust.

Related:

Rocky has been covering federal and state tax developments for over 25 years. During that time, he has provided tax information and guidance to millions of tax professionals and ordinary Americans. As Senior Tax Editor for WealthUp from Jan. 2023 to Feb. 2024, Rocky spent most of his time writing and editing online tax content.

Before working for WealthUp, Rocky was a Senior Tax Editor for Kiplinger, where he wrote and edited tax content for Kiplinger.com, Kiplinger’s Retirement Report and The Kiplinger Tax Letter. Prior to his time at Kiplinger, Rocky was a Senior Writer/Analyst for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. In that role, he managed a portfolio of print and digital state income tax research products, led the development of various new print and online products, authored white papers and other special publications, coordinated with authors of a state tax treatise, and acted as media contact for the state income tax group (where he was quoted as an expert by USA Today, Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, Reuters, Accounting Today, and other national media outlets). Before that, Rocky was an Executive Editor at Kleinrock Publishing, which provided tax research products for tax professionals. At Kleinrock, he directed the development, maintenance, and enhancement of all state tax and payroll law publications, including electronic research products, monthly newsletters, and handbooks.

Rocky has a law degree from the University of Connecticut and a B.A. in History from Salisbury University.