When your parents spend money on you – whether it's giving you cash or buying you a car – it isn't taxable income. You never pay tax on a gift. If you're working for your parents in some capacity, that's different: you pay tax on whatever they pay you, just as if you were working for a stranger.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
When you receive cash from your parents, the IRS does not consider it taxable income unless your parents have paid the cash as income for a job you've done. Your parents may be subject to gift tax, though, if the cash exceeds the IRS limit.
Cash as a Gift
Cash is a gift in the eyes of the IRS if you don't give your parents something of equal value in return. This applies to cash they give you directly and money they spend on your behalf.
Paying a power bill or tuition that you can't afford or donating to your favorite charity – all of these count as gifts, so there's no tax. Furthermore, gifting you something with considerable value, like a car, follows the same tax laws as cash gifts. Similarly, you won't pay tax if your parents give you something below market value – allowing you to pay half the going rate to rent an apartment, for instance.
Gift Tax Rules
Although you don't pay tax on cash or other gifts, your parents may have to. For tax years 2018 and 2019, if your parents each give you more than $15,000 a year – $30,000 total – they must report the gift to the IRS, and it may be subject to gift tax. Up to that limit, there's no tax. Gift tax discourages taxpayers from giving away so much from their estate that they can duck estate tax later.
Earned Income Is Taxable
When you work for your parents, taxable income can include more than just salary or wages from a 9-to-5 job. If they pay you to babysit your younger brother or a sick grandparent, for instance, that counts as income. Money you get for them in the form of employee awards, profit-sharing or end-of-year bonuses is also taxable. You don't have to pay tax on cash that unrelated workers wouldn't pay income tax on, such as mileage reimbursement.
IRS Rules for Dependents
When your parents claim you as a dependent, you may not have to file even if they pay you taxable income. If your work for them – or for anyone – and you earn less than the standard deduction, you don't owe taxes. The standard deduction is $12,000 for 2018 and $12,200 for 2019, which includes both earned and unearned income, such as interest and dividends. IRS Publication 929 provides a formula for calculating when you need to file if you have a mix of earned and unearned income.
- Forbes: IRS Announces 2018 Tax Rates, Standard Deductions, Exemption Amounts And More
- Money Under 30: Gift Tax: Don’t Fear Taxes When You Give (Or Receive) Read more at: https://www.moneyunder30.com/gift-tax
- IRS: Frequently Asked Questions on Gift Taxes
- Forbes: IRS Announces 2019 Tax Rates, Standard Deduction Amounts and More
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.