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Understanding the Kiddie Tax: A Comprehensive Guide

Updated: Jan 6

Photo by ColiN00B on Pixabay

Image: Kiddie Tax

As a responsible parent, it's important to understand the implications of your child's income, especially when it comes to taxes. One key aspect to consider is the Kiddie Tax, which governs the taxation of unearned income for children. This comprehensive guide will provide you with all the information you need to navigate this complex topic and ensure compliance with the tax regulations.

What is the Kiddie Tax?

The Kiddie Tax is a law enacted to prevent parents from taking advantage of lower tax rates by transferring income-producing assets to their children. Before this law, parents could potentially save on taxes by placing investments and assets in their child's name, as the child's lower tax rate would apply to the income generated. However, the Kiddie Tax closed this loophole by taxing the child's unearned income at higher rates.

The History of the Kiddie Tax

The Kiddie Tax was introduced as part of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 to address the issue of income shifting from parents to children. Initially, the tax applied the parents' marginal tax rate to a child's unearned income above a certain threshold. However, in 2018, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act temporarily changed the rules, replacing the parents' tax rate with the tax rates applicable to estates and trusts, resulting in higher taxes for some families. In response to the concerns raised, the Kiddie Tax rules were reverted to their original form by the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (SECURE Act).

Who Does the Kiddie Tax Apply To?

The Kiddie Tax applies to children who meet specific criteria. It is applicable to dependent children who are under the age of 18 at the end of the tax year, or full-time students between the ages of 19 and 23. However, there are exceptions to the Kiddie Tax. If a child has earned income that exceeds half of their support or files a joint tax return, they may be exempt from the Kiddie Tax.

Understanding Unearned Income

Unearned income refers to income derived from sources other than employment or business activities. It includes various forms of investment income, such as interest, dividends, capital gains, and taxable scholarships. The Kiddie Tax specifically applies to a child's unearned income.

Calculating the Kiddie Tax

To determine the Kiddie Tax, it is crucial to understand the relevant calculations. For the 2023 tax year, the first $1,250 of a child's unearned income is tax-free. The next $1,250 is taxed at the child's income tax rate, while any amount exceeding $2,500 is taxed at the parents' marginal tax rate. These calculations are made using Form 8615, which helps determine the amount of tax owed on the child's unearned income.

Reporting Unearned Income on Tax Returns

When it comes to reporting a child's unearned income on tax returns, there are several considerations. In some cases, parents have the option to include the child's interest and dividend income on their own tax return. However, if the child has additional sources of income, such as earnings from a job or income from the sale of stock, a separate tax return must be filed for the child. It's important to report these transactions accurately and include them on the appropriate tax forms, such as Schedule D for stock sales.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Reporting on Parent's Return

Parents have the option to report their child's unearned income on their own tax return. While this may seem convenient, there are advantages and disadvantages to consider. By including the child's income on the parent's return, certain deductions and credits may be limited, potentially resulting in higher tax liability. Additionally, the parent's adjusted gross income (AGI) may increase, affecting eligibility for certain credits and potentially triggering the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). It's crucial to evaluate the impact of these factors before deciding whether to include the child's income on the parent's return.

Filing a Separate Return for the Child

In some cases, it may be more beneficial to file a separate tax return for the child. This is particularly true if the child has specific circumstances, such as being blind, having investment expenses or other itemized deductions, or being affected by early withdrawal of savings. By filing a separate return, the child can claim deductions and credits they are eligible for, which may result in lower overall tax liability.

Impact on Investment Accounts

Investment accounts held in a child's name can be subject to the Kiddie Tax. However, certain types of accounts, such as 529 plans, may be exempt from this tax. Contributions made to a 529 plan are made with after-tax dollars, and any growth in the account is tax-deferred. When funds are withdrawn for qualified education expenses, they are generally tax-free. It's important to consider these tax advantages when deciding how to manage assets for a child's education.

Strategies for Tax Efficiency

To optimize tax efficiency, there are several strategies that parents can consider. One option is to invest a child's earned income (up to the annual limit) in a Roth IRA for kids. Contributions to a Roth IRA are made with after-tax dollars, and qualified withdrawals are tax-free. Additionally, assets held in retirement accounts, such as a 529 plan, may not be considered when calculating financial aid for college. By exploring these strategies, parents can minimize the impact of taxes on their child's income and maximize their financial resources.

Seek Professional Advice

Navigating the complexities of the Kiddie Tax and related tax regulations can be challenging. To ensure compliance and make informed decisions, it's advisable to consult with a tax advisor or financial professional. These experts can provide personalized guidance based on your specific circumstances and help you optimize your tax strategy while ensuring the accurate reporting of your child's unearned income.


Understanding the Kiddie Tax and its implications is essential for parents. By familiarizing yourself with the rules and regulations surrounding unearned income and the reporting requirements, you can ensure compliance with tax laws and make informed decisions regarding your child's finances. Remember to consult with a tax professional for personalized advice tailored to your specific situation. With the right knowledge and guidance, you can navigate the complexities of the Kiddie Tax with confidence.


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