Lending money to family is often intended to be a gift of love and to provide assistance, but it is also rife with perils, for both the lender and the borrower. It goes without saying that lending money should only be considered when permitted by your financial plan. In other words, don’t give money away at the expense of your future cash flow.
If all goes well, the loan will be repaid in a timely manner and will be a win-win for the lender and the borrower. In our experience, this is not usually the case.
In fact, most family loans are forgiven and often turn into gifts. In some cases, family discord and financial stress derail the family relationship when the borrower is unable to repay, and the lender needs the funds for their financial well-being. At other times the loan repayment is not the issue, but other squabbles (like unequal lending to family members) arise which can cause defaults and family resentments.
Lending money to a family member in exchange for a promissory note must follow IRS rules. The IRS requirements are clear, the loan must charge a minimum interest rate, must document transactions, and require repayments. If it is instead a gift (no repayment expected), then it must be stated as such and recorded for gift tax purposes (and may require filing an IRS Gift Tax Form).
The recent highly publicized case of Bank of America independent director David Yost’s daughter’s divorce is an appropriate example. Yost appears to have made $8M in loans to the couple years earlier and on divorce demanded repayment from his soon to be ex-son-in-law. The ex- claimed they were not loans but gifts that Yost made to appear as loans to evade taxes. This landed both families in court with suits on both sides and the IRS watching from the sideline.
It is common for highly affluent families to make private loans with assets they do not need in their retirement. It is particularly beneficial when loans are used to purchase assets for the next generation without tax liability and to simultaneously reduce the size of the lender’s estate while avoiding future estate taxes (currently, this estate tax reduction strategy is relevant for families with estates greater than $12M).
My concern over family loans arise when the financial plan doesn’t comfortably cover the loan and yet the lender feels emotionally inclined to make the loan despite the projected shortfall in future cash flow. I find that lenders who are family members do not recognize that despite best intentions the possibility exists that the money will not be repaid, and money not market invested is missing out on gain that will be needed later in retirement. In addition, most are not aware that without proper documentation the IRS can label this transaction as a tax avoidance technique.
Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS