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Whether it’s a special occasion like a graduation or an annual celebration like a birthday, figuring out what gift to give can be hard. Giving a cash gift can make that decision easier and guarantee your gift will be put to good use.
But how can you give monetary gifts without seeming like you put in minimal effort? Here are some options to help personalize your giving and ensure the most thoughtful gift for each person on your list.
1. Gift card
If you know your gift recipient well, find their favorite store or restaurant and buy a gift card to treat them to something you know they’ll love. Even if they’re harder to shop for or you’re not very close, there’s nothing wrong with choosing a prepaid cash card. Pair it with a heartfelt note to show how much you care.
If you’re still wary of coming across a bit too impersonal, try giving an experience instead. Prepay for a couple of movie dates or a trip to the spa where you can spend time together and enjoy a nice treat.
You may score a bonus for yourself when you buy a gift card for a loved one, especially during the holiday season. Many restaurants and retail stores offer a bonus card near the end of the year for you when you spend a minimum amount on a gift card for someone else.
You can also often score discount gift cards for less than face value through sites like GiftCards.com or find redemption bonuses through your credit card’s rewards portal, like Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards.
If you, as an employer, give a gift card to an employee, it may be taxable as income depending on the specific circumstances of the gift. However, like cash, gift cards given by a friend or family member generally fall under the gift tax exemption, so unless you give more than $17,000 worth of gift cards per person in 2023, it won’t be taxed.
You also shouldn’t be charged sales tax when buying a gift card, since your recipient will pay sales tax on the item(s) they purchase with the gift card.
2. CDs or savings account transfer
With these accounts, it’s easy to teach someone to save money every so often. And it’s a gift you can build upon year after year. Start by teaching the value of saving money, explain how interest works with a CD and then escalate to teaching them how they can earn more over time with savings bonds or other investments.
Not only are you putting away money now for your gift recipient to use in the future, you’re also teaching valuable personal finance habits that can help them earn more throughout their lifetime. Currently, the best one-year CDs and high-yield savings accounts earn upwards of 4 percent interest. Do your research beforehand to find a bank offering a minimum balance and term length that works best for you and the recipient.
Interest earnings on CDs and savings accounts are taxable. The owner of the account will receive a Form 1099-INT with information on interest earned that year from the bank or credit union. Your CD or savings account interest is taxed at the same rate as your income.
Giving a piece of ownership in a company, in the form of shares of stock, is another option. Before you dive in, though, take some time to consider the gift recipient.
For adults, you can simply submit a transfer form to your financial institution to transfer your own shares into their account or transfer a mutual fund to someone with an account at the same institution. If you have individual stocks in mind, you can also purchase shares with popular companies on websites like GiveAShare.
If you want to give a stock to a minor, though, you have to create what’s called an UTMA (Uniform Transfers to Minors Act) account, which is essentially a custodial account where the adult manages the money. When the child reaches majority age, then the money is theirs to use however they like.
But consider whether a custodial account is actually the best option. In some cases, and depending on the size of your gift, setting up a trust or opening a 529 college savings plan, in which parents can retain more control, may be more effective.
Stocks can be an instructive gift for teaching the value of investing, or simply a fun way for your recipients to own a share of a company they admire.
The biggest benefit of giving stock is the possible gains your money may deliver to the gift recipient over time. But for the right recipient, it can also be a useful opportunity to educate them on how the stock market works and how money is earned in stocks via capital appreciation and dividends, and watch it grow over time.
Depending on whether you’re gifting your own previously held stock or purchasing new stock and what type of account it’s held in, you or your recipient may be liable for capital gains and other tax obligations.
Because there are several different ways you can give stock and different tax implications for each (for both you and your recipient), consider speaking with a financial advisor or accountant beforehand to determine the best giving options.
4. 529 contribution
If you’re looking to invest in the future of a child in your life, you can contribute your money to a 529 plan, which may be used in the future to pay for education expenses like tuition, textbooks and other supplies. Whether your friends recently had a baby and you want to help establish a college fund or your niece or nephew is nearing graduation age, 529 plans are great tax-advantaged investments.
A 529 plan may not be the most exciting gift to a young child, but it can pay off exponentially in the future, especially as student loan debt continues to rise. There is no limit to the number of 529 plans you’re allowed to set up, and you can name anyone as a beneficiary.
Typically, 529 plans are not counted as a student asset when filling out the FAFSA forms for financial aid, so it won’t be counted against your recipient’s financial merit-based aid awards. That noted, it must be reported as an investment asset of the parent on the FAFSA form. You can also transfer unused 529 funds to someone else, if the original beneficiary decides against pursuing higher education.
A 529 plan is a sound way to begin tax-advantaged savings for a child’s education. Your contributions are made after tax, but the money grows tax-free and is not taxed once it’s removed from the account for qualified education expenses. And though there aren’t federal deductions for contributions, many states do offer tax credits or deductions.
When all else fails, stick to the basics.
Give your cash gifts flair for the occasion by dressing them in a card or money holder. For the extra creative, there are countless ideas online for inventive ways to give cash: You can find guides to DIY anything from dollar bills frozen inside giant ice cubes to cash-filled chocolate candy boxes.
Or keep things virtual by transferring your gift funds into your recipient’s Venmo or Cash App account. You may lose some points in presentation, but person-to-person (P2P) payments still give you the opportunity to put your emoji keyboard creativity to the test. It’s also a much faster transfer process for long-distance giving than mailing a check.
If you know someone with international travel plans, you can personalize your gift by gifting cash in a currency they’ll be able to use abroad. That could also help them save on hefty exchange fees and ensure they’re prepared with some usable cash upon landing.
The biggest benefit of giving cash is simplicity.
Though there may be occasions for which giving cash can seem inappropriate or a faux pas, it’s also a straightforward gift that you can give and be assured your recipient will use it, rather than regift at a later date.
Cash given as a gift is not considered taxable up to the annual exclusion, which is $17,000 for 2023, according to the IRS. If your gift is under this amount, your recipient won’t be responsible for paying taxes on it. The exclusion is applicable for each person gifted, so you can give up to $17,000 per person per year without being taxed on the gifts.
6. Charitable contribution
For those times when you’re still left wondering what to get the person who truly has everything, a monetary donation to a charity or cause they support can be a great way to show you care.
Familiarize yourself with the causes your recipient champions and make a donation in their name. When it’s time for the gift exchange, you can simply give a card with a message about the donation.
Some charities provide these thank-you cards themselves and may even specify where exactly your donation will go.
Donating to a cause in someone’s name can easily solve your gift indecision for the people in your life who truly seem to have it all. Not only are you helping to aid a cause you and your recipient care about, but you may even inspire others to pay it forward with a donation of their own.
Charitable donations, in addition to doing good for a worthy cause, are also one of the most advantageous gifts for your taxes. Cash donations to qualified charities and nonprofit organizations are tax-deductible if you choose to itemize your deductions as long as the donations do not exceed 60 percent of your adjusted gross income.
There are many ways to give money as a gift, and with so many options to choose from, you really can’t go wrong. Giving a gift card or cash is pretty straightforward, but if you’re giving something like stocks or CDs, you’ll need to mind the taxation question. Then weigh the interests of your giftee, and you’ll ensure your gift is thoughtful and well received.
— Bankrate’s Marcos Cabello contributed to an update of this story.