Originally posted on December 2, 2011 here.
You are allowed to give the gift of tuition to your children and grandchildren. More specifically, you can pay tuition to an educational institution on behalf of a loved one without triggering any gift tax or generation skipping transfer tax.
With the costs of education skyrocketing, more and more tuition bills are ringing in upwards of $20,000 or even $30,000 per year. Making gifts of that magnitude during life through tuition can save thousands down the road. At the end of a four year college education, the student graduates with a college degree, with less student debt, or perhaps even debt free, and you have gifted as much as $120,000 for the benefit of that student without paying any gift tax or generation skipping transfer tax! It may not be as tangible, but that is a much better deal than the sweater you were eyeing!
This tax-free tuition gift is not limited to paying college tuition and graduate school tuition. Often, nursery school, private elementary school, and high school tuition will qualify as well. So long as the primary purpose of the organization is formal instruction and the organization normally maintains a regular faculty and curriculum and has a regularly enrolled student body, the educational organization should qualify and you can pay the tuition as a gift.
Of course, there are some restrictions. The tuition must be paid directly to the qualifying institution. It may not go to the student, or to the student’s parents for reimbursement of tuition already paid. Also, the tax-free gift can only cover the actual tuition. It must not be used for room and board, books and supplies, or other expenses associated with the student’s education. Best of all, a gift of tuition has no impact on your ability to take advantage of other methods of gifting, like annual exclusion gifts, or lifetime cash gifts as discussed earlier in our Methods of Gifting post.