UTMA for Children from Grandparents
I opened a UTMA for my first grader. Then, two days later, I opened two more for my younger twins.
A Uniform Transfer Minors Act (UTMA) is the best place to put money from grandparents’ gifts that an older child might better spend.
How much should you fund a UTMA? Assume you have 529 college savings plans adequately funded (whatever that means to you), you don’t want more stuff crowding the house, and the child’s physical piggybanks and treasure chests are full? Can you do better than a child’s savings account at a local bank?
UTMAs are for children and can be funded from grandparents’ cash and cash-alternative gifts.
Since an older child will spend both, let’s discuss UTMAs and 529s first.
UTMAs and 529 Plans
Don’t fund a UTMA until a 529 college savings plan is considered. If your child is not going to college, a 529 is likely not indicated. If they are, your first stop is a 529.
Don’t overfund the 529. Not every young child should go to the brinks-and-mortar cost increase to-the-moon eyesore presently seen. So instead, consider a 529 funding goal of, say, 100k or 250k and call it good. But, wait, does that include grad school or not?
Or, probably what I will do: student loans for 1/3, 529 for 1/3, and cash flow for 1/3.
So for me, I’m starting 3 UTMAs, and yes, they have 529s, but not overfunded ones.
I’m not demanding they go to college, or they might have to take student loans if they do. But, on the other hand, they might get married, start a business, have a child young, or even start a house hack. Who knows? That’s what the UTMA is for.
But I bet they will have some use for a moderate amount of money in both a UTMA and a 529 in their youth and childhood. If they don’t, I’ll just change the 529 beneficiaries, and as for the UTMA, well, we can talk about that later.
The point is I bet I’m going to have to provide some financial support to my children when they are 18-26 or maybe even 30. That seems to be how kids are these days. So instead of paying those expenses in 10-20 years, why not save for them now?
The UTMA is to provide some support when they are in their 20s. So why not pre-pay those expenses from the gifts of grandparents?
Grandparent’s Gifts fund UTMAs
Before discussing how much to fund a UTMA, let’s discuss the funding source: gifts from grandparents.
I have a rule. No one listens to it. Nothing with batteries that makes sounds are allowed in the house. Grandparents are especially bad with that rule. Lots of toys with batteries. And lots of love. And checks, cash, coins, more checks, savings accounts, and small 529s. Lots of small to moderate-sized financial gifts for the kids who already have boxes of stuff overflowing everywhere. And a piggybank and treasure chest.
Why not save those gifts for when they can use them, in their 20s? And why not try to grow it in the next 10-20 years?
I have an excellent blog on how grandparents can give to their grandchildren, but for now, let’s move on.
Some grandparents will fund 529 plans, and some will give life insurance policies, watches, rings, or real estate. Who is to say. But as money is fungible, if it is a cash-equivalent, fund a UTMA for the child.
How to Open a UTMA
Opening a UTMA is not the most uncomplicated process, but, after all, you are irrevocably transferring money.
I had to find passports and social security cards. And darn if I can ever remember what year they are born.
First, I went to my favorite online low-cost brokerage, and the process looked tedious, so I went to my favorite other discount brokerage. The process took a couple days with multiple log-ins to link a bank account along the way.
But it was funded from my personal account and invested in VTI within 48 hours, so I opened two more accounts for the twins.
What Information do you Need for a UTMA Application?
- Name and Contact Information
- Social Security Number
- Your child’s Social Security Number
- Your birthday
- Your child’s birthday
- Employment information (leave blank for child)
How Much to Fund a UTMA
So, to know how much to fund the UTMA, we need to understand the purpose.
First, we want a better place than a bank savings account to grow the children’s money for 10-20 years. I think a low cost broadly diversified ETF fits the bill. I use VTI.
Next, fund the UTMA when you have the time to gather all the paperwork, and you have a couple of checks or cash-equivalent gifts. Then, plan to sell it, or actually have your child sell it when it is theirs after 21 years of age.
But here is the real question: how much do you want to give them the key to along with their 21st birthday card?
This is How Much I Will Fund UTMAs
So, how much will I put in my children’s UTMAs?
I guess that’s not up to me to decide. After all, it is cash gifts from grandparents funding the UTMAs. So I got the 529s covered (the plan is to have a ~100k 529 when they are 18, just because that seems like an admirable goal).
But as to how much will I will fund the UTMAs, I’ll let the grandparents decide. But ultimately, the cash passes through my bank account so that I can control the size. The goal is under 100k due to tax considerations, as discussed below. Probably 25k? Maybe 50?
So, what is a UTMA?
What is a UTMA?
UTMA (Uniform Transfer to Minors Act) is like a UGMA (Gift). They are after-tax brokerage accounts with no contribution limits. Along with a couple of other types of accounts, they are called custodial accounts.
The reason you start this custodial account is to save on taxes. Earnings from the UTMA are exempt from federal income taxes for the first $1100, and the next $1100 is taxed at the child’s federal tax rate (10% to start).
It is a Transfer, not a Trust
While it is subject to trust tax rates on unearned income, the T stands for transfer, not trust. And the G in UGMA is gift.
So a UTMA is an irrevocable gift or a transfer of money to a minor that will become theirs when they are 21 or so.
Despite it not being a trust, there is still a fiduciary duty to manage the account well for the child y the custodian.
The UTMA may be spent on anything that will benefit the child, such as tutoring, summer camp, etc.
What do I Invest in in the UTMA?
Typically one should just buy VTI, but you can buy the gambit from equities to bonds, from CDs to options, to patents and royalties and real estate and other real assets like paintings. And life insurance.
Considerations before Opening a UTMA
What do you need to consider before opening a UTMA?
The money is irrevocably given, and the minor takes possession at the age of majority. Once they have the money, it can be spent any way they want
No Limit, but you May Need to File a Tax Form
Contributions are unlimited, but if you go above the 16k (32k for couples), you must submit a form to the IRS come tax time. In addition, if individuals exceed the 16k mark, they may use up some of their $12.06M federal lifetime gift-tax exclusion limit (2022).
This is an after-tax brokerage account, so earnings are subject to ongoing yearly taxes, and income is considered unearned by the IRS. The kids get the earnings, so unearned income above $2200 hits trust and estate tax brackets. That is not ideal. Generally, parents will include the income on their return above 11k.
UTMAs are considered assets owned by the child. Therefore a full 20% of the UTMA will be counted on the FAFSA rather than the parental rate of 5.64%. So if you want your child to receive financial aid in the future for college, maybe reconsider a UTMA.
Kiddie Tax needs its own headline because it is a fun consideration.
UTMAs and Kiddie Tax
Earnings are taxed at the kid’s rate for about the first 2k and then at your highest marginal rate. This is the famous kiddie tax, where the UTMA unearned earnings go from 10% up to 35% or higher.
This is why you must invest tax-efficiently if you want to have a sizeable UTMA.
For example, assume an ETF has a 2% qualified dividend a year, you would need to have a UTMA larger than 100k before kiddie tax kicks in, and the tax rate goes above 10%.
For jumbo accounts larger than 100k, you can always lower the taxable income by investing in I-bonds, Zeros, or Munis. Or an IOVA?
The goal is to have your child pay the embedded long-term capital gains during their low-income years of their 20s when they have access to their 0% long-term capital gains tax bracket.
Where should I open a UTMA?
Where ever you already have other brokerage accounts.
Do I need to understand how to buy an ETF to open a UTMA?
Tax Gain Harvesting a UTMA
Since the first thousand dollars of gains are tax-free in a UTMA, you can tax gain harvest the UTMA when you first start. Eventually, you need to worry about getting into trust income limits. Trust and estate tax rates hit 37% on trust income above $12,750, compared to massively higher income for ordinary income tax rates. So while you need a very large UTMA to hit the 37% bracket, understand the trust and estate tax brackets if you have one.
Alternatives to UTMAs
Easiest to open but pay zero point nothing. What is the purpose of the money? If we need it in less than two years, ok, leave it in the savings account. If you don’t need it for ten years, investing it in VTI rather than a savings account makes a lot of sense.
If they have earned income, a custodial Roth IRA is a home run at any age.
A 529 makes sense if there is the possibility that they will go to college. I like 529s, and I opened them up as soon as my children had social security numbers.
Conclusion- How Much Should You Fund a UTMA?
A UTMA is a tax-friendly way to pre-pay a child’s expenses in 10-20 years. In addition, it lets me funnel gifts from grandparents from bank savings accounts and toys to VTI.
The plan is to use it to teach them about investing. I see shares of Disney in my future. What an excellent way to introduce common sense investing.
Remember, if the unearned income from your child’s UTMA exceeds $2,200, you’ll have to pay the extra taxes at your marginal tax rate. Keep the income less than ~$11,000 per year, and you can keep it on your taxes rather than having to resort to estate and gift tax rates.
UTMAs are best called a “20s Fund” This is an apt description by WCI. He says, “In my opinion, the most useful time in life to receive an inheritance is in your 20s. That’s when you have precious little earning power, zero net worth (at best), and tons of expenses.”
He also does a 100% “Daddy Match” of their earned income into a custodial Roth IRA Retirement Fund.
Every parent will have different reasons to consider a 20s fund and various funding sources.
That is fine.
Finally, it is ok to buy 100% VTI and not worry about when your kid will sell it in the future. It can be that simple. So don’t let the question of what to invest in or when the ETF will be sold prevent you from opening this account. Put loving gifts from grandparents to work.
The flipside: when the child has complete control, they might waste the money, or worse.
I’m ok with that risk. So, how much should you fund a UTMA? My goal: 25 or 50k.
What a lovely gift! Thank you, grandparents!