Gift Letter Sample

The Do’s and Don’ts of Down Payment Gift Money

When buying a home, the biggest upfront expense is likely to be the down payment. Although future homeowners can reasonably afford monthly mortgage payments, the initial cost of purchasing a home may be too much for them to pay alone.

“I see gift money becoming more popular, especially among millennials” says Joann Perito, broker/owner of Avenues Unlimited. “Even if they make good money, because of large student loan amounts, it can be difficult for them to save for a down payment.”

In 2019, 60% of home buyers came up with their down payment primarily from their own savings. This is no small cost, especially for first-time buyers who don’t have the benefit of using funds from selling a current residence. That’s where a down payment gift comes in — if someone wants to chip in and help a friend or family member buy a home, they can do so. However, there are strict rules and regulations when it comes to such a transfer of cash. Here’s what you need to know.

Check your eligibility to use gift money for a down payment.

How Does Using Gift Money for a Down Payment Work?

You can use gifted funds to make a down payment, but your mortgage lender will want to know some details before they allow you to use it. Only two specific groups can give a home buyer money to fund their down payment.

  • A friend or family member — as long as they can prove they have a standing relationship with the buyer
  • Government organization — as part of a program meant to get first-time buyers into the market

You must confirm the relationship between you and the gift giver.

If you plan on getting gift funds from a friend or family member, you’ll need a letter that confirms your relationship and that the money is a gift and not expected to be repaid. Usually this is in the form of a letter, which both parties sign.

Sample Gift Letter

The lender may also require further evidence of the gift — for instance, they may ask to see the gift-giver’s bank statements to show they have the funds to give the buyer as much money as is promised. They may also ask for a bank slip from the buyer’s account to show when the money was transferred, too.

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Often, gifts change hands during the application process — this gives time for the money to show up on both the giver and the buyer’s bank statements as well as gives the mortgage lender time to verify that the cash is from a legitimate source and the pair has an appropriate relationship.

If the gift funds are added to the buyer’s bank account after settlement, then documentation will still be required before it can be applied to the purchase. Typically, this will require a receipt of the cashier’s check as given to the closing agent.

Can you pay back a mortgage gift?

The answer is no. This is considered mortgage or loan fraud, which is a crime. It can also put your loan qualification at risk as all loans need to be factored into your debt-to-income ratio.

Perito has seen borrowers tell the lender their parents are gifting the money, but it’s actually a loan. “They expect their kids to pay it back eventually,” she says. “That can cause a problem, because the lender has to take that into consideration for the debt-to-income ratio.”

The moral of this story: Be honest with your lender about where you’re receiving all funds for your down payment — they’ll likely find out anyway.

What Else Should You Know About Down Payment Gifts?

As previously mentioned, there’s a difference between receiving a down payment gift and a loan. Buyers need to be clear with their mortgage lenders and confirm that the money received was gifted. A sudden infusion of cash without a traceable source will leave lenders suspicious and, perhaps, wary of completing the loan deal on their end.

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How much can be gifted for a down payment?

As of 2018, parents can contribute a collective $30,000 per child to help with a down payment — anything after that would incur the gift tax. Other family members have a $15,000 lending limit before they, too, have to pay taxes.

In many cases, there’s no limit on the amount of gift money that can go into a down payment, as long as the buyer is purchasing a primary residence. However, if someone uses a down payment gift to buy a secondary or investment property, they have to pay at least 5% of the down payment. The rest can be a gift.

What is seasoned money?

If possible, it’s a good idea to ensure gift money is seasoned when it comes time to funnel it into a down payment — this avoids the gift documentation needed too. Lenders want proof that funds have been in the buyer’s account for a substantial amount of time to show that the buyer hasn’t just gathered a bunch of cash on a short-term basis.

Seasoned funds will have sat in the buyer’s bank account for ideally, two months before the buying process. So, if you received a $10,000 gift from your Aunt Mary three months ago to help you buy a house, then the bank probably won’t ask about it — this is seasoned money.

Tax Implications of a Down Payment Gift

As previously mentioned, family members have to pay a gift tax for anything over their limit of $15,000, or a collective $30,000 from parents who file taxes jointly. The person receiving the money doesn’t have to pay taxes.

If the donor wants to give more than $15,000, they can either pay taxes or claim the money as part of their $5.6 million lifetime exemption for gift taxes. However, this decision shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially if the donor hopes to pass on a hefty estate to their heirs later on. The $5.6 million exemption applies to taxes on these funds, so using up the value now could force family members to pay tax on whatever they inherit.

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Buying a Home is More Than a Down Payment

Ultimately, the cost of the down payment is only one expense to consider in the home-buying process. Homebuyers need to pay for closing costs, which include expenses like an appraisal, credit report, and underwriting fees.

“Many people these days have a hard time coming up with $1,000 to become a homeowner,” Perito says. “I always ask them where they’ll be getting money for the inspection, moving costs, and other expenses. I suggest to all my buyers that they have at least $4,000 in the bank before they buy a house.”

The Do’s and Don’ts of a Down Payment Gift

Do… Don’t…
Get a signed statement from the gift giver Tell the lender the funds are a gift when it’s a loan
Remind gift giver to keep a paper trail Change or add money without explanation
Get the money in advance and know how seasoned money works Assume all loan types allow down payment gifts
Understand the monetary limit of gift funds for tax purposes Neglect the mortgage because you have no money in the game

Down payment gifts can make it easier for homebuyers to afford a home.

If you’re in the market for a new home and want a little help, don’t hesitate — just make sure you follow the above steps to ensure you accept such a gift in the proper manner. When you speak with your lender about what loan is best for you, make sure you let them know upfront that you plan on using gift funds for the down payment. Some loans have strict guidelines on how much gift money you can use for a down payment and who can gift you the money.

Check your eligibility to use gift money for a down payment.

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