FAQ: Can a taxpayer assign income to someone else?

Gross income is taxed to the person who earns it by performing services, or who owns the property that generates the income. Under the assignment of income doctrine, a taxpayer cannot avoid tax liability by assigning a right to income to someone else. The doctrine is invoked, for example, for assignments to creditors, family members, charities, and controlled entities. Thus, the income is taxable to the person who earned it, even if the person assigns the income to another and never personally receives the income. The doctrine can apply to both individuals and corporations.

A taxpayer cannot assign income that has already accrued from the property the taxpayer owns, and cannot avoid liability for tax on that income by assigning it to another person or entity. This result often applies to interest, dividends, rent, royalties, and trust income. The doctrine applies when the taxpayer's right to income has ripened so that the receipt of income is practically certain to occur. Once a right to receive income has ripened, the taxpayer who earned it or otherwise created that right will be taxed on the income.

Similarly, under the anticipatory assignment of income doctrine, a taxpayer cannot shift tax liability by transferring property that is a fixed right to income. However, a taxpayer can assign future income by making an assignment of property for value or a bona fide gift of the underlying property. 

The doctrine does not apply if a right to income is sold or exchanged for value. If a gift of income-producing property is made, income earned after the date of the gift is taxed to the donee of the gift. If a taxpayer assigns a claim to income that is contingent or uncertain, the assignee of the right is taxable on income that the assignee collects on the claim. If a taxpayer transfers appreciated property prior to a sale or exchange, the appreciation is income to the person owning the property at the time of the sale or exchange.


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Content provided by CCH. If and only to the extent that this publication contains contributions from tax professionals who are subject to the rules of professional conduct set forth in Circular 230, as promulgated by the United States Department of the Treasury, the publisher, on behalf of those contributors, hereby states that any U.S. federal tax advice that is contained in such contributions was not intended or written to be used by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer by the Internal Revenue Service, and it cannot be used by any taxpayer for such purpose.