Getting a gift in the form of cold, hard cash to buy real estate is a wonderful thing. Gift funds are a common way parents help their kids buy a home, but there are certain requirements to follow to ensure the gift transfer goes smoothly.

What exactly is a cash gift? Technically, it is a transfer of funds from one party to another without any expectation of being paid back. This non-repayment factor is a key element because lenders can’t accurately calculate debt ratios if the gift is in fact a loan. How do lenders determine this? The “givers” are required to sign an affidavit stating that the funds being given are a gift with no repayment expectations.

Who can give a gift? Gifts can come from family members (parents, siblings or grandparents), non-profit agencies, local or state agencies, churches, domestic partners and trade unions. 

The party that furnishes the gift must show an “ability to give”, which means they have the money available in an account they own. This is documented by providing account statements showing the funds are available. Finally, it must also be documented that the gift funds were transferred from one party to the next and the lucky recipients (and future home buyers) must provide a bank statement showing the gift was received.

While the need for documentation might sound heavy-handed, the truth is lenders need to take every precaution to make sure that the “gift” isn’t a “loan.” So if you know what the lender expects ahead of time, the gift transfer can be seamless. Just remember, financial gifts over a certain limit may have income tax implications, so be sure and consult with an accountant or tax specialist before getting the mortgage process underway.

One final note to consider. Conventional loans differ from FHA programs in their requirements for reporting gifts to be used toward the purchase of a home. Buyers using conventional financing need to prove that they have at least 5 percent of their own funds in the purchase transaction. However, that requirement is waived if the gift represents more than 20 percent of the purchase price. The FHA loan, on the other hand, merely requires the buyers have at least $500 of their own money at closing, regardless of the amount of the gift.