IRS visits customers receiving gifts from banks

Published: Friday, Feb. 24 2012 12:55 p.m. MST

A lot of people who have been drawn into getting new bank accounts by awards like frequent-flier miles are getting a visit from the tax man, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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People who have been drawn into getting new bank accounts by awards like frequent-flier miles are getting a visit from the tax man.

Customers numbering in the thousands who participated in such deals last year have received IRS form 1099s from HSBC Holdings PLC, Citigroup Inc. and the Citizens Bank Unit of the Royal Bank of Scotland PLC, according to the Wall Street Journal. The forms show the income the banks reported to the government in the customers' names, telling receivers of the awards that they might have to pay taxes on them.

In most of these cases, the cost ends up around a couple hundred dollars, and the banks say they made the customers aware of the tax implications, according to the Wall Street Journal. Those who didn't read the fine print could get an IRS surprise, and this could alienate the customers the banks are trying to win.

The banks are required to report the awards as income, a Citigroup spokesman told the Wall Street Journal. He also said, "This is separate and distinct from miles earned by our credit-card customers for their purchases," which are typically not subject to income tax.

Banks have been offering gifts such as toasters and coffee makers for a long time in order to lure new customers to savings and checking accounts. But the gifts have become more expensive as competition has increased and interest rates have stayed low, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Last year, Citizens Bank offered $500 toward an auto-loan payment to new customers, and HSBC gave new-account holders who met certain specifications a $900 Saks Fifth Avenue gift card. The banks always mail tax forms for gifts, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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