WASHINGTON - Banks and thrifts may give small gifts such as key chains, mouse pads, and tote bags tax-free to new customers, according to a rule published this week by the Internal Revenue Service.

Many financial institutions have used inexpensive inducements for years to attract deposits. The rule, effective this tax year, defines "de minimis premiums" as items not valued at more than $10 for a deposit of less than $5,000 or $20 for a deposit of $5,000 or more.

These premiums are completely tax-free and need not be treated as interest by the institution for information-reporting purposes. The value of the gift is determined by the cost to the institution.

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