Tax Help for the Gig Economy

“Gig Economy” is in the news all the time these days. It’s also known as the sharing, on-demand or access economy. What does that term mean? The Gig Economy is a labor market that is made up of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to a traditional job as an employee. The Gig Economy can benefit workers and businesses by making work more adaptable to the needs of the moment and demand for flexible lifestyles. At the same time, the gig economy can come with significant downside risk, mostly for workers.

On an interesting side note, the term “Gig Economy” derives from a term used in the 1920s by jazz musicians as a shortened version of the word “engagement.” It now refers to any aspect of musical performance. More broadly, “gigging” means having paid work, often as a freelancer.

In effect, workers in a Gig Economy are more like entrepreneurs than traditional workers. While this may mean greater freedom of choice for the individual worker, it also means more responsibility. The security of a steady job with regular pay, benefits, and a daily routine is rapidly disappearing. Workers must take a much larger share of the economic responsibility for taxes, insurance and other financial obligations that employers usually take care of.

When it comes to taxes, there are a lot of rules and quite a bit to know. How can you keep up with it all? The Internal Revenue Service has created a new Gig Economy Tax Center on its website to help Gig Economy workers meet their tax obligations by getting the information to figure it out, all in one place. Whether renting out a spare bedroom or providing car rides, workers need to understand the rules so they can stay compliant with their taxes and avoid expensive surprises at tax filing time.

Educating Gig Economy workers about their tax obligations is vital because many don’t receive W-2s, 1099s or other information returns for their work in the Gig Economy. However, income from these sources is generally taxable, regardless of whether workers receive information returns or not. Workers who are gigging also need to know about the business expenses they can deduct to reduce their taxable business income.

The IRS’ Gig Economy Tax Center is designed to make it easier for taxpayers to find information about a variety of topics including filing requirements, quarterly estimated income tax payments, and deductible business expenses. But the information can still be daunting. Get help from a qualified tax professional if you don’t feel comfortable navigating it yourself. The IRS can help with that, too. https://www.irs.gov/tax-professionals/choosing-a-tax-professional

New IRS Standard Mileage Rates for 2020

Do you use your personal vehicle for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes? If yes, you could qualify you for an income tax deduction. How much you can deduct and how you report the expense depends on your particular situation. The rules say that qualified deductible vehicle expenses can total the greater of actual expenses or a standard rate. Both expense options are based on the number of miles driven for business, charitable, medical or moving.

Most people choose to use the standard rate because it’s easier and usually results in a larger deduction amount. The standard mileage rate is determined each year by the Internal Revenue Service based on data about the cost of operating and maintaining a vehicle, including passenger cars, vans, pickups and panel trucks.

The IRS recently issued the new standard mileage rates for 2020 to calculate the deductible costs of operating a vehicle for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes. Beginning on January 1, 2020, the standard mileage rates were reduced or stayed the same. Here are the details:
 

  • 57.5 cents per mile driven for business use, down 0.5 cents from the rate for 2019,
  • 17 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes, down 3 cents from 2019, and
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations. The charitable rate is set by statute and remains unchanged.

Even at the lower rates, that standard mileage rate can really add up. Remember that you always have the option of calculating the actual costs of using your vehicle instead of using the standard mileage rates. Also remember that you have to track your mileage by category (e.g., business and personal) for each vehicle no matter which method you use.

Taking vehicle deductions for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes involves a lot of tracking, but the effort can be worth it. There are apps you can put on your phone to help. Once you get your system down, you’ll see that those deductions can add up and reduce the bottom line on your tax bill.

Taxes and LLCs

Regular readers of my blog posts know I’ve addressed LLCs and taxes before. Questions about how to file taxes for an LLC still come up all the time, including last week at my Start-Up with Financial Success workshop at BizLaunch/Arlington Economic Development. So I decided to pull up a blog from “the Archives” and update it to share again.

Piece of paper that says "TAX" with hand holding pen

The first question I ask new tax clients who own a business is, “What type of business do you have?” The response I often get is “I have an LLC.” That answer isn’t enough information for me to know how and when to file their business taxes. I need to ask more questions at that point, like “and how do you operate for tax purposes?” Answering that one can be tough. 

An LLC is a state-defined limited liability legal business structure. Business owners often form an LLC to protect their personal assets in case their business is sued. An LLC can file business income taxes in one of three different ways, depending on the circumstances:

  1. Sole Proprietorship

Individual business owners that have not incorporated are, by default, a Sole Proprietor. Sole Proprietors report income and expenses on a separate form filed with the owner’s individual income tax return, IRS Schedule C, “Profit or Loss from Business.” A separate Schedule C must be filed for each business that the owner operates. Net business profits are subject to income tax and the employer and employee portions of Medicare and Social Security taxes (i.e., 15.3% in 2019).

  1. Partnership

Two or more individuals in business together without incorporating are, by default, a Partnership. Partnerships are considered a separate tax entity and are required to file a separate income tax return, IRS Form 1065, “U.S. Return of Partnership Income.” Partners receive an IRS Form K-1 for each one’s pro-rata share of non-wage income and expenses, based on the operating agreement (a MUST). Partners are responsible for tracking the basis of their shares to determine how distributions are taxed.

  1. Subchapter S Corporation

Qualifying businesses can take the Subchapter-S election and avoid the double taxation of a C Corp. A number of rules apply to see if a business owner(s) qualifies. Sub-S Corps are also considered a separate tax entity and are required to file a separate income tax return, IRS Form 1120S, “U.S. Income Tax Return for an S corporation.” Shareholders receive an IRS Form K-1 for their share of non-wage income and expenses, based on the operating agreement (again, a MUST). Owner/employees earn wages and get a W-2.

Determining how your LLC operates for tax purposes is not easy. It depends on the circumstances and many rules apply. Need more information? The IRS has you covered, as usual. Check out their tax information, tools and resources for business and self-employed individuals at https://www.irs.gov/businesses.

Income Taxes for Military Spouse Entrepreneurs

I grew up as a military dependent. So I was particularly thrilled when the National Military Spouse Network asked me to participate in a panel discussion for military spouses who are also entrepreneurs. The panel discussion, Three Key Business Advisors Every Milspouse Business Owner Should Have in Their Network, included an attorney who specializes in business formation, a business consultant who specializes in start-up planning and resources, and a tax professional experienced in solving tax-related issues for business owners (that was me, by the way).

The military spouse entrepreneurs asked a lot of detailed questions. Many of them raised issues that are peculiar to running a business with frequent household moves and tax rules that are not universally understood by taxpayers and tax professionals alike. Three topics that we discussed are highlighted here:

  1. State Income Taxes for Net Business Profit

Generally, active duty military personnel and their spouses only have to file a state income tax return where they are legally domiciled as their permanent legal home. However, states where business revenue is generated expect to get some income tax revenue from that business. That requires the filing of a non-resident state income tax return to report the portion of the net business profit that was “sourced” in that state. The good news – income reported to and taxed by the “source” state is deducted from the taxable income of the state where the military spouse is a legal resident.

  1. Finding Tax Help that Knows the Rules for Military

Finding a tax preparer who understands tax rules for active duty military and their spouses is a challenge, especially with all the different state rules that are involved. The need for qualified and knowledgeable tax help is evident from reading #1, above. The IRS has some tips for finding the type of tax professional that you need, credentials to look for and a directory of tax preparers by state who have completed annual tax training at https://www.irs.gov/tax-professionals/choosing-a-tax-professional. Taxpayers should also interview several tax preparers to make sure they feel comfortable with the relationship. 

  1. Finding Reliable Resources

Clear and reliable information sources are essential, but challenging to locate. A few of the websites I shared with the military spouse entrepreneurs were Military Benefits Info (https://militarybenefits.info/military-spouse-act-residency-relief-msrra/), Tax Information for Active Duty Military and Reserve Personnel (https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p4940.pdf) and Armed Forces Tax Guide (https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p3.pdf). Individual military installations may also have tax advice resources available.

This National Military Spouse Network panel discussion for entrepreneurs highlighted the challenges encountered by business owners who move frequently and are subject to complicated tax rules. I hope that the information shared by the Three Key Business Advisors Every Milspouse Business Owner Should Have in Their Network was helpful to everyone who attended and to my readers who serve our country.

Bankruptcy and Your Taxes

You may have wondered what tax professionals do after the filing deadline. What? You’ve never wondered about that? Well, I’ll tell you anyway. Tax professionals use “down time” to keep up with tax law changes with continuing education. Last week, I got one of my 2019 continuing education hours by taking a free IRS webinar, all about what an individual or business taxpayer should know about taxes when filing for bankruptcy.

Hopefully, none of you (or any of my clients) will be in this situation. But, just in case, I’m sharing a few tips I learned from the IRS webinar, “Understanding Bankruptcy from an IRS Perspective”:

Notify the IRS

Anyone who has filed for bankruptcy, or who is in the process of filing for bankruptcy, should contact the IRS’ Centralized Insolvency Operations (CIO) Unit to report the filing. The bankruptcy could be related to unpaid taxes or not. The CIO will place a “hold” on any federal tax collection activities for the duration of the bankruptcy case. They also coordinate the IRS’ representation if there are any unpaid federal taxes.

Check Your Status

For individuals, the most common type of bankruptcy is a Chapter 13, although they sometimes file under Chapter 7 or Chapter 11. Chapter 13 bankruptcy is only available to wage earners, the self-employed and sole proprietors. To qualify, a taxpayer must have regular income, have filed all required tax returns for the four years prior to the bankruptcy filing and meet other requirements in the bankruptcy code.

Meet All Deadlines

During the bankruptcy case, the taxpayer must continue to file, or get an extension of time to file, all required income tax returns. All current taxes must be paid as they come due. Failure to file returns and/or to pay current taxes for the duration of the bankruptcy case may result in the case being dismissed with no discharge of tax debt.

What Else to Expect

Tax refunds can be received while in bankruptcy. However, refunds may be delayed or used to pay down tax debts. Successfully completed bankruptcy plans result in a discharge of debt, releasing the debtor from personal liability for the discharged debts. Some taxes may be discharged, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case.

You now have an idea of what to do about taxes when filing for bankruptcy. Plus, you’ve learned what tax professionals do after the filing deadline – keep up with tax law changes with continuing education.

Are you Eligible for the EITC?

Everything you hear about the new tax law is bad news – state and local taxes capped at $10,000 and miscellaneous deductions eliminated. It seems like a lot of tax benefits are gone or reduced. Isn’t there any good news?

Yes, there is good news about taxes! Some tax benefits have been retained, including one that helps hard-working people who deserve a financial break. It’s called the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC, a valuable benefit for working people with low-to-moderate income. Eligibility for the credit and the credit amount depend on your earned income and number of children in your household.

A tax credit is even better than a tax deduction because it’s a dollar-for-dollar reduction of your tax liability, not a reduction of your taxable income. Even better, the EITC is a refundable credit. The EITC could take your tax liability to a “negative” amount, meaning that your refund is even more than just paying back all of your federal taxes due for the year.

To qualify for EITC, you must have earned income (e.g., wages or self-employment income). Your income cannot exceed a specified amount that is adjusted annually by the IRS. To get the credit, you must file an income tax return, even if you do not owe any tax or are not required to file.

Some people don’t know about this credit or do not know that they qualify. Not taking a credit you qualify for? That’s just like giving away money! Who wants to do that?

Don’t miss your EITC refund. Don’t let your friends and family miss their EITC refund. Each year, 30% of the EITC-eligible population is new to this valuable tax credit, many of whom don’t know about it.

Need help? Get details about income limits and credit amounts at www.irs.gov/eitc. Made less than $55K in 2018? Check if you qualify for a larger federal tax refund at www.irs.gov/eitc.

Did you get the hint that you should look into the EITC on the IRS website? Great! Make sure you check it out and keep your friends, family and neighbors from missing a tax credit because they don’t know about EITC. They will thank you.

New Tax Law Still Requires Patience

Top down view of a cluttered desk with hands folded showing a watch.
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

In January 2018, less than a month after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was passed, I blogged that we all need patience. “Less than a month after passing a new law is too soon for all the details and unintended consequences to be fully explained,” I said.

Little did I know back then that we would need so much patience now, a year after the law was enacted.

Many new tax law provisions became effective in 2018, making the 2019 tax filing season the first time that many taxpayers will be aware of how the tax law impacts her or him. Getting clarity about those impacts may not be quick or easy, especially for businesses. Figuring it out will take some patience, whether you prepare your own taxes or pay a tax professional to do it.

Tax filing season officially opened this week. The deadline to file or extend an individual return is April 15, new law or not. During those 12 weeks of tax filing season, the following people will need to show and be shown lots of patience:

  • Self-Preparers – Reading instructions not your thing? You could be sorry if you rush into preparing your 2018 taxes without slowing down and understanding the new rules. Approach your tax software as though it were the first time you’ve used it. Everything will look so different, you will want to take each step with patience and care.
  • Tax Professionals and Their Clients – Your tax preparer may ask new questions and require more documentation to ensure your returns are accurate and comply with all the new rules. She or he will also need to explain the new rules and why you may not get your expected refund. Those conversations could be more stressful than usual, so a bit more patience will be needed by all parties.
  • IRS Employees – If you need to call an IRS representative, please remember that this mess is not her or his fault. Plus, as of this writing, the federal government is partially shut down. That IRS employee could be working without pay. Demonstrating patience on the phone makes the situation more pleasant for everyone.

The 2019 tax filing season is going to be more stressful than usual because of the new tax law and its impact. Approaching your software, your tax professional and the IRS with some patience will go a long way to making the 2019 tax filing season as painless as possible.

Phishing for your Tax Dollars

I hadn’t quite decided on this week’s blog topic when I saw an e-mail snagged in my spam folder. The sender was “IRS”. The heading was “Second Notice of Delinquent Taxes”. What a gift! A blog topic!

 

Like many taxpayers who receive a message from the “IRS” dunning them for cash, I knew that I didn’t owe the IRS anything. Thankfully, I knew better than to open or reply to it. Keep reading to know how to identify phishing, and what to do when it happens to you.

1.      What is phishing?

 

Phishing is a scam usually done through unsolicited email and/or websites that pose as legitimate senders or sites. Scammers use phishing to lure unsuspecting victims to provide personal and financial information. Bogus emails can appear to come from the IRS or your tax professional requesting information, including mother’s maiden name, passport and account information that is used to steal your identity and assets.

 

  1. How do I know if it’s phishing or really the IRS?

 

The easiest way to check for phishing is to place your cursor over the sender’s name, revealing the sender’s e-mail address. An address that doesn’t look legitimate is probably a scam. For the IRS, anything other than “irs.gov” is suspect. The IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers by email, texts or social media to request money or financial information. Most IRS communication is still through the good, old-fashioned USPS.

 

  1. What should I do with a phishing e-mail claiming to be from the IRS?

 

If you receive an email claiming to be from the IRS that contains a request for delinquent tax balances or financial information, immediately do the following:

 

  1. Don’t reply.
  2. Don’t open any attachments. They can contain malicious code that may infect your computer or mobile phone.
  3. Don’t click on any links. Visit the IRS’ identity protection page if you clicked on links in a suspicious email or website and entered confidential information.
  4. Forward the email as-is to the IRS at [email protected].
  5. Delete the original email.

 

Don’t get phished! When you get an e-mail that looks suspicious or is from an unfamiliar sender, stop and check it out before deciding to open it. If it’s phishing for your tax dollars, don’t even think about opening it! Just forward to [email protected] and delete!