It’s tax time again and the growth of the Gig Economy is about to strain an already overburdened IRS. The proliferation of freelance or part time employees driven by job cutbacks from the recession and the rise of opportunities like Uber and others means that more Americans than ever will file 1099s in 2016.
However, while many 1099 filers are exceptional in their chosen line of work, they also lack familiarity with the form and tax requirements of the designation itself. 1099 essentially creates a tax trap for these individuals because they are lured by an increase in income only to realize a year later that they will likely earn less. Even worse, that means they likely were unaware of how much they needed to properly budget for and save for taxes.
As a result, tax experts expect that both the form itself and the tax implications of working in the new 1099 Economy will inevitably lead to a rash of questions for the IRS and its customer service teams. Unfortunately, the IRS has said it’s unprepared to handle even the standard amount of inquiries this tax season. Last year, roughly 35% of calls to the IRS were answered while the rest experienced “courtesy” hang-ups after wait times of more than 2+hours. The IRS has already forecasted more problems this year as staffing is reduced, more uncertainty looms with tax codes, and downsizing is in the air. This spells frustration and little help for the millions of Americans that are expected to file 1099s and that could turn to the IRS for answers to their tax assistance this year.
So how should small business owners and 1099 filers avoid this logjam on the phones? By understanding the unique challenges of filing as a 1099 workers and adhering to basic best practices in filing strategies, individuals and business owners should be able to avoid many of the most common questions this year. These ten tips should help you plan ahead of time for your tax needs and avoid long waits on the phone.
1. Income and Self-Employment Tax
As a traditional W-2 filer, workers have taxes removed from their paycheck before they receive it. With a 1099, a filer is responsible for paying their own income taxes and self-employment taxes out of their income. If not properly budgeted for, this can create a much larger tax burden at the end of the year. Only proper budgeting will save the filer from this potentially crushing obligation.
2. Be Aware of Deadlines
Missing the 2015 tax year filing deadline of April 18th and owing taxes can result in particularly high “failure to file” penalties as much as 25%. Make sure to track your deadline and file on time.
3. Get Organized
Small business owners can be notoriously bad record keepers, but this puts you or your tax preparer at a huge disadvantage comes tax season. Being organized will save you a significant amount of time and money.
4. Documented Expenses & Deductions
As an independent contractor, a 1099 earner is able to deduct the costs of earning the money from the total amount earned. The challenge is that filers rarely keep detailed records, making it difficult for the tax preparer and creating a potential loss of income because of lost or forgotten deductions. An example is a mileage deduction, which requires that the filer accurately record the miles they drove in service to their job over the course of a year. One way to get ahead of this is to work with your tax preparer to devise a preferred system of record-keeping or to learn which deductions are allowed in the coming year.
5. The At Home Work Deduction
If you have a qualified home office, you can deduct expenses that are normally not eligible such as portions of home insurance and utilities. The IRS has made it even easier by simplifying this to a maximum of $1,500 or $5 per square foot.
6. Be Careful if Showing a “Loss”
Generally, the IRS considers your business a “hobby” if you are not able to turn a profit in three out of five consecutive years. If you are reporting a loss in an effort to avoid taxes, you may want to double-check your records prior to filing.
7. Increase in Audits
Beyond a loss of possible deductions, an even more harmful potential result of this poor record keeping is an IRS audit. Self employed individuals are subject to audits because the deductions they have taken are not adequately documented or not backed up with saved receipts.
8. To Insure or Not Insure?
All individuals and families are required to hold health insurance as required by the Affordable Healthcare Act, or pay a fine for not carrying insurance. Self employed individuals without health coverage will face much bigger penalties this year, as much as $325 per adult in 2015. If you are uninsured, look into obtaining a qualified coverage to avoid penalties of up to $695 per adult in 2016.
9. Health Insurance Requirements
The ACA includes an income verification component as part of its insurance requirement. This income verification is somewhat relaxed for 1099 filers because the IRS will actually reconcile your tax return with your ACA application at tax time. Because of this, it is always better to estimate your income higher (rather than lower) on your application because any over-estimation will result in a refund. If the reverse is true and you underestimate, then you will have to pay back a portion of the subsidy credit you received come tax time. An inaccurate guess either way will not incur penalties, but knowingly providing false information can result in fines or even criminal charges.
10. Consider a “Silver” ACA Plan
ACA plans are ranked as bronze, silver, gold, or platinum, based on their out-of-pocket costs. They all come with the same benefit, but cheaper plans that come with high out-of-pocket costs can present a challenge for independent workers who might have long gaps with little or no income. If you qualify for a cost-sharing reductions based on your income and enroll in a silver plan you get the best of both worlds: A fairly low premium, plus a lower deductible and other out-of-pocket costs.
If you do all the above and still need to call the IRS, remember to be professional and to the point. Agents have limited time to chat about issues unrelated to them and our own staff always get better results when they are polite and treat them professionally.
And above all, be honest. It is against the law to willfully disclose fraudulent information to the IRS and can result in some serious penalties. The IRS takes notes on every conversation and it is always best to say that you are “unsure” if you are asked a direct question that you do not know how to answer. If you communicate financial information that is erroneous or commit to a payment that you may not be able to afford it can cause problems later. Consider hiring a Tax Attorney who has attorney/client privilege if you feel that you are in over your head.
About David King
David King is CEO of Optima Tax Relief. David brings with him 12 years of experience in growing and running financial services firms. As a member of Optima’s founding leadership team, David’s emphasis on customer service and a “Client First” approach has been integral to developing Optima’s industry-leading tax resolution services.