by Michael Lodge
For those of you who are working as UBER drivers and Airbnb – renting out your home you, have now become part of the sharing economy defined by the Internal Revenue Service. You have now just become self employed individuals and must reporting this income on your tax return and record deductions against the income. Welcome to the world of business.
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If you use one of the many online platforms available to rent a spare bedroom, provide car rides, or to connect and provide a number of other goods or services, you’re involved in what is sometimes called the sharing economy and your operating a small business.
An emerging area of activity in the past few years, the sharing economy has changed how people commute, travel, rent vacation places and perform many other activities. Also referred to as the on-demand, gig or access economy, sharing economies allow individuals and groups to utilize technology advancements to arrange transactions to generate revenue from assets they possess – (such as cars and homes) – or services they provide – (such as household chores or technology services). Although this is a developing area of the economy, there are tax implications for the companies that provide the services and the individuals who perform the services.
This means if you receive income from a sharing economy activity, it’s generally taxable even if you don’t receive a Form 1099-MISC, Miscellaneous Income, Form 1099-K, Payment Card and Third Party Network Transactions, Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, or some other income statement. This is true even if you do it as a side job or just as a part time business and even if you are paid in cash. On the other hand, depending upon the circumstances, some or all of your business expenses may be deductible, subject to the normal tax limitations and rules.
Whether or not you participate in the sharing economy, if you received a payment during the calendar year as a self-employed individual, an employee or a small business, you may be required to file a tax return to report that income to the IRS. This includes payment received in the form of money, goods, property, and services.
Tax Payments, Including Estimated Tax Payments
You may make estimated tax payments to pay tax on income that isn’t subject to withholding (such as income from self-employment and rental activities). You may also make estimated tax payments to avoid penalties if the amount of income tax withholding from your salary, pension or other income is not enough to cover your tax for the year.
Taxes are pay-as-you-go, and making estimated tax payments is HOW you pay-as-you-go. Taxpayers use estimated tax payments to pay both income tax and self-employment tax (Social Security and Medicare). If you don’t pay enough tax, through either withholding or estimated tax, or a combination of both, you may have to pay a penalty. The payment of estimated tax for the income for the first quarter of the calendar year (that is, January through March) is due on April 15. Payments for subsequent quarters are due on June 15, September 15 and January 15. If you don’t pay enough by these dates you may be charged a penalty even if you’re due a refund when you file your tax return.
If you also work as an employee, you can often avoid needing to make estimated tax payments by having more tax withheld from your paycheck. This may be a particularly attractive option if, for example, your sharing economy activity is merely a side job or part-time business. To do this, fill out a new Form W-4 and give it to your employer. The Withholding Calculator is a helpful resource.
Self-employed workers are taxed differently from employees. Self-employed individuals (e.g., independent contractors) must pay self-employment tax. Self-employment tax consists of Social Security and Medicare taxes, and with no employer-matching of these taxes, self-employed individuals pay the full amount of Social Security and Medicare taxes themselves. However, don’t confuse it with income tax or estimated taxes.
Depreciation is an income tax deduction for wear and tear and deterioration of property with a life longer than a year. It’s an annual allowance that lets you recover, over time, the cost or other basis of certain property you own. The kinds of property you can depreciate include machinery, equipment, buildings, vehicles and furniture. You can’t claim depreciation on property held for personal purposes. If you use property, such as a car, for both business or investment and personal purposes, you can depreciate only the business or investment use of that portion. Other special rules and limits often apply, especially if you are an employee rather than an independent contractor. In some instances, you may qualify for one of the simplified options, such as the standard mileage rate for business use of a car or the simplified method for claiming the home office deduction.
Rules for Home Rentals
If you receive rental income for the use of a house or an apartment, including a vacation home, it must be reported on your return in most cases. You may deduct certain expenses, but special rules and limits often apply. These deductible expenses, which may include mortgage interest, real estate taxes, casualty losses, maintenance, utilities, insurance and depreciation, reduce the amount of rental income that is subject to tax.
If you use the dwelling unit for both rental and personal purposes, you generally must divide your total expenses between the rental use and the personal use based on the number of days used for each purpose. You won’t be able to deduct your rental expense in excess of the gross rental income limitation.
There’s a special rule if you use a dwelling unit as a personal residence and rent it for fewer than 15 days. In this case, don’t report any of the rental income and don’t deduct any expenses as rental expenses. If you provide substantial services that are primarily for your tenant’s convenience, such as regular cleaning, changing linen, or maid service, you report your rental income and expenses on Schedule C (Form 1040), Profit or Loss From Business, or Schedule C-EZ (Form 1040), Net Profit From Business. Use Form 1065, U.S. Return of Partnership Income, if your rental activity is a partnership (including a partnership with your spouse unless it is a qualified joint venture). Substantial services don’t include such things as heat and light, cleaning of public areas, or trash collection.
The tax code allows you to deduct certain costs of doing business from gross income. Generally, you can’t deduct personal, living or family expenses. You can deduct the business part only, such as supplies, cell phones, auto expenses, food and drinks for passengers, car washes, parking fees, tolls, roadside assistance plans, taxes, and incentives associated with certain electric and hybrid vehicles.
It’s important to keep good records. Choose a recordkeeping system suited to your business that clearly shows your income and expenses. The business you’re in affects the type of records you need to keep for federal tax purposes. Your recordkeeping system should include a summary of your business transactions. Your records must also show your gross income, as well as your deductions and credits. Federal law sets statutes of limitations that can affect how long you need to keep tax records.