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November 18, 2017

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3 steps to help freelancers and gig economy workers avoid a tax blunder

(BPT) - More and more people are earning extra cash by freelancing in the sharing economy. That may mean writing on the side, playing music on the weekends, driving for ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft or selling handmade jewelry on Etsy. No matter how the money flows in, gig economy earners must be aware of the related tax obligations and potential pitfalls.

'While it's easier now than ever to earn extra cash, it's important for freelancers and independent contractors to get smart about their tax responsibilities,' said Mark Jaeger, director of Tax Development for TaxAct, a leading provider of affordable do-it-yourself tax software. 'Gig economy earners must remember they are responsible for paying federal and state income tax on any income earned. And, they're also subject to self-employment tax, to cover Social Security and Medicare taxes.'

If you're one of the 55 million Americans who chooses to freelance, it can be difficult to correctly calculate and report to the IRS how much tax you owe. In fact, a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Enrolled Agents found that, 'independent contractors participating in the gig economy were cited as among those most at risk of failing to accurately report all of their income.'

Taxpayers who miscalculate taxes owed are likely to get a form called a CP2000 from the IRS. According to the agency, that form means, 'the income and/or payment information the IRS has on file doesn't match the information on your tax return.' That could result in issues with your tax bill.

Jaeger said the best way for gig economy workers to avoid a tax misstep is to be diligent and plan ahead now. He provided the following tips to help freelancers get on track so they're ready to tackle taxes head-on this tax season.

1. Get organized

Whether you work full time and earn a little extra cash from a side hustle or you're a full-time contractor, meticulous record-keeping is a must. One option is to keep track of all business expenses and related receipts in one large folder. Jaeger recommends taking that one step further by categorizing receipts into specific folders - for example, one folder for mileage and maintenance records, a second for rent or dues if you lease a workspace, and a third for office equipment and business-related equipment. Once a quarter, as you determine what you'll owe for quarterly tax payments, make note of which of those receipts are deductible.

2. Keep track of your income

When you're freelancing, you're your own accounting department. Not only are you responsible for generating invoices and collecting payment, you must also keep track of all income earned and accurately report it to the IRS. That can get complicated when multiple income streams are at play.

For example, gig economy workers who make money freelancing for multiple clients while also moonlighting as an Uber or Lyft driver should track all income and expenses separately. That means keeping accurate records of any money paid directly by clients and keeping track of income reported on documents such as Forms 1099-MISC and 1099-K. These forms are issued when self-employment income exceeds $600 (1099-MISC) and when a contractor is paid through credit- and debit-card payment processors (1099-K). Come tax time, fill out a Schedule C for every company or client who has paid you to report all of the income you earned.

3. Make estimated tax payments

The IRS requires independent contractors to file and pay taxes on a quarterly basis, even if you anticipate getting a refund at the end of the tax year. Use a tax calculator to help determine whether you should make estimated tax payments. You can also use Worksheet 2.1 in IRS Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals, to figure out whether you must pay estimated tax. Whatever method you choose, make sure you calculate adjusted gross income, taxable income, taxes, deductions and credits.

As a rule of thumb, if you will owe at least $1,000 in taxes, you should plan to pay estimated taxes during the current tax year. Jaeger added, 'If you owe estimated quarterly payments but don't pay them in full, you could face an underpayment penalty by the IRS.'

Earning extra money from your freelance work or side gig may not make you feel like you're self-employed, but in the eyes of the IRS, you are. By planning ahead, getting organized and doing your own taxes with an affordable online option such as TaxAct, you can avoid tax missteps and stay focused on what matters most: earning income on your own terms!


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