The gig economy has transformed the contours of the modern workforce, bringing forth a unique combination of flexibility, autonomy, and diversified income streams. Whether you’re driving for a ride-sharing platform, developing eye-catching graphics as a freelance designer, or mastering home repairs as a handyman, you’re participating in an ever-evolving, vibrant economy. But with the freedom of gig work comes an often overlooked aspect: understanding and managing your tax obligations. In this blog, I’ll cover some of the essential tax issues and IRS forms with which every gig worker should be familiar.
As a participant in the gig economy, you’re an independent contractor in the eyes of the IRS. Essentially, you’re a solo entrepreneur, which ushers in a unique set of tax rules and obligations. Central to these obligations is the Form 1099 series (Form 1099-NEC, Form 1099-K, Form 1099-MISC). We’ll look at each of these to get a better understanding of your gig worker responsibilities, but the key is that you must report your income to the IRS and to state and local tax agencies. As a gig economy worker, you should be familiar with what constitutes “income” and what you need to include on your annual tax return regardless of whether you receive one of the forms.
Income is the starting point for determining taxes due. In general, income is all the money and other things of value that you receive, but the technical definition is broad. For practical purposes, income can include payments you receive from wages and employee benefits, self-employment or side jobs (freelance or independent contractor work), goods or services you sell online, renting personal property, partnerships or other business entities, investments, or other benefits paid to you. Income isn’t just money – it can also be the value of goods or services you receive. (Think of a bartering transaction where someone pays you in an exchange by giving you an item or providing valuable work for you.) You can even have income for tax purposes for payments made to someone else on your behalf. Income is generally taxable when the payment is available to you, even if you don’t immediately take possession of it; for example, you usually can’t delay income simply by waiting to pick up a check or deposit it into your account.
When you perform gig work, you should carefully store and organize your receipts and other records of your costs. Tax law allows you to deduct certain business expenses, which can reduce the amount of tax you will ultimately need to pay on your income. While tax law requires third parties in certain situations to report payments to taxpayers, such as through the Form 1099 series, those forms generally only show your income, not your expenses. It’s your responsibility to keep track of your deductible costs so that you can correctly calculate the tax you owe. Even if you don’t receive a form reporting income paid to you during the tax year, you should report the income on your tax return.