Tax Tips for Direct Sellers

Some people’s income is based on their sales and not on the number of hours they work. They are known as direct sellers. Sometimes there is confusion regarding the special set of tax rules that applies to direct sellers.

This fact sheet, the seventeenth in the Tax Gap series, is designed to help direct sellers better understand the rules so they can get the most out of their deductions and pay their fair share of taxes.

The largest portion of the tax gap, or the amount of tax that goes unpaid each year, results from taxpayers underreporting their taxable income. Most people want to pay their fair share of taxes, but many simply need a better understanding of their
obligations.

Direct sellers include any of the following:

  • A person who sells consumer products in the home or a place of business other than a permanent retail establishment,
  • A person who sells consumer products on a deposit or commission basis, or to other persons who will sell the products in the home or place of business,
  • A person who delivers and/or distributes newspapers or shopping guides.

Direct sellers have certain things in common. Their compensation is related to sales rather than to the number of hours worked. Services are performed under a written contract between the seller and the person for whom the seller performs the services.

And the contracts involved provide that sellers are not treated as employees for federal tax purposes.

Income Sources

Direct sellers report income on Form 1040 Schedule C or C-EZ. The various forms of income a direct seller may need to report might include:

  • Sales,
  • Commissions, bonuses, or percentages of income received for sales and the sales of others who work for the seller,
  • Prizes, awards, and gifts received from the selling business,
  • Products received for meeting certain sales quotas.

A direct seller must include all income received on the tax return regardless of whether or not he or she received an information return, usually a Form 1099-MISC reporting that income. A seller who sells at least $5,000 in the aggregate of consumer products to a buyer for resale anywhere other than a permanent retail establishment is required to report the sale by checking item 9 on Form 1099-MISC.

Expense Issues

Direct sellers can generally deduct ordinary and necessary business expenses. However, start-up expenses are capital expenses and are not deductible unless the seller elects to deduct the expenses. The seller makes an election by attaching a statement to his or her income tax return prepared for the year the business begins and filed by the due date.

Start-up expenses may include the following costs: exploring different direct-selling opportunities; training to be a seller for a product line; fees paid to the company to become a direct seller; and purchasing a starter kit from the company.

Start-up expenses paid or incurred after Oct. 22, 2004, may be deductible the year the business begins by an amount equal to the lesser of:

  • The amount of start-up expenses, or
  • $5,000, reduced by the amount the start-up expenses exceed $50,000,
  • The remainder of the expenses may be deducted ratably over the 180-month period beginning with the month the business begins.

(Start-up expense rules were amended in 2004. Expenses paid or incurred on or before Oct. 22, 2004, are treated differently.)

Since direct sellers purchase and sell merchandise, inventories of products at the beginning and end of each taxable year are necessary to correctly reflect taxable income.

Products held in inventory include: merchandise with title vested in the seller; goods under contract for sale but not yet segregated and applied to the contract; and goods out on consignment.

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Business or Hobby?

The Internal Revenue Service reminds taxpayers to follow appropriate guidelines when determining whether an activity is a business or a hobby, an activity not engaged in for profit.

In order to educate taxpayers regarding their filing obligations, this fact sheet, the eleventh in a series, explains the rules for determining if an activity qualifies as a business and what limitations apply if the activity is not a business. Incorrect deduction of hobby expenses account for a portion of the overstated adjustments, deductions, exemptions and credits that add up to $30 billion per year in unpaid taxes, according to IRS estimates.

In general, taxpayers may deduct ordinary and necessary expenses for conducting a trade or business. An ordinary expense is an expense that is common and accepted in the taxpayer’s trade or business. A necessary expense is one that is appropriate for the business. Generally, an activity qualifies as a business if it is carried on with the reasonable expectation of earning a profit.

In order to make this determination, taxpayers should consider the following factors:

  • Does the time and effort put into the activity indicate an intention to make a profit?
  • Does the taxpayer depend on income from the activity?
  • If there are losses, are they due to circumstances beyond the taxpayer’s control or did they occur in the start-up phase of the business?
  • Has the taxpayer changed methods of operation to improve profitability?
  • Does the taxpayer or his/her advisors have the knowledge needed to carry on the activity as a successful business?
  • Has the taxpayer made a profit in similar activities in the past?
  • Does the activity make a profit in some years?
  • Can the taxpayer expect to make a profit in the future from the appreciation of assets used in the activity?

The IRS presumes that an activity is carried on for profit if it makes a profit during at least three of the last five tax years, including the current year — at least two of the last seven years for activities that consist primarily of breeding, showing, training or racing horses.

If an activity is not for profit, losses from that activity may not be used to offset other income. An activity produces a loss when related expenses exceed income. The limit on not-for-profit losses applies to individuals, partnerships, estates, trusts, and S corporations. It does not apply to corporations other than S corporations.

Deductions for hobby activities are claimed as itemized deductions on Schedule A (Form 1040). These deductions must be taken in the following order and only to the extent stated in each of three categories:

  • Deductions that a taxpayer may take for personal as well as business activities, such as home mortgage interest and taxes, may be taken in full.
  • Deductions that don’t result in an adjustment to basis, such as advertising, insurance premiums and wages, may be taken next, to the extent gross income for the activity is more than the deductions from the first category.
  • Business deductions that reduce the basis of property, such as depreciation and amortization, are taken last, but only to the extent gross income for the activity is more than the deductions taken in the first two categories.

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Reporting Miscellaneous Income

While most people are aware they must include wages, salaries, interest, dividends, tips and commissions as income on their tax returns, many don’t realize that they must also report most other income, such as:

  • cash earned from side jobs,
  • barter exchanges of goods or services,
  • awards, prizes, contest winnings and
  • gambling proceeds.

This fact sheet, the 18th in the Tax Gap series, will help taxpayers better understand miscellaneous income and what they are required to report as taxable on their Form 1040.

The tax gap, or the amount of taxes that go unpaid each year, results from taxpayers underreporting their taxable income. Fortunately most people want to pay their fair share of taxes and many simply need a better understanding of their obligations.

What is Taxable?

Taxpayers must report all income from any source and any country unless it is explicitly exempt under the U.S. tax code. There may be taxable income from certain transactions even if no money changes hands.

Generally, the IRS considers all income received in the form of money, property or services to be taxable income unless the law specifically provides an exemption. This document discusses a few types of reportable income. Information on how to report other types of income can be found in Publication 525, Taxable and Nontaxable Income.

Self-Employment Income

It is a common misconception that if a taxpayer does not receive a Form 1099-MISC or if the income is under $600 per payer, the income is not taxable. There is no minimum amount that a taxpayer may exclude from gross income.

All income earned through the taxpayer’s business, as an independent contractor or from informal side jobs is self-employment income, which is fully taxable and must be reported on Form 1040.

Use Form 1040, Schedule C, Profit or Loss from Business, or Form 1040, Schedule C-EZ, Net Profit from Business (Sole Proprietorship) to report income and expenses. Taxpayers will also need to prepare Form 1040 Schedule SE for self-employment taxes if the net profit exceeds $400 for a year. Do not report this income on Form 1040 Line 21 as Other Income.

Independent contractors must report all income as taxable, even if it is less than $600. Even if the client does not issue a Form 1099-MISC, the income, whatever the amount, is still reportable by the taxpayer.

Fees received for babysitting, housecleaning and lawn cutting are all examples of taxable income, even if each client paid less than $600 for the year. Someone who repairs computers in his or her spare time needs to report all monies earned as self-employment income even if no one person paid more than $600 for repairs.

Bartering

Bartering is an exchange of property or services. The fair market value of goods and services exchanged is fully taxable and must be included on Form 1040 in the income of both parties.

An example of bartering is a plumber doing repair work for a dentist in exchange for dental services. Income from bartering is taxable in the year in which the taxpayer received the goods or services.

Gambling winnings

Gambling winnings are fully taxable and must be reported on Form 1040.

Gambling income includes, among other things, winnings from lotteries, raffles, horse races, poker tournaments and casinos. It includes cash winnings as well as the fair market value of prizes such as cars and trips.

Even if a W-2G is not issued, all gambling winnings must be reported as taxable income regardless of whether any portion is subject to withholding. In addition, taxpayers may be required to pay an estimated tax on the gambling winnings.

Losses may be deducted only if the taxpayer itemizes deductions and only if he or she also has gambling winnings. The losses deducted may not be more than the gambling income reported on the return.

Prizes and awards

Subject to certain exceptions, the cash value of prizes or awards won in a drawing, quiz show program, beauty contest, or other event, must be included on the tax return as taxable income.

Taxpayers must also report the fair market value of merchandise or products won as a prize or award, as taxable income.

For example, both a $500 cash prize and the fair market value of a new range won in a baking contest must be reported as other income on Form 1040, Line 21.

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Why Pay Taxes? The Truth About Frivolous Tax Arguments

The Internal Revenue Service today released an updated document discussing and rebutting many of the more common frivolous arguments made by individuals and groups that oppose compliance with federal tax laws.Anyone who contemplates arguing on legal grounds against paying their fair share of taxes should read this document first.

This 74-page document, The Truth about Frivolous Tax Arguments, is updated at least once a year by the IRS and is designed to help individuals and groups fully understand their responsibilities and not violate the law.

The document explains many of the common frivolous arguments made in recent years and it describes the legal responses that refute these claims. This document is available on IRS.gov and will help taxpayers avoid wasting their time with frivolous arguments and incurring penalties.

In 2006, Congress increased the amount of the penalty for frivolous tax returns from $500 to $5,000. The increased penalty amount applies when a person submits a tax return or other specified submission, and any portion of the submission is based on a position the IRS identifies as frivolous.

“Too good to be true schemes are exactly that–too good to be true,” said IRS Chief Counsel Donald L. Korb. “Taxpayers should be careful in making frivolous arguments since courts have routinely rejected them.”

A section of this document responds to some of the more common frivolous arguments made in collection due process cases brought pursuant to sections 6320 or 6330.

Another section explains the penalties that the courts may impose on those who pursue tax cases on frivolous grounds. It should be noted that the cases cited as relevant legal authority are illustrative and are not intended to provide an all-inclusive list relating to frivolous tax arguments.

IRS Has $110 Million in Refund Checks Looking for a Home

The Internal Revenue Service is looking for 115,478 taxpayers who are due refund checks worth about $110 million after the checks were returned as undeliverable.The refund checks, averaging about $953, can be claimed as soon as taxpayers update their addresses with the IRS. Some taxpayers have more than one check waiting.

“Taxpayers should not miss out on getting their money back,” said Richard Morgante, commissioner of the IRS Wage and Investment Division. ”The IRS makes it as easy as possible for taxpayers to update their addresses and claim their refunds.”

The “ Where’s My Refund?” tool on IRS.gov enables taxpayers to check the status of their refunds. A taxpayer must submit his or her social security number, filing status and amount of refund shown on their 2006 return. The tool will provide the status of their refund and in some cases provide instructions on how to resolve delivery problems.

Taxpayers can access a telephone version of “Where’s My Refund?” by calling 1-800-829-1954.

Most Refunds

The number of undeliverable refunds each year is a relatively small portion of all refunds returned to taxpayers. So far in 2007, the IRS has processed nearly 105 million refunds, totaling about $240 billion, either by mail or direct deposit.

In fact, undeliverable refunds account for less than one-tenth of one percent of all refunds, or about one in a thousand.

A refund check is normally returned as undeliverable when a taxpayer moves without updating his or her address with either the U.S. Postal Service or the IRS.

Telephone Tax Refund

The list of taxpayers due undeliverable refunds this year rose about 21 percent from 95,746 last year. The sharp increase is due in part to the Telephone Excise Tax Refund. The refund is a one-time payment available on 2006 federal income tax returns. It was designed to return to taxpayers previously collected long-distance telephone taxes. Individuals, businesses and tax-exempt organizations are eligible to request it.

Updating Your Address

Refund checks are mailed to a taxpayer’s last known address. Checks are returned to the IRS if a taxpayer moves without notifying the IRS or the U.S. Postal Service.
Taxpayers can update their addresses with the IRS on the “ Where’s My Refund?” feature. Also, taxpayers checking on a refund will be prompted to provide an updated address if there is an undelivered check outstanding within the last 12 months. Taxpayers checking on a refund over the phone will be given instructions on how to update their addresses.

A taxpayer can also ensure the IRS has his or her correct address by filing Form 8822, Change of Address. Download the form or request it by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676).

Those who do not have access to the Internet and think they may be missing a refund should first check their records or contact their tax preparer, then call the IRS toll-free assistance line at 1-800-829-1040 to update their address.

Direct Deposit Can Stop Lost Refunds

Signing up for Direct Deposit can put an end to undelivered refunds, as well lost or stolen refund checks. Taxpayers can receive refunds directly into personal checking or savings accounts. Direct Deposit is available for filers of both paper and electronic returns. Taxpayers can sign up for direct deposit on their tax form.

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