• Uber and Lyft Drivers’ Tax Treatment

    6 April 2017
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    Do you drive for Uber or Lyft, or are thinking of getting into this business? We’ve outlined what it’s like to work for these types of companies, including taxes, expenses, and write-offs:

    Uber and Lyft treat drivers as independent contractors as opposed to employees. However, more than 70 pending lawsuits in federal court, plus an unknown number in the state courts, are challenging this independent contractor status. As the courts have not yet reached a decision on that dispute, this analysis does not address the potential employee/independent contractor issue related to rideshare divers; it only deals with the tax treatment of drivers who are independent contractors, using Uber as the example.

    How Uber Works – Each fare (customer) establishes an account with Uber using a credit card (CC), Paypal, or another method. The fare uses the Uber smartphone app to request a ride, and an Uber driver picks that person up and takes him or her to the destination. Generally, no money changes hands, as Uber charges the fare’s CC, deducts both its fee and the CC processing fee, and then deposits the net amount into the driver’s bank account.

    Income Reporting – Uber issues each driver a Form 1099-K reflecting the total amount charged for the driver’s fares. Because the IRS will treat the 1099-K as gross business income, it must be included on line 1 (gross income) of the driver’s Schedule C before adjusting for the CC and Uber service fees. Uber then deposits the net amount into the driver’s bank account, reflecting the fares minus the CC and Uber fees. Thus, the sum of the year’s deposits from Uber can be subtracted from the 1099-K amount, and the difference can be taken as an expense or as a cost of goods sold. Currently, a third party operates Uber’s billing, coordinates the drivers’ fares and issues the drivers’ 1099-Ks.

    Automobile Operating Expenses – Uber also provides an online statement to its drivers that details the miles driven with fares and the dollar amounts for both the fares and the bank deposits.

    Although the Uber statement mentioned above includes the miles driven for each fare, this figure only represents the miles between a fare’s pickup point and delivery point. It does not reflect the additional miles driven between fares. Drivers should maintain a mileage log to track their total miles and substantiate their business mileage.

    A driver can choose to use the actual-expense method or the optional mileage rate when determining operating expenses. However, the actual-expense method requires far more detailed recordkeeping, including records of both business and total miles and costs of fuel, insurance, repairs, etc. Drivers may find the standard mileage rate far less complicated because they only need to keep a contemporaneous record of business miles, the purposes of each trip and the total miles driven for the year. For 2017, the standard mileage rate is 53.5 cents per mile, down from 54.0 cents per mile in 2016.

    Whether using the actual-expense method or the standard mileage rate, the costs of tolls and airport fees are also deductible.

    When the actual-expense method is chosen in the first year that a vehicle is used for business, that method must be used for the duration of the vehicle’s business use. On the other hand, if the standard mileage rate is used in the first year, the owner can switch between the standard mileage rate and the actual-expense method each year (using straight-line deprecation).

    Business Use Of The Home – Because drivers conduct all of their business from their vehicle, and because Uber provides an online accounting of income (including Uber fees and CC charges), it would be extremely difficult to justify an expense claim for a home office. Some argue that the portion of the garage where the vehicle is parked could be claimed as a business use of the home. The falsity with that argument is that, to qualify as a home office, the space must be used exclusively for business; because it is virtually impossible to justify that a vehicle was used 100% of the time for business, this exclusive requirement cannot be met.

    Without a business use of the home deduction, the distance driven to pick up the first fare each day and the distance driven when returning home at the end of a shift are considered nondeductible commuting miles.

    Vehicle Write-off – The luxury auto rules limit the annual depreciation deduction, but regulations exempt from these rules any vehicle that a taxpayer uses directly in the trade or business of transporting persons or property for compensation or hire. As a result, a driver can take advantage of several options for writing off the cost of the vehicle. These include immediate expensing, the depreciation of 50% of the vehicle’s cost, normal deprecation or a combination of all three, allowing owner-operators to pick almost any amount of write-off to best suit their particular circumstances, provided that they use the actual-expense method for their vehicles.

    The options for immediate expensing and depreciating 50% of the cost are available only in the year when the vehicle is purchased and only if it is also put into business use during that year. If the vehicle was purchased in a year prior to the year that it is first used in the rideshare business, either the fair market value at that time or the original cost, whichever is lower, is depreciated over 5 years.

    Cash Tips – Here, care must be taken, as Uber does not permit fares to include tips in their CC charges but Lyft does. Any cash tips that drivers receive must be included in their Schedule C gross income.

    Deductions Other Than the Vehicle – Possible other deductions include:

    • Cell phone service
    • Liability insurance
    • Water for the fares

    Self-Employment Tax – Because the drivers are treated as self-employed individuals, they are also subject to the self-employment tax, which is the equivalent to payroll taxes (Social Security and Medicare withholdings) for employees—except the rate is double because a self-employed individual must pay both the employer’s and the employee’s shares.

    If you are currently a driver for Uber or Lyft, or if you think that you may want to get into that business, and if you have questions about taxation in the rideshare industry and how it might affect your situation, please give Dagley & Co. a call.

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  • Tips For Holiday Charitable Giving

    30 December 2015
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    During the holidays, many charities solicit gifts of money or property. This is partially because people are in the giving mood, but also because they know this is the last month for people and businesses to give – affecting their current tax year before a new year begins. Our article here includes tips for documenting your charitable gifts so that you can claim a deduction on your tax return. You may also want to read our article for advice for how not to be scammed by criminals trying to trick you into sending charitable donations to them.

    To claim a charitable deduction you must itemize your deductions; if you don’t, there is no need to keep any records. In addition, only contributions to qualified charities are deductible. Of course, we all know that the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and Cancer Society are legitimate, qualified charities, but what about small or local charities? To make sure a charity is qualified, use the IRS Select Check tool. You can always deduct gifts to churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, and government agencies—even if the Select Check tool does not list them in its database.

    The documentation requirements for cash and non-cash contributions are different. A donor may not claim a deduction for a cash, check, or other monetary gift unless the donor maintains a record of the contribution in the form of either a bank record (such as a cancelled check) or a written communication from the charity (such as a receipt or a letter) showing the name of the charity, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution. In addition, if the contribution is $250 or more, the donor must also get an acknowledgment from the charity for each deductible donation.

    When contributions are made via payroll deductions, a pay stub, Form W-2 or other verifying document should be maintained as verification of the gift. It must show the total amount withheld for charity. In addition, be sure to retain the pledge card showing the name of the charity.

    Non-cash contributions are also deductible. Generally, contributions of this type must be in good condition, and they can include food, art, jewelry, clothing, furniture, furnishings, electronics, appliances, and linens. Items of minimal value (such as underwear and socks) are generally not deductible. The deductible amount is the fair-market value of the items at the time of the donation, and as with cash donations, if the value is $250 or more, you save an acknowledgment from the charity for each deductible donation. Be aware: the door hangers left by many charities after picking up a donation do not meet the acknowledgement criteria; in one court case, taxpayers were denied their charitable deduction because their acknowledgement consisted only of door hangers. When a non-cash contribution is $500 or more, the IRS requires Form 8283 to be included with the return, and when the donation is $5,000 or more, a certified appraisal is generally required.

    Special rules also apply to donations of used vehicles when the deduction claimed exceeds $500. The deductible amount is based upon the charity’s use of the vehicle, and Form 8283 is required. A charity accepting used vehicles as donations is required to provide Form 1098-C (or an equivalent) to properly document the donation.

    There are also special rules for purchasing capital assets for a charity, such as travel, personal vehicle use, entertainment, and placement of students in a home. Please call for information related to these issues.

    Charitable contributions are deductible in the year in which you make them. If you charge a gift to a credit card before the end of the year, it will count for 2015. This is true even if you don’t pay the credit card bill until 2016. In addition, a check will count for 2015 as long as you mail it in 2015.

    If you have questions or concerns about your 2015 charitable donations or about the documentation required to claim deductions for them, please call us at Dagley & Co.

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