1099 deductions are personal income tax deductions available to certain U.S. individuals who work as independent contractors and receive 1099 forms from their employers. The phrase is something of a misnomer, as no deductions are actually filed on the form itself. All must be reported and claimed on a dedicated itemization form, usually one related specifically to business expenses. Most of the deductions are also allowed by certain other forms, so they are hardly unique to the independent contractor. Usually, any small business owner or self-employed person can file for the same deductions, whether they have a 1099 or not.
1099 Form and Deduction Process
The United States tax code requires employers to report employees’ salaries and total earnings to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) at the end of each calendar year. In most cases, employers are also required to deduct a percentage of employee wages to satisfy state and federal income tax obligations — though freelancers and independent contractors are usually exempt from this. Freelance wages must still be reported, however, and businesses typically use IRS form 1099 to do so.
Employers usually file one copy of the 1099 with the IRS, and send a duplicate to the employee. The employee is then responsible for paying income taxes based on the sums reported. The IRS allows 1099 recipients to claim a number of business-related deductions, but the form does not represent any sort of entitlement. Only certain expenses are eligible, and employees must usually be able to offer careful documentation of each.
Most 1099 deductions fall into the “business expense” category, which includes membership dues in professional organizations, subscriptions to industry-related publications, and any equipment needed to complete the work. An independent transcriptionist who purchases a transcription machine may be able to deduct its purchase price, for instance, and an editor who has a paid subscription to an online style manual may be able to deduct the membership fees.
Home Office Costs
Independent contractors who work from home may also be able to claim a 1099 deduction for a home office, but the IRS’s specifications for this deduction are very exacting. The parameters are usually quite wide — utility bills, mortgage payments, and Internet expenses can all be included, as well as more traditional office expenses like printer paper and phone lines.
Most of the time, though, contractors must be able to prove that the claimed deductions are related exclusively to work in order for them to qualify. A phone that is used for work but also as the primary family line can only be deducted in proportion to the amount of time that it was used for business purposes. Contractors must also usually be able to prove that their workspace was used only for their job. A home office that doubles as a place to handle household paperwork will not usually qualify.
Contractors who drive as a part of their work are sometimes able to deduct mileage, gasoline, or even car expenses. The same rules that apply to home offices pertain to transportation costs, however. If a car was used for both personal use and business use, deductions cannot usually be claimed, at least not in full.
Deciding Whether or Not to Claim
1099 deductions are never mandatory, and many taxpayers decide to claim nothing — even if they have eligible expenses. The IRS provides a choice between itemized and standard deductions. Every U.S. taxpayer is automatically eligible to claim the standard deduction. Most of the time, contractors will only file 1099 deductions if their expenses exceed those provided for under the standard option.
Importance of Correct Filing and Audit Risk
The IRS recognizes that there are a lot of ambiguities and possibilities for abuse when claiming business-related expenses, and for this reason, reviewers often pay more attention to returns that include 1099 deductions. A high percentage of these returns are audited, a rigorous examination that typically requires taxpayers to produce receipts and proof of all claimed expenses. Independent contractors who do not have meticulous records often avoid claiming deductions that they cannot absolutely prove.
Should an audit turn up a disparity or a filing error, the taxpayer is usually fined or assessed a penalty. 1099 recipients who are unsure of how to claim deductions, or who need more information about whether specific expenditures will qualify, are usually advised to talk with a professional tax preparer before submitting their final returns.