Fundraising has gone digital. Millions of individuals are now utilizing social media sites such as kickstarter.com and gofundme.com to attract contributors or donations to support their cause. Few, though, are thinking about the income tax ramifications that are created by the crowdfunding environment.
Congress and the IRS have not yet addressed the crowdfunding income specifically, which leaves little guidance for CPAs and tax advisors preparing returns in the coming season. Applying common tax principles, along with some common sense, will help taxpayers and preparers alike to decide the appropriate reporting of funds received.
There are three types of crowd-funding:
Reward and donation-based funding use third party payment processing, such as PayPal. Any campaign creator who collects over $20,000.00 will receive a 1099-K reporting the funds received during the campaign. Pledges for donation-based funding are likely going to qualify as a non-taxable gift, unless an individual gifts more than the annual gift exclusion ($14,000 in 2015 and 2016). Funds received for reward-based funding for creative new ventures are likely to be treated as income to the recipients.
Kickstarter states that it cannot give tax advice, but does indicate that in the US, funds raised through campaigns on kickstarter.com will generally be considered income (see “Kickstarter and Taxes: A Guide for Your Accountant”). They suggest that expenses can offset the income, or that some may be considered gifts, but does not distinguish between the two.
Amounts received for reward-based funding are likely to be treated as income under Section 61 and should be reported by the creator of the campaign in the year of receipt. If it is an active trade or business, business expenses would likely be deductible against the income under Section 62. If this is a hobby, hobby loss rules would apply and limit expenses to the extent of income. Start-up business will also have additional requirements for expensing or capitalizing the organizational costs related to the start-up of the business.
As you can see, there are many different scenarios that will need to be considered when reporting crowd-funding during this period of limbo until the IRS addresses the topic. That makes it even more important as tax preparers and taxpayers alike to ask the right questions, document your position, and substantiate your reporting to the best of your ability.
With all of the talk of tax deadlines switching for 2016 tax returns it’s important to go over some of the deadlines for this current tax season. The deadlines for this year are the same as they have been in the past. Here are a few of those dates, but additional guidance can be found on the IRS website.
File form 1120 or 1120S for calendar year 2015 and pay any tax due
File form 7004 for an automatic 6 month extension, and deposit estimated tax
The return or extension must be postmarked or transmitted for e-filing by Monday, April 18, 2016
Your tax payment is still due by April 18 and can be submitted with the extension form
Non-profits can request an automatic three-month extension by submitting Form 8868
For taxpayers who have over $10,000 in total in foreign bank accounts
These forms must be filed electronically and there are no extensions
If you filed for an extension, this is the final deadline to file your individual tax return for 2015
All of the deadline changes will occur in 2017 for 2016 returns.
National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson released her 2015 annual report to the Congress on January 6, 2016. Olson expressed her concerns that the IRS is scaling back telephone and face-to-face services to assist the nation’s individual taxpayers and business entities in complying with their tax obligations.
In addition, other key issues were addressed in the report. Of particular interest is the growing rate of false positives in a key tax fraud filter used by the IRS in processing returns. The rate of false positive in 2015 was about 36 percent, affecting nearly 180,000 taxpayers. The “Anti-Fraud Filters” are used to filter out improper refund claims.
Olson’s report states that The Pre-Refund Wage Verification Program, “income wage verification,” allows the IRS to temporarily freeze a taxpayer’s refund when possible false wages and withholding are detected. The IRS sends out notices to taxpayers whose returns were flagged by the filters and instructs them to authenticate their identities online, by phone or by mail.
Following is an actual case of a legitimate refund that is still being withheld by the IRS. The 2014 tax return of the taxpayer was electronically filed and accepted by the IRS on October 11, 2015. A notice to verify the income and withholding was received on November 1, 2015. A copy of the taxpayer’s form W-2 was sent to the IRS on November 2, 2015. By January 7, 2016, the refund still had not been received. A telephone call was placed to the IRS and found out they still had not processed the return (the taxpayer was lucky to have gotten through without being hung up on). It’s been 16 weeks since the return was accepted, still no refund. Time to call the Taxpayer Advocate.
The intention of the Anti-Fraud Filters is to protect the taxpayers. However, it is very frustrating when legitimate refunds are delayed for excess amounts of time and contacting the IRS is nearly impossible.