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.