Avoid the Crocs! Here Are the New Rules for Reporting Independent Contractor Payments

Not an alligator. Photo by Leigh Bedford. Reptilian factoids by Wikipedia.

It’s important to follow directions. Not convinced? Ask the 52-foot humpback whale that took a wrong turn on its way to Antarctica earlier this month and ended up in Australia’s East Alligator River.

Ironically (and I do not use that term lightly)* the East Alligator River has no alligators in it. It is infested with an estimated 10,000 crocodiles, so that’s still bad for the whale and, from the whale’s perspective, probably just a technicality.

*More on irony below.

As for following directions, that brings us to the IRS. Starting with the 2020 tax year, directions have changed when it comes to reporting payments made to independent contractors. Rather than Form 1099-MISC, payments will now be reported on Form 1099-NEC. That’s an acronym for Non Employee Compensation.

IRS instructions say that payments must be reported on Form 1099-NEC if they meet the following four conditions:

  • You made the payment to someone who is not your employee.
  • You made the payment for services in the course of your trade or business (including government agencies and nonprofit organizations).
  • You made the payment to an individual, partnership, estate, or, in some cases, a corporation (but usually not payments to a corporation).
  • You made payments to the payee of at least $600 during the year.

Payments to corporations generally do not have to be reported on Form 1099-NEC, but payments for attorneys’ fees and a few other odds and ends do.

To determine whether your payments meet the $600 threshold, here’s what the IRS says you should count:

Enter nonemployee compensation (NEC) of $600 or more. Include fees, commissions, prizes and awards for services performed as a nonemployee, other forms of compensation for services performed for your trade or business by an individual who is not your employee, and fish purchases for cash. Include oil and gas payments for a working interest, whether or not services are performed. Also include expenses incurred for the use of an entertainment facility that you treat as compensation to a nonemployee. Federal executive agencies that make payments to vendors for services, including payments to corporations, must report the payments in this box. See Rev. Rul. 2003-66.

You can fund more detailed instructions here. In case you skimmed that too quickly, yes, the IRS instructions really do say “fish purchases for cash.” I didn’t sneak that in there to make sure you were paying attention.

Whales, alligators, and crocodiles are not fish, so you can purchase them freely for cash without reporting the expenditures on a Form 1099-NEC.

I don’t know whether the wayward baleen escaped the river, but I do want to know how that turned out.

*So … back to irony. There’s a term so often misused. It is irony that the East Alligator River has no alligators. It is not irony if there’s rain on your wedding day (sorry, Alanis Morissette, but no doubt you know this by now.) But it is irony that Morissette’s song is called Isn’t It Ironic when all of the supposed examples of irony in the song are examples of bad luck or coincidence, not irony. So yes, it is ironic, but only in that unintended meta kind of way.

On a personal note, I experience personal hygiene irony about once a week when getting ready for bed, when I occasionally get floss stuck in my teeth. And now you know that about me.

© 2020 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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