What Is IRS Form W-9?

Updated for Tax Year 2019


OVERVIEW

IRS Form W-9 is most commonly used by individuals when they are working as a freelancer or independent contractor.


If you ever find yourself filling out a Form W-9, it generally means that a business or person who is paying you money needs your Social Security number so it can notify the IRS of the amount. The W-9 is used in a wide range of payment situations, but most commonly, taxpayers fill them out when they are working as a freelancer or independent contractor rather than an employee.

Independent contractors vs. employees

When you fill out a W-9 before doing work for a company as an independent contractor, you are not considered an employee even though you may be performing the same type of work as one. The differences can be quite subtle, but generally, independent contractors have more control over when and how they complete tasks and don’t receive any of the benefits that employees do, such as 401(k) contribution matching or health insurance. However, as an independent contractor you are eligible to claim more deductions for the expenses that relate to your work, such as maintaining a home office.

Receiving your Form 1099

When you are asked to fill out a W-9 form, at some point in the future you may receive a 1099 tax form from the person or business that pays you. This is similar to an employee’s W-2 form, but is much simpler since it only reports your gross payments.

This 1099 is important for filling out your tax return at the end of the year. You must include all amounts reported on 1099 forms in your gross income since it is fully taxable just like an employee’s wages. If you fail to report any of this income and pay tax on it, you may be subject to a number of penalties that will increase the amount you owe.

Requesting a W-9

You may even find yourself on the other side of the transaction if you are the one making the payments to an independent contractor. You have a responsibility to obtain the W-9 from the contractor and retain a copy of it; however, it’s not necessary to send it to the IRS.

When it comes time to report all payments you make to the independent contractor on a 1099 form, you will need the information on the W-9. It’s only necessary to issue a 1099 if you pay the independent contractor $600 or more during the tax year. If you do, you must send the 1099 to the IRS as well.

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