Tax traps that side hustlers should avoid

Millions of Americans earn extra money outside their regular jobs — as ride-hailing drivers, Airbnb hosts, eBay sellers and freelancers of all kinds. Their side hustle income may help make ends meet, but it also can create tax traps.

Side gigs usually count as self-employment, which triggers different rules, additional tax forms and plenty of confusion for people accustomed to filing as employees, tax experts say.

In my latest for the Associated Press, find out how to avoid surprises when it comes to tax time.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to protect your finances and credit in tough times. Also in the news: Squash these 4 common tax-season stresses, how to weather a market downturn during or approaching retirement, and how to handle – and head off – a tax bill.

How to Protect Your Finances and Credit in Tough Times
Prepare instead of panic.

Squash These 4 Common Tax-Season Stresses
How to overcome the 4 biggest stresses.

Retired or Nearly There? How to Weather a Market Downturn
Diversification is key.

How to Handle — and Head Off — a Tax Bill
Preparing in advance.

Q&A: How IRS Free File works

Dear Liz: I wanted to alert you to the fact that online tax preparation companies are up to their old tricks again this year despite being called out last year for deceptively hiding their free tax filing from eligible filers. My son, who qualifies for free filing, was redirected to the paid “deluxe” version when it turned out he qualifies for a “Savers Tax Credit.” He makes modest tax-deferred contributions through an employer that matched contributions. (He’s a low-income student who works in retail.) He logged out of that website and instead successfully used a competitor provider for free.

Answer: The way to access the IRS’ Free File program is through the IRS website, which directs people to the private tax preparation companies that have agreed to offer this service. Unfortunately, many of those same companies spend a lot of money trying to obscure that fact that most Americans can file for free.

Independent news organization ProPublica reported last year that tax preparation companies were hiding their free file options from online search engines and steering people instead into paid tax preparation. A government report in February confirmed that more than 14 million taxpayers paid for tax preparation last year that they could have received free.

The companies have since been banned from hiding the free option and are supposed to include a link that returns people to the IRS Free File site if they don’t qualify for the company’s free offer. But ProPublica found that they continue to steer people away from free filing in various ways, including advertising that misuses the word “free.”

Also, many people like your son discover only late in the tax preparation process — often after they’ve added most of their information — that they don’t qualify for that company’s free option, although they would qualify elsewhere.

Here’s what people need to know about free filing:

People with adjusted gross incomes under $69,000 a year can qualify for free filing, but they should start their search at the IRS Free File webpage.

People in the military and their families can use MilTax, provided by the Department of Defense.

They can also get advice from a tax professional at (800) 342-9647.

In addition, people may qualify for the IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance if they make less than $56,000, live with a disability or speak limited English. Use the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance locator tool or call (800) 906-9887.

People who don’t qualify for the above services can still use free fillable forms. In addition, some tax preparation companies may have free options for people filing basic forms. The types of income and credits that allow someone to file for free should be prominently displayed on the company’s free file page.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How the IRS knows if you cheat on your taxes. Also in the news: 3 reasons to pay for spring break with a travel credit card, alternative options if you can’t find an affordable FHA-approved home, and why the bank holds your deposit for 9 days on new accounts.

How the IRS Knows If You Cheat on Your Taxes
They’re always watching.

3 Reasons to Pay for Spring Break with a Travel Credit Card
Racking up points.

Can’t Find an Affordable FHA-Approved Home? You Have Options
Alternative options.

Why the Bank Is Holding Your Deposit for 9 Days
The downside of a new account.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Make your brand loyalty pay off. Also in the news: When your new car have more tech than you know what to do with, one thing to know when filing your taxes, and beware email attachment scams this tax season.

Make Your Brand Loyalty Pay Off
Cash in on your devotion.

Does your new car have more tech than you know what to do with?
Too many bells and whistles?

There’s one thing you need to know when filing your taxes
You don’t have to do it on your own.

Beware Email Attachment Scams This Tax Season
Scammers never take a day off.

Q&A: Tax tips for hybrid owners

Dear Liz: Not a question, but a tip for your readers. I bought a plug-in hybrid in 2018. I couldn’t take advantage of the $7,500 federal tax credit because my income was too low to pay much in federal taxes. So I converted $30,000 of my IRA to a Roth IRA, which added that money to my income for 2018, allowing me to take full advantage of the credit. Hey, I even got some money back. I can’t touch that Roth account for five years, or else the income it generates won’t be tax-free, but when the time comes for my mandatory withdrawals, I’ll tap into the remainder of my regular IRA. This might be of help to some of your readers.

Answer: Normally conversions from a regular IRA to a Roth trigger a hefty tax bill, but your credit allowed you to convert tax-free. Leasing is another option to consider with hybrids and other cars that offer a federal tax credit. The value of the credit typically is built into the deal, so you benefit even if you don’t have a federal tax bill to offset.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 9 money resolutions and tips for 2020 from our experts. Also in the news: How one woman paid off nearly $125,000 of debt in nine years, how to pay off Parent PLUS loans faster, and why the IRS wants you to do your taxes early.

9 Money Resolutions (and Tips) for 2020 From Our Experts
There’s still time to restart your resolutions.

How I Ditched Debt: Keeping a ‘Passion for Fashion’ on the Road to Repayment
How one woman paid off nearly $125,000 of debt in nine years.

How to Pay Off Parent PLUS Loans Faster
Refinancing could get your loan done quicker.

Why the IRS Wants You to Do Your Taxes Early
Preventing refund fraud.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Mastering the awkward financial talk. Also in the news: Co-signing a student loan with bad credit, younger consumers getting a credit boost from their elders, and one in five fear they’ll owe the IRS money this spring.

Mastering the Awkward Financial Talk
Tackling tough topics with ease.

Can I Co-Sign a Student Loan With Bad Credit?
It’s not a good idea.

Younger Consumers, Get a Credit Boost From Your Elders
Authorized user status could give you score a bump.

One in five fear they’ll owe the IRS money this spring
Are you one of them?

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 4 things to know if you’ve never budgeted before. Also in the news: Equifax breach – claims cutoff and more scammers ahead, how auto insurers use your nondriving habits to raise prices, and the benefits of filing taxes early.

4 Things to Know if You’ve Never Budgeted Before
Breaking down the basics.

Equifax Breach: Claims Cutoff and More Scammers Ahead
The fallout continues.

How Auto Insurers Use Your Nondriving Habits to Raise Prices
Your grocery shopping could raise your auto insurance.

The Benefits of Filing Taxes Early
There are good reasons to file early.