Tax season is here, bringing the usual avalanche of tax-related questions. While truck drivers do not need to be experts in the tax code, certain tips and tricks can make this time of year a little less painful—both for your wallet and your mental health. Let’s look at five common tax myths truckers need to know.
Myth 1: April 15, 2021, is the deadline to file.
Usually, April 15 is the deadline for tax returns to be postmarked to the Internal Revenue Service without facing a possible fine, but that has changed this year. Filers now have until May 17, 2021. Better yet, there is no requirement to be granted the extension; it is immediately given to everyone. Truckers who currently feel rushed to finish their returns—or are figuring out when they will put them together between long trips—have a little bit of extra time. The April 15 deadline is scheduled to return in 2022.
Myth 2: Owner/operators do not need to pay quarterly taxes.
This is a big misnomer that gets many independent contractors in trouble, regardless of industry. Owner/operators work as their own business and as such must manage their tax payments to the federal and state governments (this is compared to a traditional employee who will have taxes withheld). Owner/operators need to set aside money each quarter—think about 25% of income after deductible expenses—and pay it to the government.
Failing to make these payments can result in penalties but owner/operators also have to make sure not to pay too much. While the federal government will give you a return, an overpayment is akin to giving the government a free loan of any earned income that could be spent, saved, or invested. It may take some practice, but owner/operators need to be cognizant of their income, what existing taxable deductions they can take, and keep track throughout the year for an accurate total.
Myth 3: Truckers need to keep receipts for every meal they eat.
Over-the-road truckers can spend weeks on end without ever going to their permanent home. As a result, they can benefit from the per diem food benefit allowed through the IRS. Truckers with work that takes them away from home overnight are allowed to charge the government on the IRS Schedule C form. This directly reduces self-employment taxes and does not need to be itemized. As long as a trucker eats below $60 to $70 on food each day, they will make that money—and more—back with taxes.
Myth 4: You can deduct deadhead mileage and days off for illness.
Sadly, this one is not true. Owner/operators can only deduct actual expenses while working on the profit being made. Things like time off and deadhead miles cannot be deducted. However, some things that truckers occasionally overlook can be. Truckers who travel with a dog can write the dog off as a security expense if the dog is always with the truck. Permits and license fees can also be deducted along with accounting services, repairs, and interest paid on business loans. There are lots of valuable deductions if you know where to look.
Myth 5: More deductions increase your chance of an audit.
The IRS will closely look at your returns but there is no guarantee you will face an audit. It is best to be honest with all your deductions and only use the ones that pertain to your situation. The IRS knows how to spot potentially fraudulent deductions, so be honest and upfront.
Take the time to understand the deductions you take and keep detailed records where possible. These records can prove invaluable, ensuring first that you get all the deductions owed but also holding up to the scrutiny of an audit. Owner/operators must face a lot of difficult tax issues to run their business. It may be beneficial to hire a professional or take a course to fully understand how to manage your tax situation. While the IRS does not want to charge penalties and conduct audits, they also want to ensure every person pays their properly owed amount.