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.
Owner/operators are in the position to make important business decisions that impact their future success. Your semi-truck can either be the means to your financial gains or a detriment—which direction you go depends on the choices you make around your truck. When it comes to buying versus leasing, there’s not a clear-cut answer. Your unique situation and goals play a large part in your decision to buy or lease a semi-truck. Ultimately, it comes down to the type of truck you want and how you prefer to spend your money.
Buying a Semi-Truck as an Owner/Operator
The average price of a new or newer truck is well over $100,000. Do you have the capital to make this purchase? If not, take a look at financing. Either way, you’ll start to accrue equity. The purchase can also be used as a tax write-off; talk to an accountant or tax professional before you make the purchase to understand all the tax considerations. Additionally, you’ll save money on insurance as rates are often cheaper than those for leased vehicles. If you have good credit and the truck is not terribly expensive, you may not have to make a down payment, depending on the company issuing the loan.
With a new truck, you’ll also get the latest in mechanical technology. This may mean saving money on operating costs and fuel, as many are more energy-efficient than older models. It’ll also come with a factory warranty which covers service issues and any problems that come up during the warranty period.
If you want to purchase, but a $100,000-plus price tag is outside of your investment range, you can buy a used truck for as low as $15,000. Keep in mind that you may end up paying to keep it up and running.
Leasing a Semi-Truck as an Owner/Operator
If you’re not able to buy your truck or you want to limit your financial risks, leasing may be the best option. A lease contract usually lasts anywhere from three to five years. Once your agreement is over, you’ll return the truck, and you can start another lease on a new truck. If you choose to break your lease before it ends, you’ll pay a penalty; the amount of the penalty is a lump sign that’s stated in the contract.
Make sure you read the fine print on your lease agreement. Often, there are rules and requirements you must follow while you have the truck. Like a personal vehicle, you may have a limit on your mileage. When you turn the truck in at the end of the lease, you’ll have to pay for each mile you go over it.
There are two types of lease: conventional or lease-to-own. With either, you don’t need to put down a large amount of money upfront. Oftentimes, you don’t need good credit; some leases don’t even require a credit check.
A conventional lease has a set period of time in which you make monthly payments. You’ll have the freedom to walk away from your truck when your contract is over. Another benefit is gaining insight into the real-life costs of owning a truck without some of the hassles. Many conventional leases come with a servicing agreement for any maintenance or service needs that the vehicle needs during the extent of the contract.
A lease-to-own agreement means you have the option to purchase the semi-truck at the end of the agreement. There will be a buy-out price set in the contract which may be negotiated before you sign the lease. With this type of lease, you’ll need to haul enough merchandise or goods to pay the monthly payment. If you don’t, the leasing company can repossess your truck.
What Should I do?
Commitment is the biggest difference between the two options to purchase or lease a semi-truck. A conventional lease can be a short-term commitment that may provide the freedom to walk away from your truck. Though you’ll spend less money upfront, you won’t build any equity. Overall, you may pay more money than if you were to buy it outright. Insurance is typically higher on a leased semi-truck than one that you’ve purchased. You also can’t make it your own by modifying or updating it the way you would if you owned it.
Buying or leasing a semi-truck is ultimately a financial endeavor. But it doesn’t end there; it also comes down to your goals and long-term vision for yourself as an owner/operator.
After a very long year, the 2021 tax season is upon us. As an owner/operator, properly filing your tax return is crucial to the success of your operation. Navigating the increasingly complex tax code can be arduous, though. Multiple deadlines, numerous deductions, and various available exemptions and credits… filing your taxes can feel nigh on impossible. Those in the industry, however, know preparation is key. Plan ahead to ensure you have all the necessary documentation you need to properly file your taxes by the expected deadlines.
Here’s how owner/operators can prepare for the 2021 tax season.
Which Tax Forms Do Owner/Operators Need?
Let’s begin by answering the most basic question: Which tax forms am I expected to file? This depends entirely on your specific employment status—are you an employee of a trucking company, an independent contractor, or an owner/operator?
If you are employed as a driver for a carrier company or similar, you should receive a standard W-2 form for filing your taxes. The W-2 details the amount of wages you were paid during the previous fiscal year of employment. This form is the most straightforward filing procedure since there are no job-related expenses.
If you are an independent contractor or owner/operator, however, you will receive two tax filing forms: a 1099-MISC and a 1099-NEC. What’s the difference between the two? The 1099-MISC is an information return form (similar to a W-2) used to report payments made from a business to an independent contractor. Any independent driver who makes more than $600 from one particular source will be expected to complete a 1099-MISC from that source. The 1099-NEC, on the other hand, is used for independent contractors to report payments received from businesses for work performed. Independent contractors and owner/operators are required to complete and file both the 1099-MISC and 1099-NEC forms with the IRS.
When are the Filing Deadlines?
Don’t get slapped with a hefty penalty by missing the appropriate filing deadlines. The IRS penalizes workers for multiple reasons, including failure to file taxes and failure to pay taxes. Penalties include steep fines, seizure of property, and even jail time. Protect yourself by knowing the important filing and extension dates.
- February 12: The IRS begins accepting and processing individual tax returns.
- April 15: The date for employees to file their returns or request a deadline extension.
- April 15: Any unpaid taxes must be paid in full to avoid owing interest and penalties.
- October 15: Final date to file for those who requested a deadline extension.
Notice that April 15 is an especially important date as it is the deadline to file your returns, request an extension on filing, or pay any unpaid taxes to the IRS.
What’s the Recovery Rebate Credit?
This year, many working individuals will have the ability to receive a tax credit if they did not receive a stimulus check. If you received the maximum amount of payment from both federal stimulus checks, then there is no impact on your taxes and you do not need to report the stimulus payment as income. If you are one of the many owner/operators who did not receive the full stimulus payment amount from one or both stimulus packages due to your level of income, you may be eligible for the Recovery Rebate Credit. The Recovery Rebate Credit is designed to either increase tax refund amounts or decrease the amount of taxes owed for workers who did not receive the full economic relief payments from the federal government.
To be eligible for the Recovery Rebate, you must be a U.S. citizen or U.S. resident alien, cannot be claimed as a dependent for tax year 2020, and you must have a Social Security number valid for employment. To determine whether or not you are eligible for the Recover Rebate, fill out the Recovery Rebate Credit Worksheet in the Instructions for Form 1040 and Form 1040-SR.
Filing your taxes can be intimidating, as the United States tax code becomes increasingly complicated each year. Rest assured, you don’t have to go at it alone. If you are concerned with your ability to file your taxes correctly and on-time, hire a professional tax preparer to help guide you step-by-step through the filing process. Protect yourself and avoid making common mistakes by filing the correct forms by the appropriate deadline.
The COVID-19 pandemic created a situation where e-commerce sales have grown astronomically—with total online spending in the month of May reaching upward of $82 billion (an increase of 77% year-over-year). This rapid increase in online sales also led to an upsurge in the demand for trucking services, and with trucks having limited storage capacity, the trucking industry as a whole has seen a steep uptick in demand and revenue—in September alone dry-van spot rates hit a record high of $2.37 per mile. With success comes responsibility: More than ever, it’s important for owner/operators to ensure their taxes are filed accurately and on time to maximize their return and avoid penalties.
Here are five things CPAs must be aware of when filing taxes for truck owner/operators:
1. Per Diem Rates
Filing taxes as an owner/operator can be complicated and navigating the tax code can feel arduous. One of the most beneficial tax incentives for an owner/operator is the ability to deduct certain costs under the travel expense tax category, including a per diem tax deduction equal to 80% of $66 per day. In order for an owner/operator to be eligible to receive a per diem deduction, the IRS has two specific requirements:
- The owner/operator will be away from home overnight while traveling for work
- Work requires travel substantially longer than the length of a workday
Be sure to keep track of receipts from travel expenses, including meals and lodging, in order to capitalize on all per diem tax deductions and avoid losing hard-earned money while on the road.
2. Mileage Deductions
For owner/operators, the IRS considers a semi-truck to be a qualified non-personal use vehicle, which means mileage cannot be deducted as a part of business expenses. This is because owner/operators are taxed only on the profit they make and receive deductions for time off and “deadhead miles,” or miles driven without a load on a truck’s trailer. Although mileage cannot be deducted while on the road since the truck is considered a non-personal vehicle, what can be deducted are actual expenses for the truck such as fuel costs, oil changes, minor and major repairs, insurance, and even tires. Additionally, while truck mileage may not be deductible, mileage on personal vehicles used for work can be deducted if the vehicle is used for business-related driving such as during trips to a supply store or the bank.
3. Depreciating Property Deduction
One of the largest tax deductions owner/operators are eligible for is the depreciable property tax which allows owners to deduct the depreciated value of the equipment that they use—most importantly, their truck and trailer. Owner/operators have the option to choose from a variety of different depreciation schedules in order to meet their specific tax needs, providing owners with the option of an expense deduction up to $1 million for a new truck in the first year of service. The depreciating property tax may be one of the most important tax deductions an owner/operator needs to be familiar with.
4. Tax Form 1099-NEC
For the tax year 2020, the IRS resurrected the 1099-NEC (non-employee compensation) tax form requiring owner/operators to file their taxes differently than they have in the past. Typically, at the end of the year, an owner/operator would receive a 1099-MISC form from the companies they contracted as a driver for, fill out the form, and submit that form to the IRS. This changed for 2020; now the IRS requires owner/operators to complete both the 1099-NEC and the 1099-MISC. The 1099-NEC is used exclusively to report the compensation received by contractors for fees, commissions, rewards, and other forms of payment for services rendered while the 1099-MISC is used to report miscellaneous income such as rent or legal settlement payments. Ensuring the appropriate tax forms are correctly filed within the IRS deadline is important to prevent the IRS from performing an otherwise unnecessary audit of an owner/operator’s finances.
5. Security Dog
If an owner/operator brings their dog on the road with them, there are circumstances where expenses related to the dog can be used as tax deductions. If an owner/operator uses their dog as a form of security for themselves and their truck, then expenses related to the dog while on the road are tax-deductible. These expenses can include dog food, training, veterinarian bills, or other expenses incurred in the process of caring for the dog. In order to utilize this tax deduction, the IRS requires any dog used as a guard dog must receive training from an accredited training service or school—the cost of training is deductible as well.
Visit our blog to stay up to date with the latest industry news!
As of 2019, the average gross salary of an owner/operator is $220,591. However, this figure does not take into account the expenses incurred each week. On top of standard expenses, the installation costs of a new tractor can run a hefty price tag (over $100,000). For owner/operators, this presents a unique challenge of navigating their budgets.
The key is this: Like any business owner, you need to have a thorough understanding of your cash flow as a trucker, especially if you’re an owner/operator. By asking the necessary questions—“What are the costs of my expenses?” and “What is my net profit after taxes?”—can save you from encountering many financial troubles. By identifying your specific losses due to expenses, you’ll unlock the key to success as an owner/operator.
Here, we present five of the biggest owner/operator expenses and how to account for each in your total budget.
Fuel is by far the greatest expense to those owning and operating a truck; the average fuel cost for owner/operators ranges from $50,000 to $70,000. You don’t have to estimate your fuel costs each week, month, or year, though. Plan in advance by sorting out your truck’s average cost per mile. This is done by dividing your fuel cost per gallon by average MPG, then multiplying that number by the expected number of miles you’ll drive. Once you have that number, the next thing to do is figure out your fuel efficiency.
The most effective way to get the ideal fuel mileage is by finding the best RPM to run your engine. When you pull your load with torque and not horsepower, you’ll burn less fuel because your truck will use less energy.
The truck itself is another large expense, and the primary truck-related expenses pertain to maintenance and tires. Though the price for maintenance may vary depending on other factors, such as the age of the truck, make, and model, alongside the quality of maintenance, you can still expect it to run you approximately 10% of overall costs. It’s helpful to budget for more than you think your maintenance will cost to avoid any financial surprises. Make sure to set aside a maintenance fund.
Furthermore, the average annual tire expense for retreading can exceed $4,000. This number is contingent on variables like miles driven, load weight, number of tires you have, types of tires you purchase, and wear patterns of the truck. When it comes to making the most cost-effective decision in purchasing tires, it’s important to consider the cost and expected lifespan of the tires.
3.Food & Drink
Even for the everyday person, dining out can quickly add up. Owner/operators are constantly on the go, and the prices of food and snacks are often significantly higher on the highway. This means it’s especially important to budget for eating at restaurants, snacks, and drinks. Once the budget is set, do your best to stick to it.
There are a couple of ways you can cut costs when it comes to food and beverage. Invest in keeping a mini-fridge and microwave in your sleeper. Owner/operators are also given a per diem tax break for travel expenses, including meals. As of last year, the per diem rate is 80% of $66 per day. Just be sure to save all receipts for qualifying tax deductions.
As a hired truck driver, you hardly have to worry about taxes because the company handles such matters. However, owner/operators are responsible for paying a variety of taxes, including but not limited to the fuel tax, federal heavy vehicle use taxes, self-employment tax, and so forth. To avoid any unnecessary stress or confusion, use of a professional tax preparer to ensure you receive every possible deduction and your returns are handled properly.
Trucking insurance also packs a hefty price tag, costing owner/operators anywhere from $8,000 to $14,000. Some coverage is required, while other insurances are optional. Common insurances needed are Truckers General Liability, Primary Liability, Physical Damage, and Non-Trucking Liability. Be sure to examine your coverages carefully as all insurance isn’t created equal. An insurer might offer cheaper coverage, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the protection you’ll need on the road. Just as essential as having an insured truck is having health medical coverage for yourself. Be sure to factor this must-have into your budget as well.
For more information on how to achieve success as an owner/operator, be sure to follow our blog to stay in-the-know with the latest industry news.
IRS Brings Back Form 1099-NEC
The IRS form known as 1099-NEC is returning for the 2020 tax year. The 1099 form has been in use for a long time—it’s the tax form used for independent contractors to report their taxable income. The NEC variant hasn’t always been in use, however, as it was replaced in the early 1980s by an updated, more robust version of 1099 MISC. This year, the form you’ll use to report information about your income as an independent contractor has changed. In this article we’ll describe why that is and what you need to know to be prepared. Filing taxes correctly can save you a lot of time, money, and headache—so make sure to do your due diligence and brush up on what’s new for 2020, and read our other tips for trucking success once you’ve made a plan for this tax season.
Supposedly, the revival of this tax form is in response to the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act), which now requires businesses to file new information returns that are specific to their 1099 (aka non-employee) workers by January 31 of each year. The PATH Act created new problems with the IRS and its ability to process data, because the due date for 1099-MISC forms those same workers would have to file wouldn’t be due until March 31. In order to skirt this issue, the new version of 1099-NEC, available on the IRS website, contains a new box for indicating non-employee compensation (NEC). Note, the 1099-NEC form isn’t replacing 1099-MISC. Rather, it’s a supplemental form that deals with NEC. As we’ll explain later, 1099-MISC is used to report many different types of miscellaneous income, and for that reason, it still remains in use for employers, businesses, and non-employed contractors alike.
How This Affects Fleet Owners and Drivers
If you work for a fleet or are a fleet owner yourself, it’s important to acknowledge this change. If you’re an operator, this will be the form you’ll have to fill out and supply to both the government and your contract supplier, which is slightly different from the 1099-MISC you’ve likely filled out in previous years and will have to fill out again this year. If you’re a fleet owner, this will be the form you’ll have to issue to your independent contractors in 2020.
Form 1099-MISC, which most seasoned owner/operators should be familiar with, is what’s called an information return businesses of all kinds use to report payments to outside independent contractors. This form is also used for other types of income payments like royalties and rent payments, which only applies to certain types of businesses. Any contractor who makes more than $600 from one particular source will receive a 1099-MISC from that source. For the most part, the 1099-MISC is filled out a lot like form W-2, except it has extra boxes for giving information about non-employed contractors.
The 1099-MISC form is an information return used to report types of payments made to independent contractors. Payments included can come in the form of royalties and rents as well, but for most O/Os, this form will be used to assess what you owe based on what outside businesses paid you during the last fiscal year.
Here’s a full list of income types that can be reported on a 1099-MISC:
- Fishing boat proceeds
- Medical and health care payments
- Substitute payments in lieu of dividends or interest
- Crop insurance proceeds
- Excess golden parachute payments
- Gross proceeds paid to an attorney
So, What Do You Report on 1099-NEC?
1099-NEC is for reporting non-employee compensation. These include the following taxable payment types to independent contractors: fees, commissions, prizes, awards, and other forms of potentially non-monetary forms of compensation for services rendered. For every 1099-NEC, there are multiple copies that need to be sent to the proper parties.
Use this checklist to make sure your 1099-NEC copies get sent to the proper places:
- Copy A: Send this copy to the IRS
- Copy 1: Send to your state tax department, if your state collects income tax
- Copy B: Send to your independent contractor
- Copy 2: Send this copy of the state return to your Independent contractor
- Copy C: To be kept for your business records
Have More Questions about Taxes?
Taxes can be difficult to manage, which is why we make a point to keep our readers updated on the latest changes to tax code and different financial strategies for owner/operators. If you’re interested in what truckers have been doing to find enough capital to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic, read our blog on short-term financing. Keep up to date on the state of trucking in America by reading our posts on supply chain and employment topics, which you can find here. If you’re new to trucking, and want to get started with your own fleet or your own rig, contact us with any questions you might have and we can help you get started in a brand new career.