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Tax Talk: Gig earners must estimate tax witholdings | Business

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Q. As an Uber driver, I became part of the “gig” economy in 2019. An Uber veteran asked me if I had made any estimated income tax payments. She followed her question with a strong statement indicating these payments are required if penalty and interest were to be avoided. Please help me understand estimated income tax payments.

A. Many people earn money and have no income taxes withheld. “Gig” earners like yourself are self-employed along with a wide array of other folks who operate their own businesses, sole proprietorships or partnerships. Since income tax officials have seen the movie “Jerry Maguire,” they want you to “SHOW (or send) ME THE MONEY!”

Both federal and state governments have estimated income tax payment mandates that require taxpayers to predict their likely tax liability and make estimated payments on April 15, June 15, Sept. 15 and Jan. 15. Thus the next estimated tax payment for 2019 is due Wednesday.

Because of the peaks and valleys of earnings, the payments represent a taxpayer’s “guestimate” of what is owed. A “safe harbor” rule enables a taxpayer to avoid both penalty and interest. Succinctly, the “safe harbor” provides protection to a taxpayer if estimated payments add up to 90% of the tax shown on the individual’s current year Form 1040 or 100% of the tax reported on the prior year’s return.

We highly recommend you make a payment on or before Jan. 15 since the penalty provisions can be somewhat Draconian and the interest rates on underpayment of estimated taxes can fluctuate between 5% and 6% depending on the prime rate and other criteria.

Other taxpayers subject to the estimated tax payment rules include people who receive substantial dividends, interest and/or royalty income; report significant capital gains; or withdraw a Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) from their IRA or other pension plans. More details on estimated tax payments are available in IRS Publication 505-Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax.

Q. I was wondering about capital gains and losses when selling a vacation home. We purchased a Florida condo in 2005 and sold it at a huge loss in 2019. Can we recoup any of the loss through a tax credit or deduction? There was no mortgage involved.

A. The rules on capital gains and losses have more twists and turns than a Cirque du Soleil performance. We’ll cover the parts that apply to your case.

The IRS classifies your Florida vacation home as “personal use” property. That means if you have a gain when you sell, you can treat it (usually) as a capital gain. That’s the good news, since capital gains rates are normally lower than the rates on ordinary income.

The bad news is that a loss on personal use property is not deductible, nor does it qualify for any special tax breaks or credits. It’s one of those Maalox moments that often encourage taxpayers to seek professional counseling. We should add that things would be different if there were at least a partial-business-use component to the Florida property, such as renting to tenants, or conducting some type of commercial activity in or on the property.

Computing the amount of allowable loss could be a challenge. It would include the length of time you owned the property, the amount of depreciation taken before the sale, the percent of business use as opposed to personal use, and several other potentially mind-numbing factors.

Ken Milani is a Professor of Accountancy at the University of Notre Dame. His email is milani.1@nd.edu. Claude Renshaw, an Emeritus Professor of Business Administration at Saint Mary’s College, can be reached at renshaw1040@gmail.com. Email either to submit a question.

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Food delivery deaths: NSW transport minister criticised for ‘victim blaming’ | Gig economy

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The New South Wales transport minister, Andrew Constance, has been criticised for “victim-blaming” comments made about the recent deaths of delivery riders.

Five delivery riders have been killed in road crashes in Australia since 27 September, an average of one every 11 days. In Sydney, two Uber Eats riders were killed in separate crashes on Saturday morning and Monday evening.

The minister told reporters on Tuesday morning that food delivery companies needed to provide more reflective equipment, but that riders themselves had “a degree of self-responsibility” to “make sure that they are highly visible”.

The head of the Bicycle Network, Craig Richards, said there was no evidence any of the riders who died were not wearing enough reflective clothing.

He said the government’s taskforce into the deaths – announced on Tuesday – needed an urgent deadline, otherwise more people would die while waiting for its recommendations.

Daniel Mookhey, a NSW Labor MP who is chairing the current inquiry into the gig economy, said the government should act now.

“There is massive risk of more people dying riding for gig platforms before we hear anything from the taskforce,” he said.

“I’m disappointed the minister failed to set a deadline for the taskforce to finish its work. We haven’t even seen its terms of reference.”

Mookhey said the government could make an “emergency workplace health and safety regulation for food riders in the gig economy” while waiting for the taskforce.

He also confirmed he would consider speeding up the findings of the current inquiry, if the taskforce lagged behind.

“If the state government doesn’t take any meaningful action, I’m open to the inquiry fast-tracking its WHS and workers compensation recommendations,” he said. “Someone has to act.”

Richards said any timeframe longer than five months would make the taskforce pointless.

“In other workplaces, if five people were killed, you’d be on to it in a beat,” he said. “If it is six months, then no – we already have a parliamentary inquiry doing that.

“Tell us next week, if there are recommendations to be made, do it fast. We don’t want to rush, but at the moment, we have a concentration of fatalities, so we want to make sure we do everything we can.”

He said that Constance’s earlier comments on the deaths were “victim-blaming”.

On Tuesday morning, prior to the taskforce announcement, Constance said: “I have asked the agency to contact the companies – more must be done in terms of the reflective equipment that they are wearing. It wouldn’t matter if it is the actual bag they are carrying, or the clothes that they are wearing. We want to make sure that they increase their visibility on the roads.”

When asked whether he would support a Labor bill to mandate protections for workers, he said: “I think the key element is: let’s work with the companies on a solution. You know, and also the riders themselves, there has got to be a degree of self-responsibility to make sure that they are highly visible. So, you have got to find a good landing in that place.”

The minister also said that while the circumstances of each crash was different, “generally I think we would all acknowledge that they are getting around the city typically in the night hours”.

Richards said there was no evidence that any of the riders who died were not wearing enough reflective or visible clothing.

The most recent fatal crashes in Sydney occurred at 11am and 6.40pm respectively.

“We have had five people who have lost their lives, to suggest that it was their fault for not wearing a vest – we don’t know that,” he said.

“At this stage we don’t know if they were wearing one or not. It is a horrible thought to suggest.”

He also criticised the minister for not telling motorists or car drivers to be more careful.

“It puts all the onus on the person riding,” he said. “The evidence shows that fluorescent vests don’t make a difference in that regard. People think you put one of these fluorescent vests on and you are bulletproof, and it solves all your problems.”

A spokeswoman for Constance did not answer questions on whether the taskforce had a deadline.

“Every death on our road is a tragedy,” she said. “It’s going to take work on all sides, from industry, individuals and government, to ensure the safety of delivery riders. We want to do everything possible as a government to ensure everyone is safe on our roads and at work.”

But Mookhey said the new taskforce “seems to have no additional powers”.

“SafeWork NSW has immense power, but hasn’t used them. Usually, when a person dies on the job, SafeWork NSW closes their workplace until they’re confident it’s safe.”

Richards said that drivers’ awareness of cyclists was important.

“It just makes more people realise: ‘When I am driving a vehicle, I better look out’. Whether a person is delivering food or riding for leisure. That is the classic mistake people make, they don’t look.”

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Navigating the gig economy: finding success as a freelancer – Richmond.com

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Gig-economy click farms surge during Covid-19

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Underground businesses that employ real people to facilitate fraudulent services such as fake clicks, CAPTCHA hacking and traffic inflation have seen a surge of interest in the past six months as the world has been plunged into a global recession, according to a report by fraud detection firm ClickCease.

While the dark web has copious fraud on offer, those looking to take advantage of these services need not look beyond the open web. Searching for ‘buy bot traffic for website’ or ‘buy clicks for website’ in major search engines yields tens of thousands of results. Many of these fraud instigators actually pay search engines to feature first in such search terms.

Fraudsters employ techniques of varying sophistication to facilitate this fraud, such as infecting devices with malware, taking over or spoofing IP addresses, and employing bots to generate clicks. But a new report from ClickCease has uncovered a growing economy of fraudulent marketplaces that pay real people to click on ads.

These sites operate in a similar way to gig-economy firms like TaskRabbit, employing a roster of tens of thousand of freelance workers to complete tasks. But instead of cleaning houses or assembling furniture, these workers are asked to click on ads, download apps and complete CAPTCHAs, and can earn US$100 per month to do so.

During Covid-19, such fraud marketplaces have offered a source of income to the millions of people who have been let go or found themselves in trying financial circumstances. According to ClickCease’s report, the majority of workers at such fraudulent sites come from low-income countries including India and Vietnam.

ClickCease co-founder Ilan Missulawin noted: “The underground ad click economy is only increasing in scale due to minimal enforcement and the challenges of Covid-19, as more people are being enlisted to make money without having to leave their homes.”

The 20 most prominent Pay to Click (PTC) sites, including Paidvert ScartletClicks and PTCShare, claim to have paid out more than US$13.2 million to online freelancers working in this gig economy, ClickCease found. With each worker paid 5 cents a click, this equates to 266 million ads clicked, ClickCease reports.

Traffic to these sites has surged in the past six months, ClickCease reports. One of the largest sites, NeoBux, has reached a peak of 9 million visitors per month. ScarletClicks achieved a 41% increase in traffic within six months to 1.3 million visits in September 2020. PTC Share has seen a 13% increase in traffic to 1.2 million visits a month.

Some sites offer the ability to evade detection by buying “safe” clicks. For example, Fivesquid offers $5 packages to deliver certain amounts of “safe” AdSense Clicks, such as real human visitors from the US, groups of clicks where the ‘user’  spends a minimum amount of time on a site, and clicks spaced out across a day.

Despite the fact that these sites violate Google’s terms and conditions, several vendors freely advertise on Google’s paid search terms for keywords such as “organic clicks”. For instance, Serpclix in its ad “discusses a pool of thousands of microworkers to optimize your organic CTRs and boost rankings”.

Clicks is one of the easiest advertising metrics to game. ClickCease has found that at least 15% of clicks on pay-per-click (PPC) ads through contracts with online advertising platforms, most notably Google, are invalid.

Beyond clicks, workers are employed to solve CAPTCHA verification tests, which are used to determine whether a user is a human or a robot.

One CAPTCHA-solving farm, 2Captcha, offers to solve 1,000 CAPTCHAS for $0.77 and claims to have more than 2,000 workers online at any one time. Deathbycaptcha.com offers solving rates at $1.39 per 1,000. 

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