Tax Rules for Ridesharing Drivers

Uber and Lyft Taxes on Income: How and When to Pay

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Making some extra money just by driving your car can be a nice gig, but you might want to consider tax issues if you're working with Uber, Lyft, Via, or any similar rideshare network. You'll pay income tax on the money earned by simply giving someone a ride in your car, but you can also deduct work-related expenses.

Independent Contractor or Employee?

Your work status affects how you calculate and pay your taxes, so the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) wants to know whether you're an independent contractor or an employee. You are most likely—but not always—an independent contractor when you work for a ridesharing company.

Check with a tax professional if you're unsure about your status because making a mistake can be a big headache, particularly if you claim that you're an employee so you can skip paying estimated taxes and you're actually an independent contractor. You can also find more information at the IRS Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center.

The IRS looks at several factors when deciding on your work status. Three factors in particular can help you determine your status:

Who Controls Your Work?

You're probably an employee if the company controls or has the right to control what you do, how you do it, and when you work. You're likely an employee if a company tells you exactly when to drive, where to drive, and whom to pick up.

Who Owns Your Car?

Employers control the business aspects of the job on behalf of their employees. You are probably an employee if the company provides you with equipment, such as giving you a company car to drive.

Do You Receive Benefits?

You're most likely an employee if you've entered into a written contract or receive employee benefits, such as a pension plan, insurance, or vacation pay.

California voters approved Proposition 22 in November 2020, defining app-based drivers, such as those who work for Lyft and Uber, as independent contractors. But a California Superior Court judge ruled on Aug. 20, 2021, that the law is unconstitutional. An Uber spokesperson has indicated that the company will appeal.

The Tax Impact

You'll pay FICA taxes of 15.3% of your net earnings if you're an independent contractor: 12.4% for Social Security and 2.9% for Medicare. This is in addition to income tax. You would pay only half of these Social Security and Medicare taxes if you were an employee—your employer would pay the other half.

You're also responsible for sending quarterly estimated taxes to the IRS as someone who makes their living through independent contract work. Again, this is something the employer would handle if you were an employee.

Here's a brief rundown of how self-employment income is taxed differently from regular wages:

  Employees Independent Contractors
How income is taxed Gross wages, minus pretax benefits are subject to income tax, Social Security, and Medicare taxes Gross receipts, minus allowable business deductions, are subject to income tax and self-employment tax
Federal income tax Yes Yes
Social Security tax Yes (pay half) Yes (pay entire tax)
Medicare tax Yes (pay half) Yes (pay entire tax)
State income tax Yes (where applicable) Yes (where applicable)
Tax documents received at the end of the year Form W-2 Form 1099-NEC and/or Form 1099-K
Where reported on the tax return Form 1040, Line 1 Form 1040, Schedule C, and Schedule 1
Documents you fill out when starting to work Forms I-9 and W-4 Form W-9
How taxes are paid Through payroll withholding Through estimated taxes
How work-related expenses are deducted Not deductible  As business deductions on Schedule C

Specific Tax Tips

You're eligible for certain expense deductions related to your rideshare business if you're an independent contractor. Keep detailed records and documentation, including a mileage log to calculate the percentage of miles driven for work purposes. You can download a mobile app to keep track of mileage. You should also maintain records of your work-related expenses, including car repairs, gas, maps, and supplies.

You can deduct the standard mileage rate, which is 56 cents per mile for tax year 2021, or you can deduct a percentage of your actual expenses equal to the percentage of time you drive for income-earning purposes. The IRS periodically changes the mileage rate to keep pace with inflation. You can use whichever method produces more savings for you, but you can't do both.

You can deduct tolls and parking separately from, and in addition to, the standard mileage rate deduction. 

Include miles you log when driving people around, plus other business-related driving. This might include a trip to the bank to make a business-related deposit, or to a retail establishment to purchase supplies. The IRS can disallow the deduction if you don't keep a mileage log.

It's important to keep track of your personal driving in your vehicle because those miles aren't eligible for a tax deduction. For example, you can deduct 80% of your auto expenses if you drove 50,000 miles last year and 40,000 of them were for work. Likewise, you can only apply the standard mileage rate to those 40,000 miles.

Other work-related expenses, such as drinks and snacks you buy for riders, are also deductible. A portion of your phone bill can be considered a business expense if your cellphone bill usage increases due to driving or because you need to buy a higher-cost plan to accommodate the higher data usage.

Forms 1099-NEC and 1099-K

Uber, Lyft, and other ridesharing services will send you a Form 1099-NEC and/or a Form 1099-K after year's end. These are effectively the equivalent of Form W-2 for employees, although they won't show any withholdings because an independent contractor has no taxes withheld from their income.

You should receive these forms in late January so you can report your earnings for the year on your tax return. Use them to complete Schedule C, "Profit or Loss From Business." All your income and deductible expenses should be entered on this form.

You'll only receive a Form 1099-NEC if you were paid more than $600 for the year, but the IRS still expects you to report the income on your tax return if you earn less. Form 1099-K reports any income you earn while driving (when you have a paying passenger in the car), while Form 1099-NEC covers other types of payments you may have received.

Paying Estimated Taxes

You'll pay taxes directly to the IRS as an independent contractor because you don't have an employer withholding income taxes from these earnings on your behalf. The IRS requires individuals (including partners, sole proprietors, and S corporation shareholders) to pay estimated tax payments if they expect to owe at least $1,000 throughout the tax year. Calculate the amount of each payment based on earnings for that quarterly time period.

You'll have to pay estimated taxes on your driving income, even if you also hold down a separate, regular job with an employer that withholds taxes from your pay and issues you a Form W-2. But you would only pay estimated taxes on your independent contractor earnings.

Another option is to increase your withholdings from your regular job pay to cover both employment and independent contractor income. Check with a tax professional to find out whether this makes sense for you. This typically works best if you don't earn a great deal as an independent contractor.