WASHINGTON – A representative for the on-demand platform company TaskRabbit told the House Small Business Committee today that the current tax, regulatory and legal climate threatens the success of entrepreneurs in the new sharing economy. The panel of experts described to lawmakers the bevy of new tax compliance challenges faced by small employers, employees and their customers as they navigate the online, app-driven sharing economy.
“No matter what you call it, the sharing economy is changing the face of American entrepreneurship and small businesses before our very eyes,” said House Small Business Committee Chairman Steve Chabot (R-OH). “The dizzying pace of this change has presented many new opportunities and new challenges for the millions of Americans who participate in it.”
“These new platforms have dramatically changed the way companies provide goods and services, giving their workers unprecedented freedom and independence. However, in their enthusiasm, these entrepreneurs are running smack-dab into the buzz-saw of an outmoded tax code that is not designed to accommodate them,” observed Chabot.
“Unfortunately, the IRS has not been part of the solution for entrepreneurs in navigating this new sharing economy. Too often, it has been part of the problem. Our current tax system isn’t working for these new small businesses. In many ways, it is working against them. We can do better, we must do better,” Chabot added.
ENTREPRENEURS TASK WASHINGTON WITH TAX & REGULATORY REFORM
“Tax compliance is just one area of many where our Taskers could benefit from better training. Our Taskers also are looking for direction on how to better market themselves and their services, access health care, and plan for retirement,” testified Rob Willey, the Vice President of Marketing for TaskRabbit.“We at TaskRabbit would like to be a resource, a partner, and a collaborator for that training – it is one of our main areas of focus in determining what types of services we can provide for our Taskers. We hesitate to pursue the kinds of training services we want to provide simply because the threat of litigation and the risks tied to worker classification laws and regulations at the federal and state level are real.”
Pointing to a proposal by economist Joseph V. Kennedy, who also testified at today’s hearing, Willey called for a legal and regulatory “time-out” for new sharing economy companies.
“In the early years of the Internet, Congress imposed a moratorium on federal and state taxation of Internet transactions. Doing so helped a young, nascent sector of the economy develop and provide real benefits for consumers,” explained Willey. “A limited period of legal and regulatory relief would enable platform economy companies to pursue innovative ways to develop and provide services and benefits to those small business owners and entrepreneurs who utilize platform services.”
“What we want to avoid is a situation in which the burdens of tax compliance become so great that it forces Taskers to scale back on their tasks, if not compel them to leave the network altogether,” added Willey.
NEW STUDY: SMALL BIZ GETTING “SHORT-CHANGED” IN SHARING ECONOMY
“The current tax administration system isn’t working for a significant percentage of on-demand platform small business operators or Treasury or IRS,” noted Caroline Bruckner, the Managing Director of the Kogod Tax Policy Center at American University. “At the root of this problem is a lack of information and understanding of tax filing obligations, which is compounded by an information reporting regime that results in widespread confusion. And these tax compliance challenges are only going to continue to grow and impact more and more self-employed small business owners.”
“Everyone is losing under the current rules. Both on-demand economy players and the IRS deserve greater efficiency and less hassle. We can do better,” said Bruckner.
Bruckner is the author of a brand new study released this week titled“Shortchanged: The Tax Compliance Challenges of Small Business Operators Driving the On-Demand Platform Economy.”
“Although millions of Americans are engaging in the on-demand platform economy every day as sellers and service providers, the tax compliance challenges this new frontier presents have gone relatively unnoticed,” Bruckner’s study found. “At the same time, these challenges will grow with this fastest growing segment of the labor economy—creating unnecessary and ongoing burdens for the small business operators who power the on-demand economy.”
“At best, these small business owners are short-changed when filing their taxes; at worst, they fail to file altogether. In addition, these taxpayers face potential audit and penalty exposure for failure to comply with filing rules that are triggered by relatively low amounts of earned income and inconsistent reporting rule adoption,” the study concluded.
IS THERE AN APP FOR THAT?
“Congress and the IRS should take great care to make sure that the federal tax code enables—rather than stifles—the sharing economy,” testified Morgan Reed, the Executive Director of ACT/The App Association. “Specifically, the treatment of all sharing economy workers as 'employees' under the federal tax code would be detrimental to the sharing economy, especially small businesses.”
“Congress should work to advance legislation that would provide taxpayers with certainty and transparency in the tax resolution process and would provide the ability to settle disputes with the IRS in an effective and efficient manner,” Reed suggested.
*Today’s hearing was the first in a two-part series on tax compliance for small businesses in the sharing economy. On Thursday, the Committee will hear from the IRS’ National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson.