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Do I owe taxes on my crowdfunding project money?

If your crowdfunding funds are to develop a product, whether music or a new invention, the answer is most likely yes, you will owe taxes on the money. If the funds are for yourself with nothing promised back to the contributors (fund my trip to Europe) or for a charity the answer would be no, you do not owe taxes.

There may be some exceptions – but odds are they do not apply to you. If you think they do, you need to talk to a tax professional to be sure. The two major exceptions are gifts (an unlikely argument if the contributors are being promised a product) and equity (contributors are buying a share of your business). The equity argument is not only unlikely, but at the moment it is illegal in the United States. Equity based crowdfunding will soon be legal in the United States, but there will still be many rules and regulations around it.

Assuming you do owe taxes, what taxes are you going to owe? First, you are going to owe federal income tax. Your federal income tax will be based on the money you collect less any expenses incurred during the year. Many crowdfunding projects are not going to have taxable income because their expenses exceed the revenue collected from crowdfunding. There is also an argument that if the project has not been finished you can use what is called accrual accounting to defer the tax until the product is delivered. Because most crowdfunding projects do not promise to return the money collected if the project does not get finished, this probably cannot be used. The IRS will consider it what is called an advanced payment that tax is owed on the year collected.

If you do owe any federal income tax, you are also likely to owe federal self-employment taxes. This will depend a lot on if you are are a sole-proprietor, partnership, corporation, or other business entity such as LLC (which can be taxed as a partnership or s-corporation). This tax can be up to 15.3% of your self-employment income.

Federal taxes may not be the only tax you owe. Depending on the nature of your product or service, and what state you are in, you are also likely to owe sales tax. Other possible taxes include state income taxes and if you are in Tennessee (where I am) possibly the county and municipal business tax.

The crowdfunding site will report your income to the IRS if you exceed certain limits. They are required to send a Form 1099-K if your receipts exceed $20,000 and you have 200 or more transactions during the year. Remember, being sent a 1099 or not does not affect whether or not you owe tax, it only affects how likely you are to be caught. You should not base your tax decisions on the likelihood of being caught, but even without a 1099, your crowdfunding project is out there on the internet, so your income is not a secret.

Finally, there are other tax considerations depending on what your project is. Examples include the Research and Development Tax Credit and the Domestic Production Activities Deduction. These would mostly apply to software projects, but again, it may be worth talking to a tax professional to avoid missing out on tax benefits you are entitled to.