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Small Business Tax Alert: Issue W-2s and 1099s Before the Deadline

Small business owners who pay employees or independent contractors need to be aware of annual IRS reporting and filing deadlines that occur early in the calendar year. Businesses must issue certain tax forms to workers and to the IRS in addition to regular tax filings. Understanding these requirements and planning for them now can help ensure your business stays on track and meets its obligations.


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What forms do I need to send to my employees and contractors for tax purposes?

The specific forms you need to prepare and send depend on how your workers are classified. If you have employees who earn hourly wages or salaries, for whom you withhold and remit payroll taxes, you will need IRS form W-2. If, instead, workers are independent contractors whose payments are not subject to payroll taxes, you will use IRS form 1099-NEC. Some small business owners have both employees and contractors on the payroll and must be aware of both filing obligations.

W-2 Forms for Employees

A W-2 form reports an employee’s compensation for the previous tax year (January 1 – December 31). The form includes the following information: 

  • Total compensation. 
  • Social Security wages. 
  • Medicare wages. 
  • Tips. 
  • Amounts withheld for federal, Social Security, Medicare, and state and local taxes during the year. 

The form also includes information about contributions to employer-sponsored retirement plans, pension plans, and employer-sponsored health coverage, as well as certain other less-common compensation such as moving expense reimbursements and qualified adoption expenses. If you had an employee who earned any amount of compensation during the tax year, you must file a W-2 form.

1099-NEC Forms for Non-Employees

There are several IRS tax reporting forms under the “1099” category. When reporting compensation paid to non-employee workers during the previous tax year, you’ll use the 1099-NEC (Non-Employee Compensation) form. You must furnish a 1099-NEC form if you made payments of at least $600 for services provided to your business during the year.

Note: In previous tax years, employers used form 1099-MISC to report such compensation; the 1099-NEC is required beginning with tax year 2020. Form 1099-MISC is still used for other purposes, such as reporting prizes and awards, but you will no longer use it to report compensation paid to independent contractors for services they provided.

What is the deadline for filing W-2s and 1099s?

You must provide employees with their W-2 forms and file them with the IRS no later than February 1, 2021, whether filing by paper or electronically. The annual reporting date is normally January 31 each year, but January 31 falls on a Sunday in 2021, and so business owners have until February 1, 2021.

Similarly, if you paid independent contractors in 2020, you must provide Form 1099-NEC to the payee and to the IRS by February 1, 2021. If you need to issue a 1099-MISC to someone to report other income payments, prizes or awards, you must furnish a copy of the form to the payee by February 1, 2021. However, you will have until March 1, 2021 to file it with the IRS if you file on paper, or March 31, 2021 if you file electronically.

What happens if I don’t send the W-2s and 1099s on time?

Failing to provide W-2s or 1099 forms to employees and contractors on time can be a costly mistake. In fact, you may find your business facing IRS penalties of $50 per form if you are between 1-30 days late, with a maximum fine for small businesses of $194,500. It will be $110 per form for those filed between 31 days late and August 1, 2021, with a maximum fine of $556,500. If forms still are not filed by August 1, the penalty amount goes up to $270 per form, with a maximum fine for small businesses of $1,113,000.

There are also potential IRS penalties for small businesses that file W-2 or 1099 forms with incorrect or illegible information, so it is important to prepare these forms carefully.

Where can I get help with my tax reporting and employee classification questions?

Small business owners have to juggle multiple responsibilities and stay on top of competing priorities to keep moving toward their goals. Understandably, W-2 and 1099 reporting may not be top of mind for everyone. And, with the busy holiday season approaching in a year that has been anything but normal, it could be easy to forget about these important tax filing deadlines. However, any small business owner who pays employees or independent contractors must meet these important requirements in order to avoid tax penalties and IRS scrutiny.

If you have questions about W-2s or 1099 requirements, or about other applicable small business operations obligations, help is available. Consult with a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney for help today!

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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