Is ignorance of tax law a good defense for homeschool teachers?

A homeschool leader became concerned about a paid teacher in her homeschool group. It seems this woman has not reported her income from teaching at the homeschool program for 7 years!

The teacher has refused to listen when others try to explain her tax obligation.

The leader told me that the teacher “stops me in mid sentence because she wants to claim ignorance if she were to get audited.”

She believes she could claim, “I didn’t know.”

 So is ignorance of the tax laws a good defense?

Not typically!

Typically, ignorance of the law is not a defense in our criminal justice system.  Under a long-standing legal fiction, defendants are, instead, presumed to know the law. Source: https://www.freemanlaw-pllc.com/cheek-defense-federal-tax-crimes/

 

But in this case, the teacher is NOT ignorant of her obligation to report her income.

She is willfully blind.

“Most courts agree that if the taxpayer willfully remains “blind” to his or her obligations under the tax laws, no valid defense can exist.” Source: https://thetaxlawyer.com/…/tax-law-mistake-ignorance…

 

In other words, since the paid teacher is being willfully blind, she has no defense as to why she is evading income tax.

And as a taxpayer I don’t like it when other people evade taxes!

 

Your responsibility as a homeschool leader is to file the required reports, either a 1099-MISC (for Independent Contractors) or W-2 (for employees) with the IRS by January 31 each year.

 

My book Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization explains the required reports your homeschool group should be giving to its workers (and a whole lot more!)

Carol Topp, CPA

HomeschoolCPA.com

Summer reading for homeschool leaders: Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization

Summer is a great time for homeschool leaders to catch up on some reading. I’m highlighting a book each week of summer and this week I’m spotlighting,

 

This book began in 2009 as a 20 page ebook. Homeschooling has changed a lot in the past 9 years and homeschool leaders are asking a lot of questions about paying workers. The book grew from 20 to 130 pages!
I expanded it in 2016 and then it needed an update in late 2017!
 

This 130 page book covers paying workers as employees or independent contractors. There are also chapters on paying volunteers and board members. It includes sample forms, tips and advice to help you pay workers in accordance with the IRS laws to help your organization pay their workers correctly. Written specifically for homeschool organizations.

 Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Can You Pay a Volunteer?Chapter 2: Paying Board Members and Other LeadersChapter 3: Employee or Independent Contractor? Worker ClassificationChapter 4: Guidelines for Hiring Independent Contractors

Chapter 5: Tax Forms for Independent Contractors

Chapter 6: Payroll Taxes for Employers

Chapter 7: Tax Forms for Employers

Chapter 8: Sample Agreements

Chapter 9: Resources

Who should read this book?
  • Anyone running a homeschool organization that pays workers of any kind.
  • Anyone who wonders is a volunteer be paid?
  • Anyone who has ever asked,”Should a worker be treated as an employee or independent contractor?”
  • Anyone who gives payments or significant discounts to board members or volunteers.
 Carol Topp, CPA

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Aren’t Classical Conversations tutors just like online tutors?

I’m a Classical Conversations Director and I have a local CPA. I have a question about independent contractor status for tutors. The articles I read here seem to suggest we should treat tutors as employees. Yet, for several years I worked as a tutor for national online tutoring company as an independent contractor. I was given training, direct oversight, evaluations, worked for 5-10 hours a week, yet I was an independent contractor.

What is the difference with CC tutors in the eyes of the IRS? Just trying to understand!

Thanks, Allison

 

Allison,
Thank you for contacting me.

You seem to assume that your worker classification as an Independent Contractor as  a tutor for a national online tutoring company was the correct classification. I’m not convinced it was.

You only told me four bits of information about your relationship with the online tutoring company (?I was given training, direct oversight, evaluations, worked for 5-10 hours a week), yet three of those practices (training, evaluations, and oversight) would confirm your status should have been as an employee, not an Independent Contractor.

When I make a worker determination, I do not base my conclusions on what other companies have done or are doing. I base my conclusions on the IRS guidelines, tax court cases, IRS rulings, and the facts and circumstances of each case.

You asked, “What is the difference with CC tutors in the eyes of the IRS?” There may not be many differences in the online tutoring and tutoring for CC,  but I don’t assume that you were correctly treated as an IC when you did the online tutoring.

Classical Conversations offers an ebook I wrote, Taxes for Licensed Classical Conversations Directors, where I explain the options to CC Directors in how to pay tutors.  You can treat your tutors as Independent Contractors and in the ebook I explain the risks and consequences involved.

You might show portions of the ebook to your local CPA and get his/her opinion. If they determine your tutors are Independent Contractors, then your should request that they put their conclusion in writing and on their firm letterhead. A letter like that could possibly help you avoid IRS penalties if you are ever investigated by the IRS. But let’s hope you never need it!
If you have more questions, I would be happy to arrange a phone consultation with you. I charge $75/hour for a consultation with a nonprofit organization. We can discuss a lot of topics in an hour, but in particular your questions about paying your CC tutors.

Carol Topp, CPA

 

Can a homeschool group deduct tuition from a teacher’s pay?

A homeschool program charges $2,300  per student per year for tuition. Many of the teachers in the program also have their children enrolled in the program.

The leader, Lauren, was deducting the amount of tuition owed from the teacher’s pay and reporting only the difference that she actually paid the teacher.

For example:

Teacher’s earnings: $4,000

Tuition that the teacher owed: $2,300

Teacher’s paychecks: $1,700 ($4,000 less $2,300)

Additionally, Lauren was filing the teacher’s W-2 (or 1099-MISC) and reporting wages of only $1,700, but the true earnings were $4,000.

I advise that homeschool organization DO NOT net the teacher’s pay and her tuition owed like this!

Here’s why:

Picky CPA reason: This netting (subtracting the amount paid to the teacher by the tuition she owed) masks the true amount of teacher pay and the true amount of tuition received in your bookkeeping. The homeschool leadership needs to know the total income from tuition and the total expenses paid for teachers. Netting them masks the true income and true expenses. Additionally, the total amounts of income and expenses must be reported to the IRS (usually on Form 990 or 990-EZ).

More important reason: Taxes! 

The teacher’s payments for her services is taxable earned income. But her child’s tuition is a personal  expense and not tax deductible.

I recommend that the teacher should be paid the full amount earned (in my example, $4,000) and in a separate transaction, she should pay her tuition to Lauren’s homeschool program.

Lauren was advised that she will need to amend the W-2s she gave to her teacher to correct this mistake. This will be an unwelcome surprise to the teacher, but it’s the correct, legal amount to report.

I know it seems like extra work and more complicated, but netting or offsetting the two transactions could distort the total amount of compensation the teacher needs to report to the IRS. It’s mixing taxable income with a non-tax-deductible personal expense.

That’s called tax evasion and the IRS doesn’t take kindly to tax evasion.

Cover Money Mgmt HS OrgFor more information on paying workers and correctly recording transactions in an accounting system, you may find my book, Money Management in a Homeschool Organization, helpful.

 

Carol Topp, CPA

 

Can a homeschool co-op have independent contractors and follow the IRS guidelines?

Hi Carol!

Are you aware of any homeschool co-ops/tutorials that have hired teachers as independent contractors and do it in a way that follows the IRS guidelines?
Thanks!
Lauren

Lauren,

I am aware of a lot of homeschool co-op and tutorials that pay teachers as Independent Contractors. Are they following the IRS rules?

Maybe. It depends. Read on…

After a lot of research into IRS rulings and US Tax Court cases concerning the classification of teachers (usually college professors), I learned that one of the factors that weighed heavily in the decision (employee or Independent Contractor) was:

Does the worker provide the primary activity of the organization.

This was really important in the IRS and tax court decisions.

Case 1: employees: I spoke to one homeschool leader who ran a homeschool tutorial program with 12 teachers, all paid instructors. There were no volunteer teachers. Those teachers are providing the key activity of the business. Without them, there would be no homeschool tutorial program. Those teachers are employees.

Case 2: Independent Contractor: On the other hand, I spoke to a homeschool co-op leader who had 15 parents volunteering as teachers and one paid outside person to teach one class. This person was very independent (she had an established tutoring business, picked her own curriculum, received no training or benefits from the co-op, brought in her own supplies, and many other factors).  She was treated as an Independent Contractor. Her services were not the key activity of the co-op; what the volunteer parents provided was the key activity of the co-op. The co-op could continue to exist if that Independent Contractor teacher was unavailable.
This co-op did everything they could to avoid controlling their Independent Contractor teacher. They also has a written agreement and she invoiced the co-op for her services.

But just to be sure, they requested I write a letter clearly stating the facts of their situation and my determination that the outside teacher was correctly classified as an Independent Contractor. It’s called a comfort letter.

My letter, as the opinion of a tax professional licensed to practice before the IRS, can serve as a reasonable basis if the IRS ever questions the homeschool co-op. This reasonable basis will help the homeschool co-op avoid any penalties and back taxes from the IRS.

See how the facts and circumstances of each case can be different? There is not bright line test in worker classification. The determination if your homeschool program teacher is an employee or Independent Contractor depends on the facts and circumstances of each case.

If you would like help determining your teacher’s status or have me write a “comfort” letter, contact me. We’ll set up a phone call where I ask you a bunch of questions. The phone call will be followed up with an email containing a fact-based determination and information to help you take the next steps.

My book Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization is a great place to start to understand how to properly classify your workers.

I released a podcast on creative ways that homeschool co-ops hire teachers without paying them as employees. It runs about 9 minutes long.

Creative Ways to Run Your Co-op Without Employees

I hope that helps,

Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping homeschool leaders

Update to Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization

 

I released the 2nd edition of my book Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization in November 2016, 11 months  ago.

Now, less than a year later, it needs an update. Several events occurred that required me to research the issue of worker classification for homeschool organizations. As a result of my research, I have made several changes to the book.

The update is significant enough that I’m calling it the 3rd edition!

 

The paperback book will be unavailable for a short time while it is getting updated. I expect the paperback and Kindle versions to be ready by October 15, 2017.

Update (October 13, 2017): The paperback version has been updated. The Kindle update should be completed before November 1, 2017.

The ebook version (in pdf) is available now.

Wonder what changed? Or maybe you bought an earlier version of the book and you want to know what’s different.

I created a document explaining what was added or eliminated from the book between the 2nd and 3rd editions. I clarified when a teacher should be paid as an employee and added some additional Sample Agreements including an employment agreement.

Summary of Changes to Paying Workers 3rd edition (click to open the file).

Carol Topp, CPA

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Background checks for homeschool organizations

A homeschool leader on the Homeschool-Life Leaders Forum asked,

Could you share what companies you use to do background checks for your organization?

 

Here are some of the companies that homeschool groups use for doing background checks on employees and volunteers:

Protectmyministry.com

We have used ClearStar.net for several years. They charge $7.95 for a basic criminal background check. Our members can fill in their own information, so we don’t have to deal with paperwork and shredding personal information.

We use Federal Background Services. very reasonable and efficient

My co-op uses SecureSearchPro.com. They charge us about $14/check. They customized our background search to fit our specific needs. They bill us on a monthly basis. I really like them, they are easy to use, members fill out an online form so I never have to gather their personal information.

 

Many states now require background checks on any individuals working with children. You church host may require background checks as well. So the companies mentioned above may be very helpful to you in running your homeschool programs.

 

Carol Topp, CPA

HomeschoolCPA.com

Helping homeschool leaders

Need advice when hiring your first employee? Discount program available to nonprofits.

Hiring employees can seem like a taunting task. My book Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization can help a lot, but if you want extra services, consider contacting a service like HR Solutions Partners.

The HR Solutions Partners discount program at TechSoup provides human resources support services to eligible nonprofit organizations, charities, and public libraries throughout the United States.

With minimal experience, you can use HR Solutions Partners services for support in training employees, administering payroll, measuring employee performance, and more.

I’ve not used them, so I cannot vouch for their services, but it can’t hurt to call and talk to them.

Carol Topp, CPA

Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization covers paying workers as employees or independent contractors. There are also chapters on paying volunteers and board members. It includes sample forms, tips and advice to help you pay workers in accordance with the IRS laws to help your organization pay their workers correctly. Written specifically for homeschool organizations.

$9.95 paperback

$3.99 ebook

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Recording of Business Failure in the Homeschool Marketplace webinar

Yesterday I presented a webinar “Business Failure in the Homeschool Market that many of you (about 90!) attended.

 

Here’s the link to download the recording of the webinar.
The webinar lasted 2 hours because of all the questions asked, so it may take a few minutes to download.

 

Here’s a handout of the information I discussed.

 

We talked about
  • What triggers an IRS audit into worker classification
  • Factors to determine independent contractors or employee status
  • Consequences of misclassification and IRS programs to avoid penalties
  • What options are there for a homeschool co-op or academy
  • Are homeschool tutors or teachers at risk

I referenced my book Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization which may be helpful to many of you.

 I also mentioned that I offer a Worker Classification determination service if you need help determining if your workers are independent contractors or employees.

I’m happy to help and relieve any anxiety you have about this confusing topic.

Carol Topp, CPA

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What are the consequences of misclassifying a worker?

In the news and social media recently has been the sad story about a popular service offering classes for homeschool students having to close. In late December 2016, Landry Academy announced “It is with much sadness that we close the doors of Landry Academy.”

I do not know the details of their unfortunate situation, but it seems that there was an IRS requirement for Landry Academy to reclassify their teachers as employees, rather than independent contractors.

You may be wondering: What are the consequences of misclassifying workers?

Here’s what I tell business owners, nonprofit leaders, and anyone else hiring workers:

IRS Penalties

Under Internal Revenue Code section 3509 the penalties for worker misclassification include:

  • Paying a portion of federal income tax (1.5% of payroll),
  • Employer (100%) and employee (20%) shares of FICA taxes
  • Federal unemployment compensation taxes (FUTA).
  • In addition penalties for missed deposits (10%) and withholdings (20%) can be assessed.

Additional penalties include:

  • $50 for each Form W-2 that the employer failed to file because of classifying workers as an independent contractor.
  • A Failure to Pay Taxes penalty equal to 0.5% of the unpaid tax liability for each month up to 25% of the total tax liability.

Other Penalties

That’s pretty bad when you ad it all up, but the list of consequences goes on to include:

  • Penalties for failure to file state and local income tax withholding
  • Penalties due to unemployment insurance shortfalls
  • Worker’s compensation violations
  • Improper exclusion from benefit plans such as pension, retirement plans, health insurance, paid leave, severance pay, etc.

Here’s a long list of The Consequences of Misclassifying Your 1099 Contractors

Scared yet? You probably should be.

Worker misclassification is a serious issue and can cause significant financial hardship and has caused several businesses to close.

Here’s help

My book Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization can help clear a lot of confusion, but perhaps you want to discuss your particular situation in a private, individual phone consultation.

I offer phone consultations to help you determine if your homeschool organization’s workers are employees or independent contractors. The phone call will be followed up with an email containing a fact-based determination and information to help you take the next steps.

To request a consultation, please contact me. I’m happy to help and relieve any anxiety you have about this confusing topic.

Carol Topp, CPA

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