Career Development

W-9 vs. 1099 Tax Forms: What Is the Difference?

September 14, 2021

W-9 and 1099 forms are tax documents commonly used by businesses and independent contractors when they work together. It's important to understand when to use each of these documents so that you can provide the correct information to employers and financial institutions as well as properly file your taxes at the end of the year.

In this article, we discuss what a W-9 is, what a 1099 is and the appropriate situations in which to use each.

Related: Q&A: Should I Be an Employee or Independent Contractor?

What is a W-9?

A W-9 is a form used by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and is also known as the Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification. This form is provided to employees, contractors and freelancers by employers. The purpose of this form is to collect accurate tax information from the employee so that the employer can properly report income payments.

Within the W-9, you will be required to fill in information such as your:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Social Security number
  • Federal tax classification

The W-9 will then get returned to the employer, with your signature on the bottom. The employer will keep a copy of the W-9 on file, should the IRS audit them, but they do not need to submit the W-9 to the IRS. The purpose of the W-9 is simply so the employer has the correct information in regards to employees they are working with when it comes time to submit other forms during tax season.

Employers should give contractors and freelancers a W-9 to fill out once they begin working. That way, if the freelancer or contractor earns more than $600 (the threshold for submitting a 1099 form at the end of the year), they'll already have all the information they need. You can find the most recent version of the W-9 form on the IRS website.

Here are some key differences between the W-9 and 1099 forms:

W-9 1099
Purpose Provides employer correct information for tax and payment documentation Provides IRS tax information about contractor earnings
Responsible Requested by employer or financial institution and filled out by contractor May be filled out and filed by employers and contractors
Filing details Not sent to IRS Needs to be filed with IRS by January 31st
Frequency Should only be resubmitted if information changes Should be submitted to IRS every tax year contractors are employed

Related: Becoming an Independent Contractor: Pros and Cons

Q&A: Do I need a W-9?

You should only need to fill out a W-9 if your employer or financial institution asks for one so they have the correct information to process your payment and tax documentation. This form is only for institutional documentation purposes, not to be sent to the IRS. If any other institutions or individuals ask for a W-9, you should proceed with caution and diligently research who they are and what they want with your information.

Here are the most common situations in which you may need to fill out a W-9 form:

  • For financial institutions you open new accounts or invest with
  • For employers you contract with
  • For individuals or organizations who cancel or clear a debt you owe them

Related: Freelancer vs. Independent Contractor: What's the Difference?

Tax deadline for a W-9

Historically, the deadline for filing your taxes is April 15th. Since W-9s do not go directly to the IRS, there is not necessarily a deadline to file the W-9, specifically. However, the tax documents informed by the W-9 should be submitted before the federal deadline and the W-9 should be completed before you start work with an employer.

What is a 1099?

A 1099 is a document or a series of documents used by the IRS to track different types of income, other than salary, received from an employer. At the end of each year, it is the responsibility of the person paying to provide a completed 1099 form to the person they pay. For example, if a business hires a freelancer, they will fill out one of the 1099 documents and send it to the freelancer by January 31.

The different types of 1099 documents include:

1099-MISC

This document is for anyone who has hired a contractor or freelancer and who paid them over $600. Employers are required to fill out and submit a 1099-MISC form for each independent contractor they work with whom meets the income threshold. Employers will send a copy to both the independent contractor and the IRS. Independent contractors should expect to receive a copy of this form from each entity they provided services to during that year.

1099-INT

The 1099-INT typically comes from banks where you have interest-bearing accounts. The interest you earn on investments is taxable, and therefore must be reported to the IRS.

1099-DIV

Similar to the 1099-INT, the 1099-DIV reports on your dividends from stock investments. When a corporation makes a payment directly to shareholders in the form of a dividend, this income gets reported on the 1099-DIV. The 1099-DIV form will be provided to you by the investment firm.

1099-C

If you have a portion of your debt canceled, this cancellation is treated as income by the federal government. For instance, if a credit card company decides that you no longer need to pay back your balance, they will send you a 1099-C form to document the amount of debt you have had canceled.

1099-G

The 1099-G form is used by government agencies to report any income you have received from them. This could include unemployment benefits or income tax refunds. Anyone who receives unemployment benefits during the year should receive a 1099-G from the government and report the income on their tax returns.

1099-R

If you withdraw money from your IRA, this amount is taxed as income. Individuals will receive a 1099-R at the end of the year that reports the total amount of withdrawals you made during the year. The form will also typically show the taxable amount on the form itself.

1099-K

The 1099-K form is typically used when you receive payments via debit, credit or store-valued cards. This is common for online retailers who accept card payments online. You will receive a 1099-K from third-party processors if you completed over $20,000 in sales and if there were more than 200 individual transactions.

1099-S

A 1099-S form is used to report income gained from real estate transactions. This could include the selling of property or rental income. It is the seller's responsibility to track and submit all relevant information regarding the sale to the IRS.

Related: Guide to Unemployment Benefits

Who should fill out a 1099?

Both companies and individuals may need to fill out a 1099. For example, employers will send out W-9 forms when they first begin working with an independent contractor to collect their tax information, but they will also complete a 1099 at the end of the year to record the total payments they made to that contractor.

Individuals need to fill out the W-9 if they work as a freelancer or independent contractor. They will also need to file a 1099 to the IRS at the end of the year for each business they provided products or services to. Individuals may also receive a 1099 for other income, such as interest on investments or if you accept online payments via credit or debit cards.

Related: A Guide To Collecting Unemployment for the Self-Employed

Tax deadline for a 1099

The 1099 form must be completed and filed with the IRS by January 31st whether you file by electronic or paper mail.

When to use a W-9 vs. a 1099

The form you need to use will largely depend on who is requesting the information. If you are an independent contractor and the company you are working with needs information about you, then you need to submit a W-9. If it is the federal government requesting the information, then you'll need one of the 1099 forms to report on your various income sources. For employers, it is both the contractors and the federal government requesting information, in which case you'll need to submit two copies of a 1099 form.

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