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Tips for Students Planning to Work during the Summer

As the summer break from school approaches, many students are looking for part-time summer employment. Both parents and students should be aware of the tax issues that need to be considered when working a summer job. Here is a rundown of some of the more common issues:

  • Completing Form W-4 – The W-4 form is used by employers to determine the amount of tax that will be withheld from your paycheck. Students with multiple summer jobs will want to make sure that all of their employers are withholding an adequate amount of taxes to cover their total income tax liability. Generally, a student with income only from summer and part-time employment, and who is claimed as a dependent of someone else, can earn as much as $6,200 (the standard deduction amount for 2014) without being liable for income tax. However, if the student has investment income, the tax determination becomes more complicated because, as he or she is a dependent of another, special rules apply.
  • Watch Out for Payroll Surprises – Some employers may attempt to avoid their payroll tax liabilities by paying the student in cash and incorrectly treating them as an independent contractor, thus leaving the student with the responsibility of paying both the employee’s and employer’s payroll tax liability (see self-employment tax below). If a potential employer intends to do that, they will generally ask the student to complete a Form W-9 rather than a W-4 or simply ask for their Social Security Number (SSN) without requesting a W-4.
  • Tips – If the student works as a waiter or a camp counselor, he or she may receive tips as part of his or her summer income. All tip income received is taxable income and is therefore subject to federal income tax. Employees are required to report tips of $20 or more received while working with any one employer in any given month. This reporting should be made in writing to the employer by the tenth day of the month following the receipt of tips. The employer withholds FICA (Social Security and Medicare taxes) and income taxes on these reported tips, then includes the tips and wages on the employee’s W-2.
  • Odd Jobs – Many students do odd jobs over the summer and are paid in cash. Just because it is paid in cash does not mean that it is tax-free. Unfortunately, the income is taxable and may be subject to self-employment taxes (see next). These earnings include income from odd jobs like dog walking, babysitting, and lawn mowing.
  • Self-Employment Tax – When a student works for an employer, the employer withholds Social Security tax and Medicare tax from his or her pay, matches the amount dollar for dollar, and remits the combined amount to the government. When a student is self-employed, he or she is required to pay the combined employee and employer amounts on their own (referred to as self-employment tax) if the net earnings are $400 or more. This tax pays for his or her benefits under the Social Security system and Medicare Part A. Even if he or she is not liable for income tax, this 15.3% tax may apply to a student’s odd jobs.
  • Working for Parents – A child under the age of 18 working in a business solely owned by his or her parents is not subject to payroll taxes. This saves the child from having to pay the 7.65% payroll taxes and also provides the parent with relief from payroll taxes. The payroll tax exception won’t apply if the parent’s business is set up as a corporation.
  • ROTC Students – Subsistence allowances paid to ROTC students participating in advanced training are not taxable. However, active duty pay – such as pay received during summer advanced camp – is taxable.
  • Newspaper Carrier or Distributor – Special rules apply to services performed as a newspaper carrier or distributor. An individual is a direct seller and treated as self-employed for federal tax purposes if he or she meets the following conditions:
    o They are in the business of delivering newspapers;
    o All of their pay for these services directly relates to sales rather than to the number of hours worked; and
    o They perform the delivery services under a written contract which states that they will not be treated as an employee for federal tax purposes.
  • Newspaper Carriers or Distributors Under Age 18 – Generally, newspaper carriers or distributors under age 18 are not subject to self-employment tax.
  • Retirement Plan Contributions – Putting away money for retirement is probably the last thing a student will want to spend their summer earnings on. However, having earned income opens up the opportunity to make traditional and Roth IRA contributions.