Vernoia, Enterline + Brewer, CPA LLC

Most people are familiar with tax withholding, which most commonly takes place when an employer deducts and withholds income and other taxes from an employee’s wages. However, many taxpayers are unaware that the IRS also requires payors to withhold income tax from certain reportable payments, such as interest and dividends, when a payee’s taxpayer identification number (TIN) is missing or incorrect. This is known as “backup withholding.”

Backup Withholding in General

A payor must deduct, withhold, and pay over to the IRS a backup withholding tax on any reportable payments that are not otherwise subject to withholding if:

  • the payee fails to furnish a TIN to the payor in the manner required;
  • the IRS or a broker notifies the payor that the TIN provided by the payee is incorrect;
  • the IRS notifies the payor that the payee failed to report or underreported the prior year’s interest or dividends; or
  • the payee fails to certify on Form W-9, Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification, that he or she is not subject to withholding for previous underreporting of interest or dividend payments.

The backup withholding rate is equal to the fourth lowest income tax rate under the income tax rate brackets for unmarried individuals.

Only reportable payments are subject to backup withholding. Backup withholding is not required if the payee is a tax-exempt, governmental, or international organization. Similarly, payments of interest made to foreign persons are generally not subject to information reporting; therefore, these payees are not subject to backup withholding. Additionally, a payor is not required to backup withhold on reportable payments for which there is documentary evidence, under the rules on interest payments, that the payee is a foreign person, unless the payor has actual knowledge that the payee is a U.S. person. Furthermore, backup withholding is not required on payments for which a 30 percent amount was withheld by another payor under the rules on foreign withholding.

Reportable Payments

Reportable payments generally include the following types of payments of more than $10:

  • Interest;
  • Dividends;
  • Patronage dividends (payments from farmers’ cooperatives) paid in money;
  • Payments of $600 or more made in the course of a trade or business;
  • Payments for a nonemployee’s services provided in the course of a trade or business;
  • Gross proceeds from transactions reported by a broker or barter exchange;
  • Cash payments from certain fishing boat operators to crew members that represent a share of the proceeds of the catch; and
  • Royalties.

Reportable payments also include payments made after December 31, 2011, in settlement of payment card transactions.

Failure to Furnish TIN

Payees receiving reportable payments through interest, dividend, patronage dividend, or brokerage accounts must provide their TIN to the payor in writing and certify under penalties of perjury that the TIN is correct. Payees receiving other reportable payments must still provide their TIN to the payor, but they may do so orally or in writing, and they are not required to certify under penalties of perjury that the TIN is correct.

A payee who does not provide a correct taxpayer identification number (TIN) to the payer is subject to backup withholding. A person is treated as failing to provide a correct TIN if the TIN provided does not contain the proper number of digits (nine) or if the number is otherwise obviously incorrect, for example, because it contains a letter as one of its digits.

The IRS compares TINs provided by taxpayers with records of the Social Security Administration to check for discrepancies and notifies the bank or the payer of any problem accounts. The IRS has requested banks and other payers to notify their customers of these discrepancies so that correct TINs can be provided and the need for backup withholding avoided.

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