If you've recently started working in the service industry, you might wonder: Are tips taxable? In short, yes, tips are taxable income according to the IRS.

If you earn tips, you'll have to pay income, Social Security, and Medicare taxes on that money.

You may have a hard enough time working for tips, but if you aren't familiar with the tax rules for tips, it becomes even more difficult. 

Learn everything you need to know about tips and taxes.

Are tips taxable?

Yes, tips in the form of cash and non-cash are taxable according to the IRS. Tips are subject to federal income taxes unless the total amount of all tips are below $20.

When you receive a tip as an employee or employer, you are mandated to pay taxes on this additional income. Tips come in different forms; as a voluntary extra payment from a customer to an employee or an employer, and as charges added to debit card or credit card payments.

Tips are somewhat complicated especially for businesses with a big workforce. For individuals running businesses single-handedly, it's quite simple but in an employee and employer situation, both parties have responsibilities when it comes to reporting tips.

As you receive tips daily or however the frequency may be, endeavor to keep the accurate report and make a monthly submission to your employer. And if you're an employer, request and keep all records as submitted by your employees. Expect tips are below $20 each month, tips are taxable.

What kind of tips are subject to tax?

A customer can give cash tips physically at the point of purchase, give tips through electronic payment channels, or may even give gifts, tickets, and other valuable items. In whatever form a tip is given, which may also include tip splitting or tip-sharing arrangement, receivers must pay taxes.

However, as stated at the outset, if tips received are less than $20 then it requires no reporting.

Do you have to report cash tips to the IRS?

Tip income is taxable. Tipping can include cash left by customers, tips added to debit or credit card charges, tips distributed by your employer, or tips shared by other employees.

In reality, service charges, which are automatically added to a customer's bill, are not tips; the IRS considers them regular wages. Therefore, you're more likely to see them on payday than at the end of each shift. Here are some examples of service charges:

  • Bottle service charges.
  • Room service charges.
  • Delivery charges.
  • A gratuity automatically added for large parties.

How are tips taxed?

Your employer is required by the IRS to withhold from your wages enough to cover your income, Social Security, and Medicare taxes. However, you are responsible for reporting your tips to your employer.

The amount withheld from your paycheck is determined by the total of your wages and the tip income you report, even if you receive cash tips directly from the customer. Your employer needs to know the amount of tips you receive every month, so you should keep an accurate daily record of them.

Tax Responsibility of Employees That Recieve Tips

When an employee receives a tip the employer must be informed unless it's below $20. Additional reporting on an individual income tax return is important and keeping a daily record of tips received to ensure accuracy in reports.

The IRS advises employees to have a personal record of tips received using the "Employee's Daily Record of Tips" form or any other preferred means to record both cash and non-cash tips daily. The value of the non-cash tips must be included.

Except if the tips for the month are below $20, the IRS stipulates that such tips must be reported to the employer. It could be a monthly report that contains the total amount received for each month, the employee's signature and social security number, address, and the employer's name.

Reporting Tips to an Employer

When you have received more than $20 tip in a month, your employer needs to be informed. Ideally, employees are to report tips on the 10th day of each month. Tips received in the month of May should be reported to the employer on the 10th of June.

For reasons best known to the employer, however, employees may be required to report more than once a month or every other month. Despite the pattern an employee chooses, the report must always cover just one month. For extended months, the report must be prepared for each month singly.

Do service charges count as taxable tips?

As we analyze more details regarding the responsibility of employees to record tips, we now look at charges added to customer bills. Charges added to a customer's bill and shared with employees are not recorded as daily tips. Such additional payments are specified by the employer and as such no longer considered tips because the customer is compelled to pay an amount dictated.

As an example, if a business mandates 12% of the total amount spent by a customer as a charge, the extra is not a tip but rather a service charge. If the 12% is however a voluntary addition not specified by the business, then it's a tip that must be recorded.

What if an employer distributes service charges to employees?

If an employer decides to share service fees among employees it must be regarded as wages. The employer must take note of the details( name, social security and Medicare taxes, amount of payment, and date of payment) of the employee in relation to the amount paid as a service fee. If paid more than $200,000 for a year, additional Medicare tax should be imposed on the employee.

Tax Responsibilities of Employers

An employer has multiple responsibilities which include keeping records and paying taxes on tips employees receive. Remember that employees are to submit reports of tips collected in a month. Employers have the responsibility of keeping this record. More to that is the responsibility of withholding taxes on such tips.

If an employee fails to give an accurate report of tips collected the employer is not required to pay the employee's social security and Medicare taxes on it.

What does an employer get to keep?

Service charges are customary to restaurants, casinos, and a few other establishments. Service charges are not voluntary tips but imposed by the employer, hence an employer can choose to keep it all or distribute it to employees. However, the fees are counted as gross income to the employer either the amount is kept or a part is shared with employees.

How do I report tips to the IRS?

By the 10th of the following month, your employer must report your total monthly tips to the IRS. Any employee who has received tips can use Form 4070 to report them to their employers if their employer does not have a process for reporting tip income. However, you do not need to use that form if the report you submit includes all of the following:

  • Your name, address, and Social Security number
  • Your signature
  • Your employer's name and address
  • The month or period the report covers
  • The total amount of tips you received during that period

To cover tip withholding, your employer will pass along your figures to the IRS.

How to catch up on unreported tips

If you fail to report your tips during the year and decide to come clean on your tax return, Form 4137 can help. You can report overlooked tips and pay your fair share when you file your taxes. The penalty, however, could be hefty: 50% of the Social Security and Medicare taxes you owe, on top of those taxes.

Form 4137 has a tip for you if that's the case: "You can avoid this penalty if you can show (in a statement attached to your tax return) that your failure to report tips to your employer resulted from reasonable cause and not from willful neglect."

What are the potential penalties for failing to report tips accurately?

A penalty equal to 50% of the Social Security and Medicare taxes you fail to pay can be imposed by the IRS if you fail to report your tips to your employer.

In addition, if you didn't earn enough in wages and tips that your employer paid directly to you to cover your tax withholding, your W-2 will show how much tax you still owe. After you file your tax return, you will have to pay estimated tax penalties if the amount you underpaid is significant.

For help filling out all the right tax forms, you should work with a tax accountant. Whether you have simple or complex tax returns, a professional can handle them all.

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