I know it's been a bit since I checked in, but vacation plus deadlines plus a recent adverse medication reaction (to an eczema drug, bah) have kept me laser focused on work in order to catch up.
But I am recuperating and (mostly) back on track. So I want to talk about an annoying trend I've been seeing: freelance clients withholding local taxes from payments.
I can't quite say what the rational is (though I have a guess, more on that later), but late last year, I got a check from a Pennsylvania-based university client that wasn't the full fee. Using algebra (yes really!) I figured out that they withheld local taxes. That makes no sense. I don't do any work in that state, and I don't file a tax return in that state. And I'm not an employee. They shouldn't be withholding anything. After many emails back and forth with my editor, her assistant, and the accounts payable department, I filed a Withholding Exemption Certificate, stating that I did perform any of the work in the state (I work from my home in New Jersey), and they send me a check for the money they held.
Yesterday in reviewing paperwork for a California-based university, I saw that they are going to withhold 7% of my check for local taxes unless I file that state's Withholding Exemption Certificate saying that, no, I do not perform any work duties in California.
What's the deal? I've worked for this client before so it's either something I missed before that they don't follow, or it's new. I suspect it's related to the state's asinine anti-independent contractor law, which has caused great financial harm to independent contractors there, and lost me a California-based client who would only work with me if I become an employee of an outside agency – just to write a few articles. Yes that's as dumb as it sounds.
I can't figure out why the Pennsylvania school would do it too except I've been running into a few universities that are trying to misclassify contractors as employees because they're scared that that asinine California law is going to become national law (yes the same one we stopped in New Jersey). I don't want to get too into the weeds on it, but you can read more on that from this excellent ASJA Q&A on it (do NOT listen to anything that group pretending to be a union for freelancers says. They're insurance brokers, and not your friend).
Another possible reason for this: anti-independent contractor folks like to perpetuate the lie that we don't pay taxes, which is ridiculous. Who am I mailing estimated payments to four times a year?
Anyway, if you are used to being paid as an employee and get a W2, this might not sound like a big deal. Your employer withholds lots of taxes from your check. But that's the key difference: you work for someone else. We work for ourselves. Freelancers are small businesses – we get paid our contracted fee, and then we figure out the local and federal taxes owed on our end (with the help of an accountant, as I recommend).
I'm not going to let someone who is not my employer hold onto my fee. At least the California school put it in the contract. I was floored that the Pennsylvania school would just keep some of my money and then assume I'd be fine with it. I wasn't even clear on how I'd get that money back other than demanding their fix their mistake (would I have to file a Pennsylvania tax return? And then, if other clients started doing this, one in every state in which they were based? Madness).
So be on the lookout, and if you get a check that's short without explanation, this may be why.
"Gender Inclusivity Lets Runners Compete as Themselves" for Road Runners Club of America
"How to Expand into Niche Publications" for AHCJ
"Robotics, automation go from fringe to mainstream" for Supply Chain Dive
"Can Aquaculture Gain Steam from Geothermal Energy?" for Responsible Seafood Advocate
"Chain Reaction: How Midsized Businesses are Responding to Supply Chain Disruption" for Middle Market Growth
"Preventing a Case of Sour Grapes" for Mines Magazine
"Autonomous Vehicles Make Inroads – Inside and Outside the Warehouse" for Supply Chain Dive
What I'm Reading
My book website/blog/revival/whatever you want to call it is rocking and rolling! So here are links to reviews
- Empire of Mud: The Secret History of Washington, DC by J.D. Dickey
- Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan
- This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection by Carol Burnett
- Stormy Weather by Carl Hiassen
- Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson
- P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia
- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
- CODA. I am so happy this has been nominated for Best Picture. It's touching and lovely. If you got AppleTV+ for Ted Lasso, give this a go.
- Paddington 2. This is as good as everyone has said. I finally caught it when it started streaming on HBO Max.
- The Baby-Sitters Club. I was a dedicated Sweet Valley reader as a tween and teen and don't remember ever trying The Baby-Sitters Club, but I liked this series. I streamed through two series over holiday break.
- Queer Eye. Good – it always is!
- Betty White: First Lady of Television. After Betty White died, I watched this Netflix documentary about her life. What a light she was – and a television pioneer!
- Encanto. I don't know what else there is to say about this movie that hasn't already been said, but I can add that it seems like its success on streaming surprised everyone – including Disney. They had almost zero Encanto merchandise in Walt Disney World when I was there in January. I'm glad they put it back in theaters. It's so beautiful, I imagine more so on a big screen!
- My Dad Wrote a Porno. A few years ago, I heard about a UK podcast that was a guy reading his father's self-published porn and of course I had to check it out. The podcast has become a break out hit. It's ridiculous of course but also funny and charming and extremely sex positive – no matter who you want to love. The hosts went on tour before COVID and recorded an HBO special, which I finally watched. They're back on tour. I'm hoping to catch it when they swing through the east coast later this year. I recommend listening to the podcast before checking out the special. Then you'll be in on all the jokes.
- Being the Ricardos. Yeeeesh this was bad. I have no idea why it's nominated for so many things. They're booth way too old, her face is distracting, and he's not even Cuban! Garbage. Listen to the seasons about Lucy on AMC's The Plot Thickens podcast instead.
- The Tragedy of Macbeth. Very interesting adaptation that shows why Denzel is still the king.
- Station Eleven. I wrote about this on my book blog – so check that out here.