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I was wondering, in the US when you file your tax return you are either a "normal" salaried employee, W-2, or "self-employed".

If you're a "normal" salaried filer, there's a box where you can enter "other income", typically small amounts like $100 from odd jobs.

Say you're a "normal" salaried filer. You're a student so you make $25k at the donut shop. But. You also do one freelance project for which you get $5,000 bucks (gross). (Perhaps you're a music student and you scored one paid gig that year.)

I believe, as a "normal" filer you can also file a Sched-C for the self-employed part.

But.

Alternately can you simply put in the 5,000 bucks as "Other Income"?

Let's say that you have No costs or deductions so the Sched-C would just be 5000 straight bucks anyway, there is no advantage.

  • Is it basically "OK" to put in a large amount, $5,000, in "Other Income"? Is there perhaps some limit?

  • Is there some "nature of" where one cannot put items in Other Income, but rather you're forced to do a Sched-C? (Perhaps if it is "professional services" or some such - IDK)

In the example, assuming there are no costs/deductions etc so there is no fiscal advantage to using a Sched-C, is it perfectly OK to just bang in $5,000 "Other Income"?

I couldn't really find any doco. on "What is permissible in Other Income".

--

Note: the excellent answer below sheds light on IRS opinion on "hobby V. business".

However, it would seem that "hobbies" do not relate to the "Other Income" facility.

It would seem that the idea "Other Income is for Hobbies" is in fact just a common misconception.

There is no doco on that anywhere.

(Ineed: many of the IRS examples for "Other Income" are unrelated to hobbies. Conversely the IRS page on "hobby" discusses explicitly entering costs on a Sched-C for a hobby.)

The 'Ben Questions' ...

(1) the literal IRS instructions https://www.irs.gov/instructions/i1040gi#idm140693681999728 Use line 8 to report any taxable income not reported elsewhere on your return or other schedules it dun' don't even MENTION a hobby aspect. it's just "any income".

(2) actually on IRS web site (some sort of "course"?) https://apps.irs.gov/app/vita/content/globalmedia/4491_other_income.pdf Section "What is other income?" It does not even mention hobby income.

(3) Typical reasonably sensible source: https://www.thebalance.com/other-income-form-1040-line-21-3193089 Note the list at "Who Uses Other Income on Form 1040?" It does not even MENTION hobby income.

For me it remains a mystery :/

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  • 1
    Say you're a "normal" salaried filer. You're a student so you make $25k at the donut shop. But. You also do one freelance project for which you get $5,000 bucks (gross). Wouldn't the people who hired you for the freelance work issue you a 1099-MISC?
    – RonJohn
    Jan 15 at 14:53
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    Hi Ron - good question but no, not at all. It's really common that (say) illusrators, musicians etc get paid say "for an illustration" and there's no 1099-Misc involved. For example, say you hired the lady down the street who is an art student (à la the example) to paint your family portrait, you pay her $5,000. There's no 1099 (or any) form involved...
    – Fattie
    Jan 15 at 14:57
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    @RonJohn Does it make a difference whether there is a 1099-MISC involved or not?
    – Craig W
    Jan 15 at 15:14
  • @CraigW I think so, because handling 1099 values is pretty much a "known quantity".
    – RonJohn
    Jan 15 at 15:20
  • Regarding your last point (costs for hobbies), previously you could deduct hobby expenses (up to the amount of hobby income) as a miscellaneous itemized deduction. I believe this has since been removed.
    – Craig W
    Jan 15 at 15:34
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There are lots of types of income that go on the Schedule 1, Line 8 "Other Income" spot. The Form 1040 instructions say this:

Use line 8 to report any taxable income not reported elsewhere on your return or other schedules. List the type and amount of income. If necessary, include a statement showing the required information. For more details, see Miscellaneous Income in Pub. 525.

It then lists lots of examples, but they are just examples, and it is not an exhaustive list.

Going to the aforementioned Publication 525 (Taxable and Nontaxable Income), in the section named "Miscellaneous Income," under "Other Income, Activity Not For Profit":

Activity not for profit. You must include on your return income from an activity from which you don't expect to make a profit. An example of this type of activity is a hobby or a farm you operate mostly for recreation and pleasure. Enter this income on Schedule 1 (Form 1040 or 1040-SR), line 8. Deductions for expenses related to the activity are limited. They can't total more than the income you report and can be taken only if you itemize deductions on Schedule A (Form 1040 or 1040-SR). See Not-for-Profit Activities in chapter 1 of Pub. 535 for information on whether an activity is considered carried on for a profit.

I will issue a caution here: The text above is from the 2019 version of Pub 525, and it seems to be out of date when it discusses expenses related to this activity: With the recent tax reform, hobby expenses are no longer deductible on the Schedule A Itemized Deductions. The IRS page that is linked to in Craig W's answer is dated 2017 and is also sadly out-of-date in this regard.

There is no official limit or threshold at which you have too much hobby income to include here. The key is to determine whether or not your activity is a "hobby" or a "business," and this is a complicated issue. The general guideline is whether you are intending to make a profit with the activity, or whether you do it solely for fun. The IRS has nine criteria that they use to determine whether or not your income-producing activity is a business.

More Reading:


Addressing the three references in the last section of your question:

For each of these, the fact that they do not reference hobby income in the lists of "examples" does not imply that hobby income does not go here, as these are not exhaustive lists. The Form 1040 instructions for this line that I reference above states, "For more details, see Miscellaneous Income in Pub. 525," and I do just that in the next part of my answer above.

For the article from The Balance that you reference, one of the examples is "Cash earned from odd jobs," and the $5,000 that your example student made in a gig would seem to me to be a part of that.

It's also worth noting that in both the Tax Code, and in Publication 525, this is not referred to solely as "hobby income," but "Activity not for profit," and the word "hobby" is only used as an example of this. That is why you don't see the word "hobby" everywhere you look. You would need to look at the activity you did which generated the income and decide if it is a for-profit business or an activity that you did without the intent of making a profit.

Here's an example: This week, I helped a friend record and edit a presentation, and he gave me a small gift card as a thank you. Technically, I am supposed to include this on next year's taxes. I'm not going to, because I am not an idiot, but if I did, I would put it on the "Other Income" line. Video recording and editing is not my business, just a hobby; I spend more on tools than I have ever made, I can count on one hand the times I have ever received any compensation for it. I don't treat it as a business; I don't keep books, I don't bill anyone for anything. I wouldn't meet any of the IRS's nine criteria for a business. It's not a business, it is just an odd job (if you even want to call it a job).

For the student in your example, if he spends money on musical instruments and does that recreationally, he does not suddenly have a business just because someone paid him once. It's just "Other Income." However, if he starts to meet some of that criteria, perhaps he starts realizing a profit in multiple years and depends on that income for a living, the IRS would characterize it as a business. It would probably be in his best interest to characterize it as a business at that point anyway, because he would want to be able to deduct his expenses.

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  • It's great that you have found the place which says that regarding hobby income, you should enter it on the "Other Income" slot ! That is "one direction" of the information dearth, if you see what I mean .. :O
    – Fattie
    Jan 15 at 21:25
  • @Fattie I have expanded my answer to address the new section of your question. Jan 15 at 22:24
  • Ahhh ...... is your interpretation this: "the distinction then for 'Other Income' is in fact the distinction discussed 'is it a business or not'. that the word 'hobby' is used occasionally in connection with 'business: not' is extraneous/irrelevant to the fact that the distinction in play for the 'Other Income' line is the 'is it a business or not' material from the IRS". Is that about right? Thus for example the first sentence of Craig's answer is "wrong" (the defining language at hand has nothing to do with "hobbies", Craig's sentence should read "..if it's a business or not') ..
    – Fattie
    Jan 16 at 13:39
  • .. but of course it's perfectly correct in practice. ie this "Hobby" language is just something introduced beyond the actual code which is commonly used to let us say summarize the code. So for example, you can imagine, similarly, someone saying "... if it's not serious". ie "not serious" or "hobby" is just being used to encapsulate the actual code (which is indeed, simply, is it a "business" or not).
    – Fattie
    Jan 16 at 13:41
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    @Fattie I think what you are saying is accurate. It is common to say "business" vs. "hobby," and you'll even see this terminology used in some IRS documents, but it is really "business" vs. "activity not for profit" (not to be confused with a non-profit organization, which is something entirely different). This does trip people up sometimes, such as in Harper's well-meaning, but inaccurate answer on the other question. You can have an activity that most people would not consider a "hobby," but is also not a business. Jan 16 at 15:47
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The only way you could list the $5,000 in "other income" as opposed to Schedule C is if it's considered a hobby. This is a common question so the IRS has information on it here. I think the default assumption is that it's a business. In your example, is the student actively seeking out gigs? Then it's almost certainly a business. Or were they just playing for fun and somebody offered them $5,000 to do a show? Then you could potentially make the case that it's a hobby.

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  • Ahh .. fantastic information .. but .... While that excellent link discusses the difference hobby/business. It says nothing at all about the "other income" slot? Do you know, where, if anywhere, does it explain that "hobby" income, should indeed, be put in the "other income" slot?
    – Fattie
    Jan 15 at 14:47
  • (Indeed, the way that page is written seems to be directed entirely at Sched-C (costs and so on) .. but I'm not sure ..)
    – Fattie
    Jan 15 at 14:47
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    @Fattie The closest I can find is this, which mentions reporting it on "Schedule 1, Form 1040, line 21". That line number doesn't match up, but I assume line 8 (other income) is the only place they could mean.
    – Craig W
    Jan 15 at 15:12
  • right weird - that must be a typo ?! line 21 is "tuition" as far as I can see ..
    – Fattie
    Jan 15 at 15:16
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    @Fattie It's not a typo, just out of date. That article is dated July 1, 2019, and on the 2018 version of Schedule 1, "Other Income" was on line 21. Jan 15 at 22:27

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