If business loans make you wary, venture capitalists haven’t come knocking and you don’t happen to have a trust fund flush with cash, consider an alternative: launching a crowdfunding campaign on a platform like Kickstarter. Crowdfunding can be a great alternative source of funding for your startup or small business.
But before you sign up on Kickstarter, before you launch your campaign and start tossing your “free money” into the air, it’s important to know the ins and outs of the accounting processes and the tax implications related to crowdfunding as a business-financing source.
Here are several best practices you should follow to accurately record and report income from your Kickstarter campaign:
1. Separate your business and personal funds.
Ordinarily, we could skip right over this step, because if you are even considering a crowdfunding campaign, you already would have done it. But in case you’ve been living under an accounting rock, let’s review: Before you do any sort of fundraising, indeed, before you go into business in any significant way, you absolutely must separate your business and personal finances!
Even if you’re a sole owner and not incorporating your business, you need to hold separate bank accounts and credit cards for your business and personal finances. If you fail to draw that initial line in the financial sand between what is business and what is personal, you’re just asking for an eventual accounting disaster.
2. Set your goals and reward levels.
Before you officially launch your Kickstarter campaign, you’ll want to be mindful of certain tax implications with Kickstarter funds. The taxes you pay on Kickstarter-related income will impact the net revenue of your campaign, so in order to have all the funds you need to develop your product, you’ll should factor those tax requirements into your overall fundraising goal.
While Kickstarter isn’t exactly a store, funds generated from Kickstarter campaigns are seen by the government as taxable income. We’ll get into specifics later on, but for now, know that you’ll need to pay both income tax and, in most cases, sales tax on any funds you receive. Your exact income- and sales-tax rates will depend on several factors, including where you live. So, talk to your accountant about exactly what rates you’ll be expected to pay.
Once you’ve estimated your state and federal tax rates, consider that additional percentage in your overall fundraising goal and reward levels. If you’re uncertain, a good rule of thumb is to take the total dollar amount you’ll need for your project, then add 20 percent. That will give you a reasonable margin to cover tax-related expenses.
3. Record your Kickstarter contributions.
Determining exactly how to record contributions to your Kickstarter campaign can be a bit tricky. It’s not equity, and since you’re not providing a product upfront, it’s not exactly income (although it can be taxed that way by the IRS). Ultimately, with a Kickstarter transaction, your contributor is paying you for a product that you are expected to deliver at some point in the future. But because you’re delivering a product and not paying back an exact dollar amount, it’s not a small business loan, either.
Ideally, you should work with an accountant to determine how best to record Kickstarter funds given your exact campaign scenario. If you’re on a shoestring budget and handling your own accounting, your safest bet is to record the contributions as unearned income. Once you’ve completed your campaign pledges, you’ll be able to move those entries over to the earned-income category.
However you record the event, the most important thing is that you keep steady track of what crowdfunding contributions you’ve received and from whom. You’ll need this information both for tax-reporting purposes and for accurate fulfillment of your tiered-campaign rewards.
4. Track your project-related expenses.
In addition to recording Kickstarter contributions, you’ll also need to track any and all expenses related to your campaign pledges. This will include expenses for both any tier level gifts for contributors and many of your expenses for the project for which you’re raising funds.
Before you launch your Kickstarter, do the necessary research to get estimates for all expenses related to your project. Be as specific as possible on your Kickstarter campaign about the costs associated with your project. Not only will this information let your contributors know where their funds are going but will also help you to justify tax-deductible expenses related to your campaign.
Keep invoices, receipts and records for all expenses related to your project. You’ll need this information for your accountant or to justify tax deductions in the event that your company is audited by the IRS.
5. Provide your taxpayer identification information to Stripe.
In January 2015, Kickstarter made the switch from Amazon to Stripe for handling the third-party payments made through its campaigns. While Amazon required users to provide taypayer ID information directly, Stripe works with Kickstarter to receive all taxpayer identification information for accounting purposes.
So, once you’ve completed the “account info” section within your Kickstarter account portal, Stripe will automatically track earnings and file a 1099-K form with the IRS on your behalf.
Per IRS regulations, the 1099-K form is filed only if you receive more than $20,000 in gross contributions, or if your campaign has more than 200 separate donor transactions.
6. Settle up with Uncle Sam.
Contrary to online speculation, you will still owe income taxes to the IRS regardless of whether you meet the $20,000 threshold for Stripe to file the 1099-K.
The good news is that you won’t owe these taxes until after you’ve fulfilled your pledge promises, at which point the funds become earned income. However, you also can’t claim any deductions on project-related expenses until that point, either. As long as you’ve clearly tracked both your Kickstarter-related revenue and your project expenses, it should be easy to determine profit or loss for the project and determine what taxes you’ll need to pay.
7. Report state sales tax.
Income tax isn’t the only area where you’ll need to deal with taxes. If you live in a state with a sales tax (that’s everywhere except Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon), you’ll also need to pay sales tax on your in-state backers.
One big difference between income and sales taxes is that your sales tax is due at the point of sale. Unlike what happens with income taxes, you don’t get to wait until the end of your project to pay these taxes. As pledges come in – both during your Kickstarter campaign and for any presales during your product development – you’ll need to go to your state’s department of revenue website each quarter and fill out a form to declare how much you owe. Many states will also allow you to make quarterly payments on their websites.
While sales tax applies only to in-state backers, it can still take a significant bite out of your overall fundraising number, so make sure you factor your state’s sales tax rate into both your reward levels and your overall fundraising goal.
As with any accounting or tax-related blog, it’s important to remember that this isn’t tax advice tailored to your particular scenario. Before you launch your Kickstarter campaign, consult a professional accountant about your particular business model and campaign set-up to determine your legal requirements for recording and reporting Kickstarter funds.