By now, the majority of merchants in the US have been informed of some impending IRS reporting requirements for their merchant account. I blogged about this congressional mandate several years ago and since we’re finally past the day of reckoning, let’s revisit how this is exactly going to affect your merchant account and your business.
Some time back, the IRS decided that they wanted to see a report of all the money that a merchant processes through their merchant account over the year.
While this is a nearly useless number because as we all know, most businesses also accept cash, checks, and other currency, it will in theory catch the most egregious tax evading businesses. Basically, the few fractions of a percent of businesses that grossly cheat on their tax returns “could” get caught. Regardless of the absurdity of requiring the entire country disclose their processing volumes, here we are…
Now for this to work, your processor has to file a 1099 form with the IRS. This is a seemingly simple task. However, for this to actually work, your business information with your processor must exactly match what the IRS has on file. This includes business name, address, your tax id, etc. Things as simple as capitalized letters, a single space, and punctuation will cause a mismatch. You get a new tax id after opening up a merchant account. You signed your application with only your SSN and not your tax id number. Things like this will cause errors. Since it’s rare that merchants fill out their merchant applications with the exact same business information, with the exact same capitalization, and spaces as they do when they fill out their tax information, and nothing changes with their business-IRS relationship, it’s fair to say a lot of tax reporting information will not be valid.
So, what if the tax information is not valid?
So, here comes the nasty part. The IRS mandates that your processor will withhold 28% of all credit card payments until the errors are corrected. Yes, 28% of all of your credit card sales with be held until you fix whatever information is incorrect. And, even if you fix the problem, you wont get that 28% back until the end of the year.
Most likely you have or will receive notice that you are going to be charged for the work required to verify and prepare this massive undertaking. I’ve seen everything from several hundred $ per year, to a few $ per month. The reason you are being charged this fee is that it actually requires a lot of work to verify and prepare one of these documents for a merchant. Processors often have thousands, or tens of thousands of merchants, which translates into thousands of man hours in just the initial verification, not even taking into account contacting every merchant that has errors to obtain the correct information. If you didn’t authorize e-file for your 1099, your processor needs to mail you a physical form.
The exceptions to the filing requirements are:
1. a merchant’s total payment transactions for the year does not exceed $20,000, and
1. the total number of transactions does not exceed 200
In which case your processor will not need to file a report. This may consist of a good percentage of businesses out there, but most full-time businesses process more than $20,000 per year.
It’s unfortunate that the reporting regulation was ever passed. It’s a useless piece of legislation that creates a lot more work for small businesses and it’s unlikely that the reporting will catch any but the worst tax offenders. But, it’s passed and taking effect and there’s not much any of us can do about it at this point. No matter who you process credit cards with, keep a close eye on the mail and your processing statements for instructions on how to verify your information. My recommendation is to take it very seriously to avoid the 28% withholding.