What do Oprah, the BP oil spill and Lindsay Lohan all have to do with each other? Could it be W-2 and 1099 forms?

Tax technology provider Greatland Corporation has included all of these newsmakers and more in its inaugural Year in Review list of how the year’s most intriguing events pertain to the company’s favorite government 1099 and W-2 forms.

The BP Gulf Oil Spill: One of the heartbreaking consequences of this summer’s never-ending oil spill was the loss of income for the many gulf residents who make their livelihood in the fishing industry. Louisiana’s fishing industry alone generates approximately $2.4 billion annually and produces one-third of the domestic seafood consumed in the U.S. The IRS requires all “fishing boat proceeds” to be reported on Form 1099-MISC, which will undoubtedly be down as a result of this year’s spill.

Oprah’s Final Season and Her Favorite Things Times Two: 2010 marked the kick-off of Oprah’s 25th and final season. To celebrate this swan song, the famous talk show host held her popular Favorite Things giveaway show twice, and gave away extravagant items like cruises and cars to hundreds of audience members. One thing we did not see her give away, but each member of the audience will most definitely receive? A 1099-MISC. The IRS requires all contest winners and giveaway recipients to report total fair market value of items received greater than $600, which was certainly the case with Oprah’s generous gifts. [Winfrey, however, hired a CPA to make sure her audience would not have to pay any extra taxes for her free Australia trip giveaway in September during the premiere episode of her final season after audience members ran into problems with the IRS after her famous car giveaway of 2004 (see Oprah to Pay Taxes for Audience’s Australia Trip).]

The Mid-term Elections: A new wave of "change" swept Washington in November 2010 as the mid-term elections gave the Republicans the majority in the House and gains in the Senate. Many long-time members saw their time in Washington end, leading them to find new means of employment. As history has shown us, many former politicians will become consultants and pundits, contracting their services out and thus receiving a 1099-MISC form to report their income. And as we also learned in 2010 from censured politician Charles Rangel, reporting all income is a good thing. Charges against Rangel included failing to pay income tax on a rental property he owned (1099-MISC) and failing to report all his income (1099-INT or 1099-DIV). Ironically, he was the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee – the same committee that writes the federal tax code.

The Sweeping Health Care Legislation and the 1099 Provision: 2010 was all about health care reform. A new provision in the health care reform legislation is aimed at improving reporting and generating more tax income. It will require all businesses to not only issue a 1099 to document wages paid to contract workers, but also issue a 1099 form to any business from which they purchase at least $600 in goods or services. Using the above example, if Oprah’s company, Harpo, buys flowers for the show’s green room 20 times during the year at a cost of $30 each time, her company will also have to issue a 1099 form to the local florist. Although Oprah could probably handle the additional requirement, estimates have the average business seeing its 1099 reporting increase up to tenfold – a burden much greater for the nation’s small businesses.

Stagnant Unemployment and the Growth in Temporary Workers: 2010 was the year of lingering unemployment. That said, it was also the rise of the “contract” or freelance worker. This means fewer W-2 forms and more 1099-MISC forms from employers as a result. In fact, the IRS projects a 16.5 percent decrease in W-2 filings and a 2.7 percent increase in 1099-MISC filings (for freelance and contract workers) for tax year 2010.

2010 Crime Down: For the first half of 2010, the FBI reported crime – including petty theft and larceny – down across the board. Motor vehicle theft dropped 9.7 percent, larceny fell 2.3 percent, and burglary decreased 1.4 percent. Perhaps we owe these decreases to the fact that the IRS requires all thieves to report the “fair market value” of the items they stole on their tax returns. Maybe thievery is just becoming too much of a tax headache. No word if purchases made by burglars on crowbars and ski masks need to be reported in the aforementioned new 1099-MISC requirement.

Speaking of Criminals: Although 2010 was the year that Lindsay Lohan, Wesley Snipes, and rappers TI and Lil Wayne went to jail, a 2010 report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration stated that the real problem for the IRS was that fraudulent tax returns increased by 50 percent, with an estimated 50,000 of those returns (accounting for $130 million in income) filed by inmates without any wage or income information (supporting W-2 or 1099 forms). The IRS was able to catch almost 4,500 forms that were filed by inmates where they falsely claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit. Without congressional action to require state and federal prisons to report the status of inmates to the IRS, there will be gaps in the prison data, and compliance problems will persist.

For more information on W-2 and 1099 forms, visit Greatland’s extensive 1099 and W-2 fact center on its website with answers to many of the top filing questions.

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