Do I File Taxes for a Seasonal Job?


file taxes for seasonal job

The IRS still considers a seasonal worker an employee, regardless of how many hours or months you worked. 

If you earned more than the standard deduction…

  • $25,900 for married filing jointly
  • $12,950 for single filers and married filing separately
  • $19,400 for a head of household

…Then, you need to file your tax return. 

Here are the deets behind seasonal job taxes that affect whether or not you are required to file.

Defining the Seasonal Worker

The IRS defines a seasonal worker or employee as someone who performs labor or services on a seasonal basis, say, three to eight months. However, nothing else separates a seasonal worker from a part-time or full-time employee — you are subject to the same tax withholding rules as other employees. 

If you earned tips in your job, you are required to report anything over $20 to your employer, and that number shows up on your W-2 in its very own box. Keep a daily log of tips earned so you know whether you should report.

Your employer should take care of that for you, but we will review how to ensure that happens.

Examples of seasonal workers include retail workers exclusively working during the holiday season, those working at sporting events, and people working as harvesters or commercial fishers during the season.

When Should You File?

You should file taxes if you are…

  • A new employee, regardless of job duration
  • Self-employed paying quarterly estimated taxes
  • Receiving tip income

You should also file if your payroll taxes on your income are not sufficient to owe income tax. 


The Details

All taxpayers fill out (or should fill out) a W-4 when starting a new job. The employer then uses that information to determine the amount of payroll taxes to withhold from each paycheck. Your W-4 doesn't distinguish between partial-year and full-year jobs. 

If you held multiple seasonal jobs throughout the year, make sure every employer has a W-4, so they withhold the correct amount. You should have a W-4 for each employer. One thing to consider is that, as a seasonal worker, any changes you make to your withholdings have a more significant impact on your paycheck than if you worked all year.

Some changes to withholding under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act provided some relief and some disappointments, depending on your point of view:

  • Standard deduction increased
  • Personal exemptions eliminated
  • Child tax credit increased
  • Certain deductions were limited or discontinued
  • Tax rates and brackets changed (and continue to change)

To ensure your employer withholds the right amount, do a paycheck checkup. You can use the IRS withholding calculator to do this. Input your income, credits, adjustments, and deductions to see how much your employer should withhold per paycheck to meet the tax guidelines. 

If you find your employer is not withholding the appropriate amount, especially if the withholding is too low, adjust your withholding by submitting a new W-4 to your employer as soon as possible.

Submit a new W-4 within 10 days of a change in your personal circumstances that reduces the number of withholding allowances.

What If I’m a Student with a Summer Job?

Fun fact: All earned income is taxable. Whether you earned tips as a waitstaff member or worked as a camp counselor, any income you earned is taxable. That includes babysitting fees and your lawn-mowing service. 

Another fun fact: If you are under 18 and have net earnings higher than $400 or more from a self-employed job (like babysitting and lawn mowing), you also need to pay self-employment taxes, which pays for benefits under Social Security. Church employee income over $108.28 triggers the self-employment tax, too.

There are special rules for the job of newspaper carrier. If you are under 18, special rules cover you. You are not generally subject to self-employment tax. Special rules apply to services performed as a newspaper carrier or distributor, and you are treated as a direct seller and self-employed for federal tax purposes if the following all apply:

  • You are in the business of delivering newspapers
  • All pay for services directly relates to sales instead of the number of hours worked
  • The delivery services are performed under a written contract stating you will not be treated as an employee for federal tax purposes.

If you are claimed as a dependent on someone else’s taxes and make less than the income threshold to file taxes — $12,550 — you need not file taxes if you are under 18. 


A Note for Tax-Exempt Employees

If you checked the box on your W-4 indicating you are a tax-exempt employee, your employer would not withhold payroll taxes. You are responsible for any taxes you may owe. Saying you are tax-exempt doesn't mean you won't pay taxes.

You can only claim tax-exempt status if you received a full refund of all federal income taxes that were withheld from your wages last year because you owed no tax. Also, you expect to be refunded all federal income tax again this year.

If you make less than the standard deduction in a calendar year and you claim tax-exempt worker status, you might not need to file at all.

How to File for Free

Some students and a few other taxpayers can file their federal returns electronically for free, taking some of the cost out of tax preparation. However, you might consider hiring a tax preparation service if you have complex taxes and multiple income sources.

Bottom Line

A seasonal worker is just another employee to the IRS. Submit the appropriate W-4 to each employer you had, no matter how long you worked for them. Use the free tax estimator to ensure you have enough tax withholding to cover your payroll taxes. 

And if you’re a kid, you still have to file for taxes if you earned over $400 (unless you are claimed as a dependent on your parent’s tax return).

Were you self-employed? You might also owe the self-employment tax, which pays for Social Security and Medicare benefits in your old age. The only exception has to do with running a paper route. You should have your parents or tax preparer look into that before tax day.

If you don’t earn more than the minimum threshold to file taxes, you only need to file to get any refund of anything your employer withheld from your paycheck.

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