Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Adsense, US Tax Info, & W-9 Forms

Let me just say that I am NO expert in this area because I'm not an American citizen, and don't have an AdSense account with a US address. I live and work in Canada, and only visit the US for several months of the year. 

I'll attempt to address this in the simplest way, because this year, we seem to be getting a lot more (more than usual) questions about the W-9 (which AdSense doesn't offer help with) forms, and while some of the problems come from US citizens having problems with the form submission, many are from individuals who don't live in the US, and who aren't citizens in the US, and students who don't qualify to work while in the US. The latter are the issues I'm hoping to help explain a little, so this is for individuals who don't have a US-registered business; who don't live in the US; who don't have permission to work in the US. 

This information is NOT for those with US Business accounts, US citizens, Green Card Holders, etc.
Also note that this post is for individual publishers, not for business account users. I find the US business laws equally confusing.

Because I'm not a US citizen, you'll find links below to some discussions in the forum that will help you understand how wrong things can go when you don't live in the US but have a US address in your account. For more information on the tax requirements for those with US addresses in their account, some of these threads will have better explanations, since the TCs answering the questions are US citizens (exempting, me of course).

Here's what a lot of publishers don't know - if you are temporarily living in the US, that doesn't mean you are entitled to work or earn money in the US, and that includes signing up to earn from AdSense. This includes those with visitor visas, and some of those in the US on student visas.

What that means is that you cannot (or should not) open or try to open an AdSense account while in the US (whether visiting, or a student), and should not have an AdSense account with a US address. As soon as you do, you'll find yourself in a mess that you can't extricate yourself from later on.

Why is that? That's because when you have an AdSense account with a US address then you'd be seen as earning money in the US (or, "working" if you will since it's considered self-employment) and as having "US activity". And that means you would be required to file taxes in the US and have a US taxpayer ID. While it might be possible to obtain a TIN (taxpayer identification number), the W-9 form has stipulations that you must certify. (see below).

My blog post is pretty simplified in that doesn't cover the host of things that could qualify a person to work here - a work visa,  Green Card, or student visa may allow some people to work in the US (some on a temporary basis, some permanently). Visitor visas do not allow you to work or earn money in the US. If you are in the US on a student visa, you need to contact your advisor before you do anything when it comes to working. Even those visas that allow you to work have stipulations you must meet.

This also means if you open an AdSense account in the US, AdSense will be expecting a W-9 to be completed. You can't complete a W-9 if you don't (or didn't) qualify for work at the time you were in the US. If you were never in the US and somehow managed to get a US address in your AdSense account, you also can't complete a W-9 and it's certifications.
Under penalties of perjury, I certify that: 1. The number shown on this form is my correct taxpayer identification number (or I am waiting for a number to be issued to me); and 2. I am not subject to backup withholding because: (a) I am exempt from backup withholding, or (b) I have not been notified by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that I am subject to backup withholding as a result of a failure to report all interest or dividends, or (c) the IRS has notified me that I am no longer subject to backup withholding; and  3. I am a U.S. citizen or other U.S. person (defined below)
They define a US Person as:
Definition of a U.S. person. For federal tax purposes, you are considered a U.S. person if you are: 
• An individual who is a U.S. citizen or U.S. resident alien;
• A partnership, corporation, company, or association created or organized in the United States or under the laws of the United States;
• An estate (other than a foreign estate); or • A domestic trust (as defined in Regulations section 301.7701-7)
If you aren't any of those, you'll have problems with submitting your tax info. And it's unlikely you'd ever be able to collect your earnings.

There is NO workaround for this. 

If you find yourself in that situation you are most likely well and truly stuck.

This is (as noted above) VERY simplified - there are many regulations and requirements under US tax laws that make it one of the most confusing and difficult to understand for individuals. Especially so for individuals who don't live in the US and have never had to file or prepare their own taxes.

My only advice to publishers is ... just don't. Don't put a US address in your AdSense account unless you live in the US and are legally allowed to work in the US.

posted by J. Gracey Stinson


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