Contractor Management 11 min

W-9 vs. 1099 tax forms: A plain-language guide

Written by Pedro Barros
March 20, 2024
Pedro Barros


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When you’re hiring contractors abroad, tax compliance can often be a challenge. Apart from understanding local tax obligations, you’ll have to file and submit the right tax papers on time, or risk facing fines, penalties, or legal proceedings.

If you’re hiring a contractor (who is a US taxpayer), there are two Internal Revenue Service (IRS) forms that may confusion: the W-9 and the 1099. Each of these documents serves a distinct role, but the lines between them can be blurred, leaving finance staff and HR professionals perplexed about when to use them. This comprehensive guide unravels the intricacies of W-9 and 1099 forms and offers clarity on their differences and respective purposes. You’ll also learn how these tax forms apply to your company when you hire independent contractors and freelancers.

Understanding the W-9 form

In this section, we delve into the IRS W-9 form, including its purpose, significance, and how to use it correctly.

What is the W-9 form?

The W-9 form is officially titled “Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification.” As the name implies, it primarily serves as an information request form. Its standardized format ensures that the company collects the correct personal data for later income tax filings with the IRS. 

Who needs to fill out the W-9 form?

Individuals or businesses may need to fill out the W-9 form, depending on their income and circumstances. 

Businesses often request W-9 forms from vendors, independent contractors, or service providers to collect the necessary taxpayer information for future tax reporting, such as issuing 1099 forms for earned income.

Individuals may be asked to provide a W-9 when opening a bank account or receiving certain non-salary types of income. 

What information does the W-9 form contain?

The W-9 is a basic and relatively simple form. It asks for:

  • Personal information (name and address)

  • Federal tax classification (individual/sole proprietor, corporation, trust, or LLC)

  • Taxpayer identification number (TIN). The TIN must match the indicated tax classification. For an individual, this is usually the person’s social security number (SSN). For a company or organization, it’s usually the employer identification number (EIN).

  • Certification and signature

What happens if the W-9 form is not filled in correctly or is missing?

Though the W-9 is not a tax reporting form per se, ensuring that the information in it is accurate is essential for tax reporting purposes. Incorrect details can lead to issues such as misreported income, which can trigger IRS audits or penalties.

The TIN is central in tracking income since it uniquely identifies the recipient. This allows the IRS to match the reported income with the taxpayer’s records. Errors in the TIN can disrupt this process, which can result in the underreporting or overreporting of income and subsequent tax liabilities or refunds.

Companies that fail to comply correctly with W-9 requirements can face penalties. In this context, it’s important to understand that W-9 forms are not mandatory. Individuals or entities are not legally required to provide a W-9 form when requested. However, if they refuse or fail to provide the requested information, the requester may still have obligations and responsibilities.

In fact, companies that fail to follow IRS rules related to W-9 requirements can face penalties.

This seeming contradiction means that while you can’t force someone to give you a W-9, if you are required to collect one (for tax reporting purposes, for instance), you must make reasonable efforts to obtain it. Failure to do so or neglecting to report payments accurately when required can result in penalties.

If an employer or business is required to collect a W-9 form from a payee but fails to do so after making reasonable efforts, they may face penalties. These penalties start at $50 per incorrect or missing form and increase depending on the severity of the violation. Independent contractors and freelancers may refuse to share their personal and social security information with an employer. However, without a TIN on file, the company is subject to a backup withholding requirement. They must withhold 24% from the individual’s payment. That amount is then remitted to the IRS.

Common misconceptions about the W-9 form

The intent of the W-9 form is not always clear for those working with it. The table below summarizes four common misconceptions about it.



1. W-9 forms are used to report income to the IRS.

W-9 forms are not used to report income but to collect taxpayer information for future reporting. They are typically requested by businesses or individuals who may need to issue 1099s in the future.

2. Providing a W-9 form results in immediate tax consequences.

Filling out and providing a W-9 form does not lead to immediate tax implications. It’s essentially an information request, and no taxes are withheld when you provide one.

3. W-9 forms are only for individuals.

W-9 forms are used by both individuals and businesses. Any entity that makes payments that may require future 1099 reporting should collect W-9 forms.

4. W-9 forms are only used for employment purposes.

While W-9 forms are often associated with employment, they can also be used in various other contexts, such as rental agreements, real estate transactions, and vendor relationships.

When to use a W-9 form: 4 examples

W-9 forms have multiple possible uses. Here are four scenarios that paint a picture of how they could be used:

Scenario 1: Hiring an independent contractor

Suppose a small business owner hires an independent contractor to perform graphic design work. The business owner would request a W-9 form from the contractor to collect their taxpayer information. This allows the business to issue a 1099-NEC at the end of the year for tax reporting purposes.

Scenario 2: Opening a business bank account

When a new business is established, the bank may require the owner to provide a W-9 form. This allows the bank to verify the business’s taxpayer information for various purposes, such as interest reporting on business savings accounts.

Scenario 3: Vendor relationships

A large corporation that regularly purchases goods or services from various vendors may collect W-9 forms from those vendors. This provides the corporation with the necessary information to report payments accurately and issue 1099 forms if required.

Scenario 4: Investment accounts

Financial institutions may require customers to provide W-9 forms when opening investment accounts, especially interest-bearing accounts. This allows the institution to report interest income to the IRS on behalf of the account holder.

Understanding the 1099 form

In this section, we unravel the complexities of 1099 forms. We’ll address their role in income reporting, review the various types, and explain how to use them accurately for tax compliance.

What’s the purpose of 1099 forms?

In contrast to the W-9, the 1099 form is used by payers to report various types of income paid to recipients, such as non-employee compensation, rent, dividends, or payment card transactions. 

The 1099 is filed with the IRS to inform them of the income the recipient earned during a tax year.

The different types of 1099 forms

There’s not just one 1099 form — the IRS currently uses more than 20 different types for various income reporting purposes. Here are the most common ones:

  • 1099-MISC: This form is for miscellaneous income, including non-employee compensation, rent, and royalties. 

  • 1099-NEC: This form reports non-employee compensation. 

  • 1099-K: This form is used to report payment card and third-party network transactions, primarily by businesses that receive payments through credit cards or online platforms.

  • 1099-INT: This form shows interest income.

  • 1099-DIV: This form is used to report dividend income.

In short, if there’s income from whatever source to be reported to the IRS, there’s a 1099 form for it.

Who should receive a 1099 form?

Given the variety of 1099 forms, there’s a broad range of potential recipients. Examples include the following:

  • Independent contractors

  • Freelancers and self-employed professionals who provide services to businesses

  • Interest and dividend recipients

  • Rental property owners (if they are paid through certain payment platforms or property management companies)

  • Real estate agents and brokers who earn commissions from real estate transactions may receive 1099-MISC forms from the brokerage or clients

  • Other non-employee service providers, such as attorneys, consultants, or accountants, who receive payments of $600 or more for their services may be issued 1099-NEC or 1099-MISC forms.

  • Partnerships and LLC members use a 1099 form to report their share of the income generated by the business.

  • Fishing boat operators may issue 1099-MISC forms to report the crew members’ share of the income.

  • Pension and retirement plan beneficiaries who receive distributions from pension plans, annuities, or retirement accounts such as IRAs or 401(k)s

  • Gambling winnings recipients

  • Debt cancellation recipients: individuals who have a portion of their debt forgiven or canceled, such as through a mortgage modification or settlement, can use a 1099-C to report the canceled debt as taxable income.

  • Crop insurance proceeds recipients (due to crop damage or loss) may use 1099 forms to report the insurance proceeds as income.

This non-exhaustive list shows how versatile the 1099 form is.

What’s in the 1099 form?

The 1099 form’s standard components include the following information:

  • Payer information (name, address, TIN)

  • Recipient information (name, address, TIN)

  • Payment details and withholdings (specific to the type of form)

Are there reporting thresholds for 1099 forms?

Reporting income on a 1099 is required when payments made to an individual or entity exceed $600 in a tax year for certain types of income, such as non-employee compensation (reported on 1099-NEC) or rent (reported on 1099-MISC).

Are there penalties for failing to issue or file a 1099 form?

Non-compliance with 1099 reporting can result in penalties starting at $50 per form but can vary depending on the type and severity of the violation, such as failing to issue or file a 1099 accurately and on time.

When to use a 1099 form: 4 scenarios

Here are four scenarios that demonstrate how the 1099 form can be used:

Scenario 1: Freelance graphic designer

Imagine a graphic designer who works as a freelancer for multiple clients throughout the year. Each client pays the designer more than $600 for their services. At the end of the year, each client is required to issue a 1099-NEC form to report the total payments made to the designer as non-employee compensation.

Scenario 2: Real estate rental income

Consider an individual who owns a rental property and receives monthly rent payments from their tenants. If the total annual rental income exceeds $600, the property owner is required to issue 1099-MISC forms to report the rental income received from each tenant. This helps in reporting rental income to the IRS.

Scenario 3: Online marketplace seller Suppose a person operates an e-commerce store on a popular online marketplace and generates income by selling various products. The marketplace, acting as a third-party payment processor, collects payments from customers and processes transactions. If the seller’s total sales on the platform exceed certain thresholds, the online marketplace may issue a 1099-K form to report the seller’s income from those transactions.

Scenario 4: Consultant for a corporation

In a corporate setting, a consultant is hired to provide specialized services, such as IT consulting, marketing, or legal advice. If the consultant’s compensation exceeds $600 during the year, the corporation is required to issue a 1099-NEC form to report the payments made for the consultant’s services as non-employee compensation.

link to What is a 1099 form? A guide for companies with US contractors

What is a 1099 form? A guide for companies with US contractors

Are you making payments to contractors or freelancers? If so, learn more about Form 1099 to stay compliant and penalty-free.

Understanding the differences between W-9 and 1099 forms is important for accurate tax reporting and compliance. Here’s a quick overview of five key distinctions to keep in mind:

1. The nature of the forms

W-9: Information request form

1099: Income reporting form

A W-9 form is a request for the recipient’s taxpayer information. The purpose is to gather this information for future reporting needs.

The 1099 form, which includes variations like the 1099-MISC, the 1099-NEC, and the 1099-K, functions as an income reporting form that is filed with the IRS.

2. Who initiates the forms?

W-9: Requester-initiated

1099: Payer-issued

W-9 forms are initiated by the entity or individual requesting the information. This entity is often referred to as the “requester.” Common requesters include employers, businesses, banks, and financial institutions. The requester uses the W-9 form to collect the necessary taxpayer information from individuals or businesses they plan to engage with via financial transactions.

1099 forms are issued by the payer. The payer is the entity that makes payments to the recipient for various purposes, such as compensation, rent, interest, or dividends. The payer is responsible for reporting these payments to both the IRS and the recipient by providing them with the relevant 1099 form.

3. The purpose of collecting personal information

W-9: Future reporting

1099: Past income reporting

The primary purpose of collecting personal information through a W-9 form is to prepare for future reporting. Requesters use this information to have a record of the recipient’s TIN and contact details so that if the recipient earns reportable income in the future, the requester has the necessary information to issue a 1099 form accurately.

The 1099 form is used to report past income that the recipient has already earned. It captures details of payments made during the tax year, such as total compensation, rents received, or dividends paid. Recipients use the information on the 1099 form to report their income when filing their tax returns.

4. The timing of form submissions

W-9: Submitted before payments

1099: Issued after payments

The W-9 form is typically submitted by the recipient to the requester before any payments are made. It’s a proactive step taken by the requester to ensure they have the necessary information on hand in case they need to report payments in the future.

1099 forms are issued by the payer to the recipient and the IRS after payments have been made during the tax year. They are typically sent out in January of the following year and provide recipients with the necessary income information for tax reporting.

5. Tax consequences for the recipient

W-9: No immediate tax implications

1099: Potential tax liability

Providing a W-9 form to a requester does not have immediate tax implications for the recipient. It is simply a means of sharing taxpayer information with the requester for their records.

Receiving a 1099 form can have tax consequences for the recipient. The income reported on a 1099 form is taxable, and the recipient is responsible for reporting it on their tax return. Failure to do so can result in tax liability and potential penalties from the IRS.

Compliance with IRS regulations and legal obligations related to W-9 and 1099 forms is essential for individuals and businesses to maintain accurate tax records and avoid potential penalties. Let’s take a closer look at some key features.

IRS regulations and requirements

W-9 compliance

1099 compliance

Requesters must adhere to IRS regulations when requesting W-9 forms. This includes obtaining accurate and complete information from the recipient and ensuring that the requester’s use of the information complies with tax laws. Misuse of the information obtained on a W-9 can result in legal consequences.

Payers have a legal obligation to issue 1099 forms accurately and on time. They must report the correct amount of income paid to the recipient, along with the recipient’s TIN. Failure to do so can lead to penalties.

Penalties for non-compliance

W-9 penalties

1099 penalties

Requesters who misuse or mishandle the information collected through W-9 forms may face penalties, such as fines or potential legal action. Misuse of taxpayer information can result in civil and even criminal penalties.

Payers who fail to issue or file 1099 forms accurately and on time can incur penalties. The IRS may assess penalties based on the type of 1099 form and the severity of the violation. 

Keeping records and documentation

It’s important to maintain accurate records and documentation related to W-9 and 1099 forms.

Both requesters and payers should keep copies of the forms they collect or issue, as well as any supporting documentation, contracts, invoices, and receipts. These records will serve as evidence of compliance with IRS regulations and will be needed in case of an audit.

The importance of consulting a tax professional

Dealing with tax forms, especially when complex situations arise, can be challenging. Seek the advice of a qualified tax professional, such as a certified public accountant (CPA) or tax attorney, to help you navigate the intricacies of tax compliance related to these two forms.

Tax laws and regulations can change over time. Readers should stay informed about any recent updates or changes that may affect using W-9 and 1099 forms.  For example, tax thresholds, reporting deadlines, or form requirements may be subject to revisions. Awareness of these changes helps individuals and businesses stay up-to-date and in compliance with the latest IRS regulations. Check with to learn more.

In short, compliance with IRS regulations and legal obligations related to W-9 and 1099 forms is critical to avoid penalties and maintain accurate tax records.

link to Independent contractor taxes: a guide for businesses

Independent contractor taxes: a guide for businesses

If your business works with independent contractors, it’s important to understand what your tax obligations are. Here’s what you need to know.

Should US companies use W-9 and 1099 tax forms when hiring abroad?

When US companies hire international independent contractors and freelancers, the use of W-9 and 1099 forms can be quite different compared to when they hire US residents. 

Here’s how US companies should approach the use of each of these forms in these scenarios:

Using W-9 forms for international independent contractors and freelancers

Consider the following aspects of the W-9 form when hiring abroad:


US companies should still request W-9 forms from international independent contractors and freelancers, especially if those individuals will provide services within the US or receive payments through US financial institutions. The reason is that the W-9 helps collect essential taxpayer information for potential future reporting purposes.

TIN requirement

International contractors should provide their TIN, which is issued by their home country’s tax authority. While this may not be an SSN or EIN, it serves a similar purpose in their home country for tax reporting.

FATCA considerations

US companies should be familiar with the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). This act requires foreign individuals and entities to report financial accounts held outside their home country to the IRS. Compliance with FATCA regulations is essential when dealing with international independent contractors.

Using 1099 forms for international independent contractors and freelancers

US companies should issue 1099 forms to international independent contractors and freelancers if they meet the IRS reporting threshold for non-employee compensation (1099-NEC) or other types of reportable income (1099-MISC). The reporting threshold for non-employee compensation is $600 or more in a tax year.

Reporting challenges

There are a few possible situations to be aware of. International independent contractors will likely have foreign addresses, which can complicate the issuance of 1099 forms. In addition, tax treaties between the US and the contractor’s home country may affect tax withholding and reporting requirements.

IRS W-8 series forms

In many cases, international independent contractors and freelancers should complete IRS W-8 series forms instead of W-9 forms. The most common form is the W-8BEN, which establishes the foreign individual’s status and helps determine whether withholding tax is required. And if the independent contractor is a foreign entity, other forms, like the W-8ECI, may apply.

To navigate these complexities, US companies should get guidance from tax professionals with expertise in international tax matters. This will help make sure they comply with US and international tax regulations.

Make W-9 vs.1099 compliance easy with Remote’s contractor management 

W-9 and 1099 tax forms both regulate aspects of employing independent contractors and freelancers. The difference is that the W-9 collects information that can then be used in 1099 income reporting forms.

Working with these forms can be tricky, especially for companies that hire overseas independent contractors and freelancers. That’s why it’s a good idea to partner with a contractor management platform like Remote.

Remote offers businesses a centralized hub to manage the complexities of navigating W-9, W-8, and 1099 forms for independent contractors and freelancers. This helps your company stay focused on its core operations while complying with international tax laws.

In particular:

  • The platform can handle the collection and storage of W-9 or equivalent forms from international independent contractors so that all necessary taxpayer information is correctly and securely gathered.

  • It can automate the issuance of 1099 forms when required, while also factoring in IRS reporting thresholds and foreign tax treaties.

  • It can help employers stay up-to-date with evolving tax laws and regulations and reduce the risk of compliance errors and penalties. It adapts to the specific tax requirements of the contractor’s home country so that proper withholding, if necessary, occurs.

Learn more about how Remote makes this compliance challenge a breeze with our article below.

link to Remote Contractor Management: Tax compliance for US companies just got easier

Remote Contractor Management: Tax compliance for US companies just got easier

We’re excited to share the details of our new tax compliance feature for Remote’s Contractor Management platform, specifically designed to help HR and finance administrators meet IRS rules. 

How Remote can help you navigate US tax compliance  

Whether you're hiring independent contractors in the US or globally, it’s essential to stay compliant with US tax laws and avoid the risks of fines and penalties. This includes issuing the relevant forms to your international independent contractors and making sure they submit the tax forms accurately and on time.

Remote’s global contractor management platform has been designed to help HR and finance leaders comply with IRS rules and regulations. You can make US tax compliance quick, simple, and easy while hiring contractors with Remote. 

If you’d like to understand tax obligations for your contractors, you can contact our friendly team for advice. To learn more about how our contractor management platform can help you hire, pay, and manage global contractors, book a demo of our interactive platform today!

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