Filing taxes as a waiter or waitress can be stressful. Not only are you responsible for reporting, sharing and keeping record of tips, but you may also have job-related expenses that you have to pay on your own. Thankfully, for tax years 2017 and prior, the IRS allows you to deduct certain unreimbursed, job-related expenses that you incur in the course of your work. If you keep meticulous records of your expenses, you’re able to write off several things you need for waiting tables that could result in a lower tax bill, or even a refund, at tax time.
Keeping Accurate Records
As a waitress, you must report all tips to your employer. The exception to this rule is making less than $20 in tips for any given month. However, you are still responsible for reporting this income to the IRS, and paying Social Security as well as Medicare taxes on it. This is where impeccable record-keeping comes into play. If you keep a daily accounting of the amount of tips you make, whether you must report them to your employer or not, you will have a much easier time of totaling this income and reporting it to the IRS when you file taxes.
Even though your employer will include your tips and wages on your W-2, it’s a good idea to keep track of your tips (both paid in cash and credit card) for your own records. In the event your employer is calculating your income without taking into account that you have to “tip out” other employees such as bussers and bartenders, your records will help you get this money back when you file. Because tips are considered income, if you are paying a portion of your tips to other staff, you are not responsible for paying taxes on the portion you tipped-out to others.
Your records should include the date, amount of tips received directly from customers and other employees, credit card tips, tips you paid out to other employees and the names of the employees you paid out. A quick search online will provide templates you can use to make keeping track of your tips easier.
What Can a Waitress Claim?
For tax years 2017 and prior, if you’re an employee and you have expenses that your boss does not reimburse you for, you can likely write these expenses off, provided they are necessary for doing your job. However, starting with the 2018 tax year, recent tax reforms have changed all of this. No longer can employees take deductions for these unreimbursed expenses, so if you're responsible for paying for what you need, you have to do so without the hopes of writing these expenses off as a waitress on your tax return.
For tax filings prior to 2018, as an employee, you can deduct the cost of a uniform, if you have to purchase it yourself. However, the uniform (including shoes) has to be something you can only wear for work. For example, if your uniform consists of black pants, a white shirt and black shoes, you cannot deduct this as an unreimbursed expense because you can wear these items outside the scope of working. You’re also able to deduct the cost of dry cleaning your uniform. But, you must itemize these deductions on your tax return, and sometimes it could make more sense for you to take the standard deduction.
Any continuing education courses you need to stay current in your field are deductible as well as any trade organizations you belong to, conventions you have to attend or publications you must subscribe to – as long as you are responsible for paying for them and are not reimbursed. You can also deduct other work-related expenses such as aprons, POS swipe cards, name tags or employee badges and any other equipment you can use only for work.
IRS Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions, has more information regarding exactly which deductions you can write off as an employee. If you're unsure of what deductions you're eligible to claim, consult with a qualified tax professional or familiarize yourself with the IRS' website for more guidance.
Tara Thomas is a Los Angeles-based writer and avid world traveler. Her articles appear in various online publications, including Sapling, PocketSense, Zacks, Livestrong, Modern Mom and SF Gate. Thomas has a Bachelor of Science in marine biology from California State University, Long Beach and spent 10 years as a mortgage consultant.