'Road warrior' tax laws vary by state
A crazy quilt of laws governing state income taxes for “road warriors” — residents of one state who work in another — can make tax collections a nightmare. Yet states don't necessarily favor streamlining the system under a proposed federal law.
The way it works now, states have varied standards for requiring workers to file personal income tax returns when those employees work for periods of time in a state where they don't live. The rules dictate how employers withhold income tax for those employees.
Some states, like New York, carefully monitor out-of-state workers; other states are less vigilant about it, according to the Council on State Taxation, or COST, a trade association for multistate corporations.
Some states have a “first day” rule, which means if you set foot in a state you don't live in and work there for one day, you owe that state income tax. Other states have varying periods of time when the nonresident income tax kicks in, ranging from 10 days to 60 days. To complicate things further, some states do not assess the income tax on a time-worked basis; rather, they assess it on an income-earned basis starting at a floor of anywhere from $300 to $1,800 a year, according to COST.
Corporations would like to see a streamlined standard for withholding and collecting income taxes on nonresidents and are backing federal legislation that would make all state tax rules conform. COST officials say it's a nightmare for businesses to keep up with the different regulations.
“The problem is people who travel to other states for work. I travel to 20 or 30 states a year,” said Doug Lindholm, president and executive director of COST. “Half of the states, the requirement is that as soon as I work in that state, I owe them a personal income tax return, and the company has a withholding responsibility. It's a ‘gotcha' waiting to happen. Very few people comply with it, and very few companies comply because they don't know where their employees are all the time.”
Mary B. Hevener, an attorney with the Washington firm of Morgan Lewis who specializes in interstate tax issues, said many companies are developing software that can handle the myriad state laws regarding “road warrior” workers. But the complexity of all the rules makes it difficult to keep track, she said.
“If you go to a state, you could be taxed, or if you stay there one minute, you could be taxed,” she said. “If you land in a state and check your BlackBerry, some states say, ‘Yeah, that's work.' How much of a day is ‘work?' Is attending a conference? Attending an awards ceremony?”
Hevener said some states are more aggressive, noting New York and California as examples. She characterized Minnesota and Pennsylvania as states that “look” into workers from other states. Others are less interested.
States have attempted to ease the situation in a couple of ways. Reciprocal agreements among bordering states can eliminate the problem. Maryland and Virginia, for example, have reciprocity, which means a Virginia resident who works in Maryland does not have to pay Maryland income tax. The District of Columbia, due to its unique nature as the seat of federal government and attractiveness to out-of-state workers, has reciprocity with all states.
States have also developed model legislation through the Multistate Tax Commission that would cover the income tax treatment of nonresident workers. This legislation would not require an employer to withhold income tax on a nonresident employee who works in the state for no more than 20 days. And the nonresident is not required to pay income tax on those earnings.
But the legislation only applies to workers from states with no income tax or from states which have agreed to the model legislation. So far, only North Dakota has implemented it. Since no other state has signed on, this option does not appear to have wide appeal.
The model legislation does not include professional sports figures, whose contracts generally spell out taxation issues since they play games in many states in the course of a season, experts said.
Under the “Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Simplification Act,” pending in Congress, the amount of time a worker has to work in a state to be liable for income taxes in that state would be standardized at 30 days. Once that threshold is passed, the state's income tax laws governing amounts owed and withholding requirements would apply. The congressional bill provides that an employee's earnings are subject to tax in the states where the work is being performed and could be credited against the worker's income tax liability in his or her home state, which is the way it works now.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Delay sought in enforcing regulation to make mortgages easier to understand
- Overhaul possible for West Mifflin’s Century III Mall
- Vehicle won’t run if sensor is on the fritz
- Female CEOs’ pay outpaces male colleagues
- Trib 30 index of stocks gains 0.7% in May
- GDP data, consumer sentiment drop slash stocks
- Fuel and potential fires for U.S. economy ahead
- GMC Sierra is part workhorse, part command center
- Chevron settles fatal shale well fire lawsuit, state claims for nearly $6M
- West Coast port slowdown a $100M blow to apple growers
- Honda thinks outside box