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How Belonging to a Union Impacts Your Tax Return

Mark Steber Chief Tax Officer Published On September 02, 2019

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Happy Labor Day – a day when (most) hardworking Americans get the chance to kick back, relax, and – hopefully – forget about the rigors of the working world for just a little bit. Maybe you’re hitting the beach this weekend. Maybe you’re ready to fire up the grill. Or maybe you’re just hanging out and having a blessedly plain, boring day.

137 Years Later: The History of Labor Day

Whatever the case, today is about you, the American worker. Did you know the first-ever Labor Day was celebrated 137 years ago, and it’s been a national federal holiday since 1894? That you get to spend the day off today is the result of years and years of hard work and perseverance by trade unionists and other collective groups of workers.

But even though unions were responsible for some major developments in American working life – like the five-day workweek and child labor laws – union membership is declining rapidly. While roughly 16.4 million workers were represented by a union in 2018 (with 14.7 million actually belonging to a union, and the other group belonging to jobs that were covered by union contracts), the overall percentage of union membership in the US workforce has fallen from over 20% in the early 1980s to just 10.5% today.

Are Union Dues and Other Expenses Tax Deductible?

While the presence and power of unions in the American workforce is certainly shifting – whether for political or economic reasons – if you’re a union member, you might’ve been affected by other factors last tax season. Did you know tax reform eliminated the ability of employees, including union members, to deduct job-related expenses on their tax returns? This means union members who are employees can’t deduct things like dues and uniforms – although this might be offset by the increased, nearly double standard deduction.

However, if you are a self-employed union member, you can still deduct expenses you pay to do your job, including union dues.

Tax Tips for Labor Day

Alas, even though today’s your day off, we’d be remiss if we didn’t remind you to consider your obligations as a taxpayer. After all, the taxes you pay from the fruits of your… labor… keep the government running and allow many Americans to observe this holiday in the first place.

  • If you’re a small business owner, self-employed, a freelancer, or you derive income from investments, don’t forget to pay your quarterly estimated taxes. Sure, it’s not exactly the end of the quarter, but it can’t hurt to remember any outstanding financial obligations you have.

  • If you filed an extension on your tax return back in April, that October 15 due date is right around the corner! Check out our blog on filing extensions for everything you’ll need to know about completing your return and making sure it finds its way to the IRS.

  • It’s almost back to school season! If you’re a teacher, you can still take an above-the-line deduction for up to $250 worth of out-of-pocket unreimbursed classroom expenses. Also, education represented the fastest-growing area of union membership last year, more than any other sector – so it might be a good time to think about joining a teachers’ union.

As you enjoy what will hopefully prove to be a relaxing, fun day off work, don’t forget how hard you’ve worked and how far you’ve come this year. On behalf of Jackson Hewitt, thank you for all you do to help the American economy prosper.

Oh, one more thing: We know Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer, but don’t let that stop you from wearing white if you want to. Just a little fashion advice from your friendly Jackson Hewitt Tax Pros.

About the Author

Mark Steber is Chief Tax Officer, responsible for key initiatives that support overall tax service delivery and quality assurance. Mark also serves as a Jackson Hewitt liaison with the Internal Revenue Service, states, and other government authorities. With almost 30 years of tax experience and deep knowledge of the federal and state tax codes, Mark is widely referenced as an expert on consumer income tax issues, especially electronic-tax and data-protection issues.

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