A couple of days ago I wrote about how Amex was sending out 1099s for points that were earned through their “refer a friend” program, and it looks like Chase is now doing the same.
To first recap the basics…
Are credit card rewards taxable?
The topic of taxation when it comes to points is an interesting one (let me say upfront that I’m not a tax professional, and this is just my take). As a general rule of thumb, airline miles, hotel points, and credit card points aren’t taxable. You’re only on the hook for taxes on points if they’re won as a prize (like if you win a sweepstakes), or if they’re an incentive that isn’t a rebate.
That last point can be confusing. Generally speaking credit card rewards are considered rebates, since you’re earning them for spending that you’re putting on credit cards.
However, when you earn a reward for referring someone to a credit card, arguably that’s an incentive that isn’t a rebate, since you don’t have to spend anything to earn that reward.
At the same time, historically credit card issuers haven’t sent out 1099s for these types of things, so the fact that they’re doing so now suggests they may have received some sort of guidance from the IRS.
Chase is sending out 1099s for referral bonuses
Chase has a “refer a friend” program, where you can earn bonus points for referring people to some of their cards. The program is a win-win, as it allows existing cardmembers to earn bonuses for referring friends to cards they like.
There are now reports that Chase is sending out 1099s for those who took part in the refer a friend program. Note that this doesn’t apply to welcome bonuses or rewards from spending, but rather just points from referrals. If you haven’t received a letter yet, expect that you’ll receive one soon.
To clarify two points that confused some people in the past (especially those outside the US who aren’t familiar with the US tax system):
- The amount listed on your 1099 isn’t the amount you have to pay in taxes, but rather you have to declare that as additional income, so you’d pay at your tax rate based on that amount (in other words, if you have a 30% tax rate and the rewards are worth $1,000, you’d pay $300 in taxes on it)
- A 1099 is an “information return,” which essentially reports to the IRS “income” you have received, including from employers and other means
Chase is valuing points at one cent each
Chase seems to be valuing all points at a penny each for these purposes, which seems more than fair. Ultimate Rewards points have a “cash out” value of around one cent per point, so just about everyone should value Ultimate Rewards points at least that much (and actually significantly more, in my opinion).
While I don’t think it’s worth doing so here, note that generally speaking you can dispute the values for these kinds of things on 1099s. Several years back View from the Wing wrote a useful post about how to do this (it basically requires calling the IRS), and I imagine similar advice still applies.
Given that both Amex and Chase are now sending out 1099s for referral bonuses, it sure seems to me like something may have changed that’s causing this, or else we wouldn’t be seeing this from both issuers back-to-back.
On the plus side, at least the valuation of points is reasonable, and regardless of what tax bracket you’re in, this should still be worthwhile.
If you receive a 1099 from Chase regarding referring people to cards, please report back!
(Tip of the hat to Doctor Of Credit)