Tax Considerations for Award / Prize Money from The Garage

Aug 31, 2020

Receiving a financial award through a program at The Garage or another University class or program is a great way to fund the early stages of experimentation and development for your entrepreneurial project. Check out some of the funding opportunities at The Garage and around campus that are available to Northwestern students. However, there may be tax implications for receiving money or an award. Here are four best practices for preparing to manage business income and expenses:

  1. After your company is registered with the State and has an EIN number from the IRS, the company should set up a business bank account and credit card to process all transactions for the company.
  2. If your company pays any contractors, including attorneys, more than $600 for a calendar year, make sure you obtain their signed W9 form. This will allow your company to issue a 1099 to them in January. Consider using for this process or hire a CPA.
  3. Ideally, companies should use software like Quickbooks Online, XERO, or WAVE APPS (free cloud accounting software) to keep track of revenue and expenses.
  4. Undergrads should consider taking Startup Accounting & Finance (ENTREP 330) through the Farley Center.

You may be wondering: Are these funds taxable? Do I, or does my company, owe money to the IRS, or to the State, or both? These are great questions and there are many variables to determine the answer. The first consideration is the type of award:

Expense Reimbursements

If you completed an expense report and were reimbursed for a purchase that you made from your own money, in general, this payment is not taxable. (Examples: awards received through Propel or Little Joe Ventures Fellowship expense reimbursements).

Award Payments

 If you or your company received a check or a direct deposit into your bank account, these funds may be taxable. Whether or not you or your company owe money to the IRS and the State will depend on many factors. Some examples of these factors include: other income received over the year, any offsetting expenses, available deductions, etc. (Examples: awards received through Wildfire)

The Garage provides free Office Hours with Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) for Northwestern students during the academic year. It is highly recommended and encouraged that you meet with a CPA to discuss your business, taxes, and any income, including awards provided by The Garage.

Six Things to Bring When You Meet With a CPA About Your Business:

  1. Any 1099s showing the income that has been paid to your company
  2. IRS letter with your Employer Identification Number (EIN)
  3. Company organization documents, such as State registration forms proving that your company has been registered and incorporated with the State (especially the State that you are doing business in)
  4. The type of business structure created: for example, LLC, S-Corp, C-Corp, or non-profit
  5. A summary of expenses incurred by your company, broken out by categories, such as software, meals, rent, contractor payments, etc.
  6. Be prepared to discuss your business model, revenue streams, and any awards or prize money received by your company

Accounting and taxes can be complex and overwhelming. However, with a little advanced planning and targeted advice from experts, it should be a manageable process.

About the Author