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NIL Income and Taxes

NIL income and taxes

Before 2021, college athletes had a few ways to earn money. These were typically from scholarships, grants, part-time jobs, or possibly even help from their parents. Since then, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has allowed these athletes, including high school level athletes, to engage in NIL, or Name, Image, and Likeness, activities. This has created many financial opportunities for college athletes. However, it has also created more responsibilities for these first-time tax filers. Here, we will break down NIL income, including what types exist and how to report it during tax time.  

What is NIL Income? 

NIL income is the revenue earned by high school and collegiate athletes through the use of their name, image, and likeness. How much these athletes can earn typically depends on their social media presence, the sport they play and other factors. Currently, basketball and football players earn the most NIL income compared to other sports. The top NIL earner in 2023 is none other than 18-year-old basketball star Bronny James, son of superstar LeBron James. His NIL valuation is between $6.8 million and $7.6 million. Both his NIL valuation and social media following of nearly 13 million are comparable to many professional athletes who have been in the game much longer. While all this sounds fantastic for the emerging superstar, NIL income is taxable, meaning he and his fellow NIL earners will have financial responsibilities during tax time. 

How is NIL Income Earned? 

NIL income can be earned through various ways, including: 

  • Guest appearances 
  • Autograph signings 
  • Sponsorships 
  • Endorsements 
  • Content creation 
  • NFTs 
  • Gifts 
  • Vacations 
  • Apparel and athletic equipment 

How is NIL Income Taxed? 

To avoid surprises during tax season, it’s critical to understand the tax implications of NIL income. NIL income earners are technically considered independent contractors, which means they would receive Form 1099-NEC at the beginning of each year if they earned at least $600 in NIL income the previous year. This includes crypto payments. If they were paid through a third-party payment network, like Venmo or PayPal, they will instead receive Form 1099-K. Gifts or free items with values of $600 or more will be reported on Form 1099-MISC. If they also worked a job that gives Form W-2, this income should also be reported. Remember, the IRS receives all 1099s and W-2s from employers, so all income should be reported on your tax return if you are an NIL income earner. 

If an NIL earner has net income of $400 or more, they must file a tax return. Since they are considered self-employed, they will also need to pay estimated quarterly tax payments if they expect to owe $1,000 or more in taxes. In addition, they will be responsible for paying self-employment taxes, which equals 15.3% of their income.  

Tax Help for NIL Earners 

Earning money for your name, image, and likeness is an amazing opportunity for high school and college athletes. However, paying taxes on this income may not always be a first instinct which can lead to financial troubles. A good way for these earners to save money during tax time is to take advantage of tax-deductible expenses available, including plane fare, hotel bills, vehicle expenses, marketing and agency fees, and more.

Meanwhile, there are also education tax credits and the student loan interest deduction for those who qualify. Also, keep in mind that each state has their own set of tax rules and regulations. It is critical to become acquainted with your state’s specific rules in order to understand how NIL income is taxed and what deductions or credits may be available to you. Keeping good records, planning ahead, staying informed, and consulting with a knowledgeable tax professional can make the biggest difference in this complex process.  

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