Companies like Uber and Grubhub tout the "sharing economy" as an alternative to a traditional job, offering the freedom and flexibility to earn money on your own schedule. Well, when it comes to Schedules on tax forms, though, gig economy workers are discovering that they've earned the freedom to pay a surprise tax bill.

According to a recent survey of 1,648 American workers conducted by Prudential Financial, gig workers aren't just more likely to owe taxes but are also, not surprising, starting to totally freak out now that tax day is finally upon them. Here are the stats:

  • More than half of gig-only workers aren't getting a refund this year.
  • Almost one out of three gig-only owe taxes (as opposed to one of five traditional workers).
  • Of gig-only workers who owe taxes, almost two out of three (!!!) don't have the cash on hand to pay those taxes.

Not surprisingly, the confusion around what they own and scrambling to find the money to pay is driving some gig economy workers up the proverbial wall. The worst hit: people who work a traditional job along with a gig economy side hustle, who are more likely than gig-only workers to experience unpredictable income and expenses.

The confusion and stress--which will crescendo on tax day--is a humungous deal because 15.5 million Americans work gig jobs either full time or as side hustles. For perspective, that's roughly 13% of the working population, which means more than one out out of ten workers.

So if you're feeling an extra amount of free-flowing panic in the air this year, it's probably not your imagination.

How are the gig workers coping? Well, just as you'd expect. Some are feverishly long hours to make some extra dough to pay the tax man while others are scrambling to raise some quick cash. Expect to see longer lines at pawnshops and payday loaners this weekend.

And don't be surprised if your cousin Nathan--or maybe your "retired" Dad--asks you to spot him a few extra Franklins over the weekend.

The real problem, of course, is that gig economy firms foist the burden of tax accounting onto their "contractors." It's yet another way that these firms reduce their losses as they position to go public. Ironically, the investors will make the big bucks (and pay little or no taxes) while the workers get stuck paying surprise tax bills... and extra penalties should they be caught short.

Published on: Apr 12, 2019
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.