Every contributor faces this at the start, and many will have received a new message to renew it these days: The tax forms at the big US based microstock agencies. So let’s have a quick look at how to fill them out. But sorry, just let me tell you from the start, I can not give individual advice nor can I comment on how to fill out the form for people from non-treaty countries nor for contributors who are working in corporate entities. This article is just a help for those who are allowed to submit the W-8BEN form, those who are a single person coming from a country with an existing taxation treaty. I am no lawyer, I am no accountant, I am not tax consultant and simply won’t comment on individual questions on this, sorry. 😉
So let’s have a quick look at where to find the tax forms at three of the most popular agencies. At Shutterstock, the tax form can be found in the contributor platform under the Earnings menu on top (see screen shot above). If you have supplied Shutterstock for a while, you will now notice the W-8BEN form shows as Expired as you can see in my account right below. The reason is that those forms are valid for four years only, and I have submitted mine at the beginning of 2013.
At Adobe Stock, the Tax Form can be found in the Contributor Account section in the contributor portal. There is a section “Tax Information” that links to the appropriate forms:
If you prefer, you can still fill out the form through the Fotolia site as well. For my German readers (who are more likely to use Fotolia than Adobe Stock), you can find it in the screen shot below. In English it should be clearly listed in the Tools section at the bottom left as well.
With Adobe and Fotolia, just decide which one to go through. You will end up in the same form, and once accepted it will automatically be visible on the other site as well. I filled out the form on the Adobe Stock site this year and it showed on the Fotolia site when I checked a few minutes later.
Finally, at Dreamstime you’ll find out the Tax Center button in the bottom row in the Contributors Area:
The W-8BEN form and how to fill it out
All of the agencies are using the same forms provided by the IRS that they need to file to avoid taxation. Unfortunately, all of them are using a slightly different way to help you to get to the information. Fotolia and Adobe Stock are the “laziest” ones, they just offer you an editable PDF file with the full form that you need to fill out yourself. The others are guiding you through questions to the right form and content. They also pre-fill the form with the known data like your address.
What you’ll need is mostly your address and your tax ID. Dreamstime has asked me to send a picture ID (passport, drivers license) along with the form for identification. So be sure to have that at hand. The file has to be 500 kB or smaller, so I sent a 1600 x 1200 image, saved with quality level 8 in Photoshop to get it small enough.
The W-8BEN form starts with an address section that most agencies have filled in with your profile data already. At Fotolia/Adobe Stock you have to enter those fields manually. Section 4 is not mandatory, and you only have to fill it out if your mailing address is different from your formal residence.
Some agencies ask you to confirm that your residential address is not a P.O. Box nor a c/o address (someone else receiving your mail). The residence has to be a physical address where you are formally registered.
In the next section, a tax ID number is requested. This is still often cause for confusion as some years ago, you may have read people applied for a US tax ID (ITIN) at their embassies for this purpose. You don’t. At least not anymore if that ever actually was a mandatory thing.
It is not really clear if you have to supply it to get your W-8BEN form accepted as some countries like France apparently don’t have any tax ID number; it appears that some people had their forms accepted without supplying a tax ID. But if you live in a country like Germany, better have it at hand and better enter it that finding out in a few weeks that your form was rejected and you have to start from scratch.
In my case I am using my personal German tax ID, not a business ID.
In field 8, fill in your birth date, and make sure to do it in the American format of first writing the month in two digits (03 for March), then the day, then the year. Separated by dashes, so 09-12-1971 would be the 12th of September 1971.
Part II of the form is about the Treaty Benefits we claim. Hopefully you are also living in a country with a tax treaty that protects us from double taxation. In this case, the US withholding tax should be reduced from 30% to 0% (in some countries the contract allows the US to keep 10% or 15%).
With most agencies, this section is automatically filled out when you choose your country of residence. However, Adobe/Fotolia only offer an empty form, so I decided to fill out the three other fields myself by using the information from the forms that Shutterstock and Dreamstime have provided. So maybe it’s a good idea to have those open at the same time and keep them open at this stage until you figured out how to fill in the data at Adobe.
The final section is just an explanation that cheating the IRS is not a good idea and you need to be sure that you are indeed who you claim you are etc.
At the bottom, the form requires a signature which can be provided electronically by entering your name once again. And then once more for the “print name of signer” field again.
The last field sometimes leading to confusion is the “capacity” in which you are acting. As the BEN in form W-8BEN stands for “beneficial owner”, this is what it defaults to when you leave it empty. And that’s totally fine, so just leave it empty.
With some agencies, you will very soon receive a message if your tax form has been accepted or not. And from that moment onwards, you should be receiving the full amount of your royalties. Enjoy the money. 🙂