The digital economy has allowed increasing numbers of nonresidents to work remotely for California firms without becoming California residents, and even without paying California income taxes (see my article Nonresidents Working Remotely for California Businesses ). At the same time, more and more nonresidents find themselves being offered lucrative temporary employment in California. This is particularly true for software developers or other information technology and e-commerce specialists who are in high demand by California’s thriving internet firms to complete a particular project. But it’s also true for medical professionals, management strategists, actors, professional athletes, artists, corporate trainers, even part-time teachers in a specialty field.
What all these professionals have in common is project work. The employment in California is temporary in that it involves completing a particular project or term of service. It isn’t permanent. It isn’t open-ended. Of course, temporary is a relative term. Some projects may only last a few months; others may require more than a year to complete. The issue confronting nonresidents working temporarily in California is whether they will be taxed only on their California-source income or become a resident in the eyes of California’s tax authority, the Franchise Tax Board. To control that, nonresidents working in California should have a plan.
Why It Matters?
At first blush, it might not seem to matter whether a nonresident working on a temporary basis in California is deemed a resident or not. The wages or 1099 (independent contractor) income received while working in California is taxable by California regardless of residency status. That’s inescapable because the work is performed in California. If all the income the worker receives during that tax year comes from the project, it doesn’t make any difference what his residency status is.
However, if the taxpayer has other sources of income, it makes a big difference. The FTB only taxes nonresidents on income sourced to California. But it taxes residents on all their income, from whatever source. And the top rate is 13.3% (in 2017).