Millennials and freelancers are contributing more to the Philippine economy than ever — but what does it take to pay your taxes, and where exactly do they go?
Working class heroes
Fiel Estrella (The Philippine Star) - August 17, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — If the sudden influx of coworking spaces and longer operating hours for coffee shops in Metro Manila and beyond are any indication, freelancing has become a viable and stable source of income for Filipinos, especially people in their 20s. The digital landscape has allowed for countless opportunities to work at your own pace and made it possible to actually earn a living. What was once thought of as the future is now a way of life, and it’s being reflected in data and statistics, including the numbers that tend to say the most about working Filipinos and their paychecks: our taxes.

Web-based tax filing and payment platform Taxumo, which caters to small business owners and self-employed professionals, reports that since its launch in 2016, 55% of the total amount of tax payments collected came from freelancers, indicating a rapid growth in their contribution to the Philippine economy. The Philippine Statistics Authority’s Annual Labor & Employment Estimates in the year 2017 also state that there are approximately 11.2 million freelancers in the country, making up 27.8% of employed Filipinos.

According to the data collected from Taxumo’s userbase, most of the taxpayer population on the platform comprises millennials, who make up 75.9% of users, followed by Gen Z at 19.6% and Pre-Boomers, Boomers, and Generation X at 4.5%. Most of their careers are classified under the fields of service, computer-related activities, and life insurance.

Initially predicting that majority of tax filers would be from business owners, it was a welcome surprise for freelancers to be at the forefront. But when your job consists of no contract or certificate of employment, payslips, and other documents and identification, it can prove difficult when you’re managing finances and trying to process applications, such as loans and visas. The income tax return (ITR) serves as proof of income — and for millennial freelancers, it also legitimizes their first steps into adulthood.

“My ITR serves as a bit of a wake-up call,” says George, a freelance writer. “One of the first things I look at on my ITR is how much money I make in a year. This is immediately followed by questions on where my money went. It serves as my reminder to be more mindful of my money.”

The taxpaying and filing process can be daunting, especially since we don’t usually get crash courses on the topic in school. “I had to learn about it while navigating my way through my first year working. I think it’s really a responsibility for me,” says Camille, a preschool teacher. “It is mostly the travel time and having to line up, these alone could take up an entire day.” Employees often have to request a day-off to get their taxes done on time. “I had to ask for help from colleagues who has done it before. It was very challenging, not to mention I didn’t get paid for a day because I had to settle my taxes. Now, the admin at work does it for us so it’s not much of a worry for me anymore. I regularly check on it though just to make sure that I’m paying my taxes as I should.”

“Filing taxes is honestly one of the most confusing and overwhelming processes to go through, but only because it’s hard to know where to start,” adds Nathan, also a freelancer. “Ideally you can do everything online, but the BIR website isn’t the best so you’re going to end up in your revenue district office sooner or later. It’s very doable on paper, but when you have a lot of work going on, registering for the first time is hell.” You have to gather all the requirements, which is a challenge in itself. “I ended up hiring someone to take care of it for me.”

Most professional 20-somethings have taken to using expense tracking apps to manage their finances. “I found that when budgeting becomes gamified, the task becomes less tedious,” George says, but goes on to say that the digital platform eventually proved not to work for him. He’s taken up manually listing down his budget and expenses in his journal instead. “This method actually helped me become more mindful of where I spend my money. At the same time, it also gives me a quick recap of how my day went.”

Nathan doesn’t go for any type of expense tracking at all, and prefers keeping himself in check through mindfulness and discipline. “I usually take a peek at my bank balance every now and then to gauge how much I’ve spent and how much wiggle room I have for luho.”

Another source of frustration for this generation when it comes to taxes is where they go — or rather, where they don’t go. “I don’t think that there is any sign of progress (from my tax money),” says George. “I’ll only feel satisfied with where my taxes are going when every single Filipino has access to health care, education, food and shelter.”

“Since I want to have a good life in this country, as well as the other citizens, I have to make sure that I attend to (my taxes),” Camille chimes in. “I look around me, I look at the news, and I hear stories from my friends who commute more often than I do and I just feel really bad. I’ve been working for three years and have paid taxes since, but I have yet to see the fruit of it.”

With most Taxumo users being freelancers and millennials, the freelance workforce is evidently growing more lucrative by the day, suggesting a long-term future in these types of occupations despite a perceived lack of job stability. George, however, sees it more as a necessity. “Most of my friends that work freelance do it on top of their regular jobs,” he shares. “I think that the rise in freelancing is more of a reflection of how our daily 9-5 jobs aren’t sustainable for the Philippines that we live in now.”

Nathan agrees that there’s a certain privilege in being able to live off freelance alone, but retains an optimistic if practical point of view. “What’s nice about it is that you can have a lot of control over your schedule and the amount of work you do and ultimately, the money that you make,” he says. “For freelancing to be lucrative, you really have to be savvy in a lot of things that you won’t get in one college degree, like marketing, bookkeeping, PR, etc. But once you get the hang of it and carve a niche for yourself, you can charge whatever you want, within reason.” If you have the willpower and pluck it takes, “being a full-time freelancer isn’t out of the question.”

For more information on Taxumo, visit taxumo.com.

FREELANCERS TAXES TAXUMO
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