By now most of us have decided to either ditch our New Year resolutions or have resolved to strengthen them and keep working harder. Long ago I decided to not make a long list of resolutions but to only focus on two, this way I make sure they are attainable. I always make a professional goal and a personal goal.
Professional goals can be as varied as the members of the NY Circle. I’ve known members who decided to work abroad for a year in a country that speaks his/her target or source language. Others want to add a new area of expertise. Some want to master a CAT tool. Some want to pass certification or court exams. Everyone wants better rates and would also like the general public to be more informed and aware of our industry.
Getting the word out is challenging but not impossible. Writing a blog, your local paper or phoning into a radio station talk show can be ways to get the word out. Writing articles is a great way to get your name out there whether it is in a national magazine, an industry specific trade magazine or even a local newsletter. I’m hoping many of our members consider contributing to the Gotham. The NY Circle has so many members with a wealth of knowledge that they could share. Many newcomers would greatly appreciate this and seasoned translators and interpreters might find a fresh view on an issue that was perplexing them. Please consider sharing your take on the industry with fellow members by submitting an article.
Here’s hoping all New York Circle members have a productive year filled with professional and personal milestones that surpass all their expectations.
The new tax law passed by Congress this past December is the most profound restructuring of the United States tax code in thirty years – an entire working lifetime for many of us linguists. As an accountant and tax preparer as well as a freelance translator, I have a dual perspective on the changes in store for 2018 and future years. In this article, I provide a review of the provisions in the law that are of particular interest to translators and interpreters.
To begin, it’s important to note that most of these provisions are effective for tax year2018 and later. Tax returns for the year just ended (tax year 2017) will be filed under the old rules, so taxpayers will have plenty of time to make appropriate adjustments to their business practices to reflect the new tax realities.
For all taxpayers, the standard deduction rises from $6,350 for single filers ($12,700 for married couples filing jointly (MFJ)) to $12,000 single ($24,000 MFJ), almost doubling. However, the $4,050 personal exemption is repealed entirely, so what was a tax filing threshold of $10,400 ($6,350 + 4,050) for single filers and $20,800 ($12,700 + (2 x 4,050)) for MFJ filers rises by only a little over 15%. The personal exemption for dependents is also repealed, so if a taxpayer has dependents, they may actually see their threshold for paying income tax decrease and their taxable income increase, which would mean paying more in taxes. (An increased Child Tax Credit and a new credit for other non-child dependents will offset some of the loss of the dependent exemption.)
The rise in the standard deduction leads to a higher threshold amount for claiming itemized deductions (on Form 1040 Schedule A). This will simplify filing for many taxpayers, since they will no longer see any benefit from itemizing nor any need to keep track of itemizable expenses; conversely, their taxable income may rise and their taxes along with it. In addition, many itemized deductions are eliminated, such as interest on home equity loans, investment expenses, tax preparation expenses, and unreimbursed employee expenses (we’ll return to this last one later). Others are capped, such as state and local tax (SALT) deductions, which will be limited to $10,000 per year. This will be felt especially in states such as New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut whose state income tax and property tax rates are relatively high.
One provision that does apply for tax year 2017 as well as 2018 is a reduction in the floor for itemized medical expense deductions. This is lowered to 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI), from 10% of AGI, for the 2017 and 2018 tax years, which generates a larger tax deduction for taxpayers who itemize. But note the floor returns to 10% of AGI for tax year 2019, so if you expect to itemize and anticipate having significant medical expenses in the near future, it may be wise to incur them this year, if possible.
Adjustments to gross income (“above the line” deductions) are also affected. For example, moving expenses are no longer deductible (except for some active-duty military servicemembers). However, some adjustments considered for elimination, such as student loan interest and educator expenses, remain in effect.
Some freelancers who file as sole proprietors on Form 1040 Schedule C, or who have companies structured as “pass-through entities” – this means partnerships, limited liability corporations (LLCs), or Subchapter S corporations, which do not pay income tax as organizations, but rather pass through profits to their owners to be reported on the owners’ individual tax returns – will be able, starting in tax year 2018, to deduct 20% of their net business income, as reflected on Schedule C (for sole proprietors or single-member LLCs) or on Schedule K-1 (for partners, LLC members, or S Corp owners), from their AGI as a “below-the-line” deduction to calculate taxable income. This is a temporary provision that is designed to expire after 2025, it is subject to phase-out above a certain income level, and it does not change liability for self-employment tax. The phase-out applies particularly for high earners (above $157,000 for single and $315,000 for MFJ taxpayers) in certain “personal service” professions, including physicians, attorneys, accountants, consultants, and businesses whose “principal asset … is the reputation or skill” of the owner. It is unclear at this time if linguists need to be concerned whether this last designation could apply to them; however, 70 percent of all eligible taxpayers regardless of profession fall below this income threshold, so the issue is relevant to a relatively small group. This provision should prove helpful for most self-employed linguists, be they sole proprietors or incorporated as LLCs/S Corps. Some freelancers may find it advantageous to undertake the process of forming an LLC or S Corp, however, it is not necessary to change sole-proprietor status to take advantage of the 20% deduction. LLC or S Corp formation takes time and can often be costly, so linguists considering doing so should weigh their options with care and consult with an attorney, accountant, or other qualified professional advisor.
Some proposed changes to tax law that were widely discussed did not end up in the final law as passed. I have already mentioned the student loan interest and educator expense adjustments; additionally, graduate student tuition waivers, which are now not considered taxable income, but were in danger of being reclassified as taxable, remain non-taxable. Employer-paid continuing education tuition expenses were also under consideration to be reclassified as taxable income, but remain non-taxable if they meet the criteria set in the tax code.
One change that was widely rumored during the process of passing the bill was based in a misunderstanding. It is not and never was the case that “business expense deductions” were up for elimination; what were considered for elimination, and ultimately eliminated, were unreimbursed employee business expenses. If you are an employee, and your employer does not reimburse you for certain expenses you incur as part of performing your work duties, these will no longer be deductible as itemized deductions (on Form 1040 Schedule A). If you own your own business, expenses you incur in the course of business remain deductible (on Form 1040 Schedule C) as in previous years, with one exception: The “mealsand entertainment” deduction is changing. Business entertainment expenses, which were deductible up to 50% of total expenses in a given year, will no longer be deductible. Business meals remain deductible up to 50% of the total as before. Also of note is that the home office deduction is unchanged. The criteria that a taxpayer must meet to claim the home office deduction remain quite strict, so claim it with caution!
There are many other changes in the new law that are beyond the scope of this article. If you think some of these provisions apply to you, I strongly recommend you consult with a qualified tax professional, such as a certified public accountant (CPA), attorney, or enrolled agent. We always ask our clients to trust professionals for their translation needs, and accounting and tax issues are similarly an area where trusted professionals are worth their weight in gold. The IRS has online guidance for choosing a reputable tax professional at https://www.irs.gov/tax-professionals/choosing-a-tax-professional, along with a link to a directory of tax professionals with IRS-recognized credentials. (I happen to be on this list.)
I wish you the best of luck in navigating through this challenging business environment!
Christine Quiñones is a freelance Spanish-English translator from Brooklyn, NY with a degree in accounting from New York University. She will be serving as Treasurer for the NYCT beginning January 2018.
The NYCT starts off the New Year with New members:
Reprinted with kind permission by the author from his blog
There are arguably some disadvantages to being a chief interpreter. One doesn’t get to interpret as often. One has a clock to punch, reports to write, long staff meetings to sit through, and scores of managerial chores that are not necessarily fun. And while one free-rides occasionally on collective success, failure is no longer circumscribed to one’s own mistakes. If an interpreter on my team falls flat on her face, I have a lot of explaining to do.
Obviously, the job comes with many perks. You are suddenly cleared into circles you did not know existed, where guidelines are discussed and decisions are made that have a direct impact on the overall pace of progress in the industry. The opportunity to help shape the future is real. And did I mention the welcome promise of a steady income to weather the seasonality of freelancing?
But beyond the evanescent elite membership privileges and pecuniary incentives, what I like most about the job is the amazing learning experience it provides. Being on the other side of the counter brings a completely different perspective, but I still know full well what it is like to be a freelancer. The position taught me a lot about diversity and human nature, while revealing many attributes of my own personality, some reassuring and some I would rather sweep under the rug.
Just a few years into the job, I realized many things I wish I had known in my days as a freelancer. Knowing then what I do now would have greatly improved my performance and earned me an extra buck in the process. So, for the benefit of those interpreters who do not aspire to become a chief interpreter, I thought I would share some important lessons learned along my professional journey.
1. Quality is a package
One’s interpreting abilities, accuracy, and smooth delivery rank high up on any chief interpreter’s checklist. But so do punctuality, teamwork skills, flexibility, and, most importantly, manners—both in and out of the booth. The best interpreters are the ones who get the job done unassumingly while making it easier for everyone to do the same, including the chief. They work diligently on their languages as well as their people skills. By contrast, arrogant, over demanding colleagues make it all about themselves and risk having relative gains in performance overcast by the toxic atmosphere they end up creating. All things considered, I guess any chief interpreter would prefer a really good interpreter with a great attitude over an excellent interpreter with a poor attitude.
Take-home point: be good, but be nice.
2. Sell the steak, not the sizzle
You have every reason to be proud of your skills and achievements. You worked hard on yourself and attained a reputation as a reliable, competent linguist. You interpreted for J.K. Rowling, Harry and Dumbledore, and got a standing ovation at Hogwarts. Kudos to you! Your VIP list will earn you extra credits with a prospective client and is certain to be a sensation among your Facebook friends.
Yet being on a first-name basis with Lord Voldemort does little to impress chief interpreters. We’ve been around the block once or twice on that broom, too, and we can quickly see through the self promotion blabber. To really leave a mark, review the attributes discussed in the previous section. Prepare and deliver as a dependable professional. Get in, get it done, and get out. Do so consistently and let your work speak for itself.
Take-home points: drop the hocus pocus.
3. Stop the fusillade of questions
There are some valid questions an interpreter might consider asking before an assignment if the requirements have not been communicated effectively by the chief interpreter. Dropping a line to flag an omission or to seek clarification on the venue, the time, or the subject matter shows professionalism and conscientiousness. Overdoing it will convey the opposite impression, though, and you will come across as an inexperienced or, worse, insecure interpreter. If you must ask a few questions, here’s a quick guide to getting the information you need in a manner that conveys professional competence.
• Think of what you want to ask and then mentally refine the list.
• Strike out any questions you might find the answers to somewhere else. I have no idea what the weather will be like in Geneva next week.
• Drop the awkward requests. No, I can’tget you a window seat on your upcoming trip to Moscow. Also, refrain from asking questions to which answers have been promised. (“You said the program would be forthcoming. Any chance I could have it now?”)
• Do not ask questions a chief interpreter might prefer not to answer, like who your booth mate is going to be or why you have not been assigned to interpret at the closing ceremony. You may end up with a vague answer or one you do not want to hear.
• Most importantly, in the event you receive a notification canceling the assignment, be careful not to ask for reasons based on unproven assumptions. (“Did I do anything wrong?”) Rather, reply with a polite and assertive note to acknowledge the cancellation and reiterate your willingness to be of assistance a second time around.
If you need to rely on e-mail, please keep message traffic to a minimum. E-mail is an incredibly time-consuming tool. Keep your notes short. Don’t “reply to all” and by all means never bcc anyone. Present all relevant concerns in a single e-mail and make it such that no reply is necessary (“If I don’t hear from you by Monday, I’ll assume …”).
Take home point: do not seek and ye shall find!
4. Ask and you shall receive
Conference interpreting is seasonal by definition. Conferences follow a predictable ebb and flow pattern. Few people will be willing to meet over the holiday season, and come August, it will be too damned hot (or cold) to talk about anything. You might as well close the talk shop for a good 30 days and be out playing golf or skiing.
Regardless of how good you are, there will eventually be unwanted holes in your calendar. That is just a fact of life; a freelancer’s life, anyway. And somewhere along the line you will have to sacrifice a full week of meetings for a conflicting two-day conference. While this situation just has to be accepted, that does not mean you have to take it lying down.
During the low tides, most interpreters respond passively, sitting by the telephone with their fingers crossed and wondering why it will not ring. They’re either too shy or too proud to make their availability known, and only a few will break the inertia and ask their employers for work. Guess what? These selected few who take initiative are the reason your telephone is not ringing.
There’s nothing wrong with flagging your readiness to an employer. The trick is doing it without imposition. Don’t ask funny questions and don’t kiss up. Simply reiterate your willingness and availability in a straightforward e-mail with no attachments. You’re not begging for work. You’re simply presenting yourself as a viable option. In so doing, you increase your chances of landing another contract while helping the chief interpreter in the process.
Take-home point: out of sight, out of mind.
5. Nobody likes whiners
In an ideal world, presenters speak slowly, bring extra hard copies of their presentations, and throw candies to interpreters from behind the podium. Schedules are announced in advance and kept unchanged. Travel conditions are great, the sound system works to perfection, and everyone around you is cool, calm, and collected. But save for Shangri-la, that is certainly not the norm anywhere, and the ensuing uncertainties often drive interpreters to the edge.
Some colleagues react by going into chronic whining mode. Their frustration mounts and is often misdirected at teammates or the client. This leads to poor team spirit and puts people off fast. As a conscientious colleague, you will want to keep a constructive attitude despite any perceived risks and would do well to put the client first. Be transparent.
Address problems directly and be sure to target behavior, rather than people. Be part of the solution or be neutral. Not getting in the way is sometimes the greatest help of all and the kindest thing to do. Cursing the darkness may feel good and temporarily appease your anxiety, but lighting a candle works a lot better for all concerned.
Take-home points: reach for those matches but don’t put oil in the fire.
6. Appreciation goes a long way, both ways
The words “thank you” are among the first and last ones to ever come out of an interpreter’s mouth. They are also the first and last words interpreters will hear as speakers open and close their talks. Repetition alone should have by now engraved in our brains the self-evident truth that appreciation ought to precede and succeed all of our actions. Sadly, however, that awareness is lost to many among us, and many interpreters leave those powerful words unsaid.
These colleagues waste a golden opportunity to experience a superior emotion and the promise of more good things to come. They overlook and eventually banalize the many blessings involved in bringing another day of work to fruition. They deny themselves the gift of joy and snap back into anxious anticipation for what tomorrow will bring. And tomorrow keeps bringing more of the same.
According to most ancient traditions, the universe runs on thought-forms and feelings, and what we call reality is a mere reflection of what we project. In less esoteric lingo, science points in the same direction with expectations dictating results in high-level experiments in physics. Whether or not you believe in the magnetic pull of gratitude, adopting a more appreciative stance is guaranteed to make you happier. It will also bring you more jobs and ultimately money.
Appreciation acknowledges the circumstances that bring freelancers and employers together, mindful that both parties could have chosen otherwise. Appreciation operates from the premise that both sides want to get it right. Appreciation acknowledges one’s honest efforts, albeit imperfect, as steps in the right direction. It makes visible and reinforces that which need not be fixed. It feeds back on itself and keeps mutually appreciative players engaged in a long, self-sustaining virtuous cycle.
Consider increasing your thankfulness. Train yourself to feel grateful for—not entitled to—the offers of work you get. Acknowledge them with gratitude or decline with grace. Reinforce the behavior you want to see more of. Make it a habit to send a thank-you note to those who help you materialize the wonderful life you create for yourself in your chosen field. Do it with conviction yet without the expectation of receiving anything in return. No need to get carried away or say much. Those two simple words will do.
Take-home point: just say the words.
7. It’s not about you
Interpreting is a communications business. As an interpreter, you are part of a broader conversation, and complete neutrality remains a lofty yet elusive aspiration. Try as you might, you can’t help but bring into the picture some of your true essence. It will show through in your intonation, your word choice, and even the length of your pauses. You’re certainly not at liberty to share your opinions in the booth, but the interaction will be different because of you. That’s okay, but only as long as you can shift the focus away from you.
You’re not a machine. Think communicate, rather than interpret, and do not be afraid to contribute the attributes that make you a unique enabler. But remember that good communicators make it all about their interlocutors. Good interpreters take genuine interest in those on the receiving end.
Ewandro Magalhaes is a writer, senior United Nations staff and conference interpreter. He is also a TED author, professor and a former Chief Interpreter of ITU. He is also the go-to person in the promising field of remote interpretation.
There are many fascinating articles on the web about the translation, interpreting, and language. Below is one that really seemed to standout.
It’s on why English is such a weird language – which as someone who went to elementary school in the U.S.A. I wholeheartedly agree. Many is the time when young that I asked teachers why words were spelled or expressed a certain way and the answer was that’s how we do it in English.
When I shared this post with friends that came from Turkey, Iran and Bulgaria they couldn’t believe how on target it seemed.
Despite the extreme cold weather outside the January Business meeting was well attended. We bid goodbye to members of the outgoing Board and welcomed the incoming Board members.
Our new President gave us an overview of her plans for the coming year. Our Program Director recapped the events of the past year. Our incoming Treasurer informed us that last year’s Financials are still being finalized and will be available in the near future. Information about their availability will be sent to the membership at that time. Our webmaster summarized the state of the website.
After business was concluded, all attendees had the opportunity to network.
Please make plans to attend future meetings where members can learn valuable industry information and meet follow members.