5 Mystery Shopping Tools For Success

There are several key mystery shopping tools for success.  It goes without saying that having a keen eye is essential to being a great mystery shopper.  Beyond that, there are tools you can use to aid you along the way. Here are 5 mystery shopping tools for success on every shop. Continue reading “5 Mystery Shopping Tools For Success”

10 Questions A Leasing Professional Might Ask on an Apartment Shop

As a former leasing professional, my management company had specific questions we were required to ask each prospect who contacted our apartment community. Even though we were encouraged to eventually go off script, every person who was interested in renting an apartment with me would be asked at a minimum the required questions. Continue reading “10 Questions A Leasing Professional Might Ask on an Apartment Shop”

How to Tell Between Real Mystery Shopping Opportunities and Scams

Mystery shopping is fun as long as you look for red flags that could signal mystery shopping scams.  There are more reasons to mystery shop than to miss out on it – so don’t let a few bad apples make you feel leery about the mystery shopping industry as a whole.

Continue reading “How to Tell Between Real Mystery Shopping Opportunities and Scams”

5 Tips to Avoid Getting Your Mystery Shopper Report Rejected

Avoid Getting Your Mystery Shopper Report Rejected

Once you’ve signed up to become a mystery shopper, the real experience begins. Picking your shop contracts and completing them are the easy, fun part of being a mystery shopper. The hard part is writing your mystery shopper report. Continue reading “5 Tips to Avoid Getting Your Mystery Shopper Report Rejected”

Four Reasons Not to Take Kids on a Mystery Shop

Unless you are specifically assigned to a kid-friendly shop, meaning the mystery shop contract specifications state you will take children with you to conduct the shop, it’s best to mystery shop alone or only with another adult.

There are several reasons not to take kids on a mystery shop. Here are 4 major reasons: Continue reading “Four Reasons Not to Take Kids on a Mystery Shop”

How to Make Mystery Shopping Pay Off

5 Tips to Make Mystery Shopping Pay

A little extra income is wonderful no matter how you slice it, but how do you really make mystery shopping worthwhile for you?

If you have any experience with mystery shopping, you’ve already learned that you can earn money doing it, but you may be wondering how you can justify the gas, the time, and the commitment that goes into mystery shopping. Continue reading “How to Make Mystery Shopping Pay Off”

4 Mystery Shopper Tips for Raising Objections Without Raising Suspicion

Apartment ResidentsMystery shopping has its nuances, and it helps to have a few tricks in your pocket when you need to raise an objection and report how the target responds.  Some leasing agents are very shopper savvy, and certain things can alert them to your mystery shopper status if they are not handled in the right way. Continue reading “4 Mystery Shopper Tips for Raising Objections Without Raising Suspicion”

Reporting Mystery Shopping Income: 2012 Tax Tips

taxtimeTax season is upon us and with it come many questions about how to report your mystery shopping income when filing your Federal tax return.   Here are a few key points to keep in mind when preparing your Federal tax return for 2012.

You cannot believe everything you read on various mystery shopping sites, blogs, and in newsletters.  Some of this information is helpful, but with something as important as filing your Federal Income Tax, it is imperative that you verify the information.  There is a lot of incorrect information, and quite a lot of conflicting information floating around.  It can be daunting if you are tackling the task of reporting mystery shopping income for the first time, but even seasoned shoppers disagree on key issues.  It can be confusing if you don’t know where to start.

One thing I was not aware of is that a CPA alone cannot represent you at the IRS unless they are also an Enrolled Agent.  Enrolled Agents must know all parts of tax law. The Enrolled Agent test is an extremely difficult 3-part exam. Once they pass, they must take 72 hours of classes every 3 years to stay current on tax law.   I’ve come across many mystery shoppers who have been misinformed by their tax preparers or CPAs about mileage deductions and other key elements of their tax return.  Based on my research, I have concluded you shouldn’t consult with just any CPA for tax advice.   Ask to speak to an Enrolled Agent.  If they don’t know what you are talking about, run!

questionsYou are not an employee of the Mystery Shopping companies you work for.  You are considered an independent contractor, and are considered to be self-employedYou should report your mystery shopping income on Schedule C or Schedule C-EZ  (Form 1040) if your net earnings were $400 or more.  Generally, you must pay self-employment tax (SE tax).  Self-Employment tax is calculated on the amount of your profit and it is what self-employed persons pay into Social Security and Medicare — amounts that are deducted from an employee’s paycheck.  Use Schedule C or C-EZ  to figure net earnings from self-employment and to report your SE tax.  Enter the SE tax on Form 1040 and attach Schedule SE even if you do not otherwise have to file a federal income tax return!

Tax rates .  The social security part of the self-employment tax remains at 10.4%. The Medicare part of the tax remains at 2.9%. As a result, the self-employment tax is 13.3%.

A common misconception is that you do not have to report income from a company if you receive less than $600 from them during the tax year.  Even if you do not receive more than $600 from one company and do not receive a 1099 from them you must report that income.   There are severe penalties for not reporting all mystery shopping income.

As an independent contractor, you can report certain expenses you incur.   One of the areas of controversy I found was that even many CPAs are advising clients that they may no longer report their mileage expenses to and from their job sites because this would be considered driving to your work location and home, which is not deductible.  However, as the IRS defines a work location, the places you visit as a mystery shopper do not count as work locations because you do not do most of your work from any one location. Therefore mileage expense to and from your mystery shop contracts is deductible.   Section 162(a) allows a deduction for “the ordinary and necessary expenses a taxpayer pays or incurs during the taxable year in carrying on any trade or business, including the cost of operating an automobile to the extent that it is used in a trade or business.”  There are two ways to figure this deduction; one is mileage and one is depreciation.   If you use the standard mileage rate for a year, you cannot deduct your actual car expenses for that year (depreciation, lease payments, maintenance and repairs, gasoline, oil, insurance, or vehicle registration fees).  None of your personal mileage or expenses related to personal use of your vehicle can be deducted.

financialsWhat’s New when filing your 2012 taxes?

The following are some of the changes for tax year 2012 (January 1 – December 31, 2012). For more information on these and other changes, go to www.irs.gov.

Maximum net earnings. The maximum net self-employment earnings subject to the social security part of the self-employment tax increases to $110,100 for 2012. There is no maximum limit on earnings subject to Medicare.  It is unlikely that you would ever meet this threshold as a Mystery Shopper.

Standard mileage rate.   For 2012, the standard mileage rate for the cost of operating your car, van, pickup, or panel truck for each mile of business use is 55.5 cents per mile.

While you could, in theory, claim a home office deduction, it is a risky business so keep these things in mind if you do opt to take this deduction:

  • The IRS requires that the space must be separated from other living areas of the house and be used for NOTHING except your business.
  • The IRS can reasonably expect you to prove you did use the space exclusively for your business.
  • When taking depreciation on business equipment, for instance, you should not even use your business computer for any personal emails.
  • If you own your own home, you would need to claim depreciation on the space, furniture etc., and if/when you subsequently sell your home you will need to “recapture” the depreciation claimed as a lowering of your cost basis in your home.

You alone must decide if you are up to meeting these challenges in order to claim the home office deduction for your mystery shopping income.

The most helpful tip I can offer is to keep accurate records throughout the year.

  • Keep a mileage log if you choose to deduct mileage and update it after every mystery shop.
  • If you choose to itemize other expenses, keep your receipts and any information needed to verify their necessity in conducting your business.

This barely scratches the surface, but hopefully it will give you a place to start.  Don’t let the ins and outs of tax preparation keep you from the other benefits mystery shopping income affords you — such as the ability to set your own hours and work as much or as little as you like.  If you keep good records throughout the year, you will soon be sailing through the task of reporting your mystery shopping income with ease!

For more information about the general rules for deducting business expenses, see Chapter 1 in IRS Publication 535, Business Expense.

The information provided in this article is designed to be used for reference purposes only. It should not be used as, in place of, or in conjunction with professional legal, financial and/or tax advice relating to self-employment.  For additional information relating to taxes, consult with a local tax professional (an Enrolled Agent) or go to www. irs.gov.

Sandra S

Mystery Shopper Tips: ‘Oh No! My Target Passed Me Off to Another Associate!’

Most people have experienced the ‘pass-off’.   In a world where customer service no longer seems to be a priority, being passed off to someone else for assistance seems insignificant most of the time, but it can also make us feel as though we are not important.  As a Mystery Shopper, emotions are not impacted as much when we are passed off to someone else – but frustration is felt almost immediately.

Continue reading “Mystery Shopper Tips: ‘Oh No! My Target Passed Me Off to Another Associate!’”

Mystery Shopping Tips – Don’t Blow Your Cover!

One of the many important mystery shopping tips for any shop contract for a customer service representative is to come up with a believable story that will set the stage for them to sell you on their product or service. Companies want to know how well their associates are performing, but to be fair mystery shoppers should be engaged and present a real-life situation.

Mystery Shopper

This means being involved in the customer service interaction, asking questions, presenting concerns, and coming across as genuinely interested.

To create a plausible story, try these mystery shopping tips:

  1. Be believable:  Whatever mystery shopper story you conjure up should probably be something that’s either happened to you before or is happening to you now. Once, I signed up for a shop near the airport, but I had just started seeing a pilot, so I pretended he wanted me to move closer to the airport. That way when I was asked what airline he worked for, I wasn’t caught off guard.
  2. Be involved: Ask questions that are appropriate to the sale. You might ask about reviews by others, what type of warranty or guarantees are offered, etc.
  3. Be real: Prospects want to feel like they are making a good buying decision. So they drill down to what is important to them. Some ask about the area or if it’s a safe place to live. You can easily work these into the conversation when you tie back into your personal situation – like saying there are a lot of break-ins where you live now or how the last TV you bought was broken in less than six months. People who really are looking to buy will ask questions that indicate they care.
  4. Be particular: Don’t just roll over and play “sold”. Real customers don’t give in right away on big purchase decisions, so neither should a mystery shopper.  Everyone has something special they want their new phone to do, or some particular feature or layout design they want in a new apartment home. Don’t be afraid to ask for it.
  5. Be hesitant: It’s important to see how a professional tries to overcome any obstacles that creep up. So, if you’re not feeling it 100% when the salesperson makes their presentation (and remember as a mystery shopper you shouldn’t be), say so. You wish it came in black, you’d rather have a first floor, you think the location is too far away from your job, or something else. If they are really good, they’ll have a positive they can counter any negative with, even if they can’t really fix your gripe. For the sales agent, it’s all about selling the pros and downplaying any cons!

Feel free to check out our other mystery shopping tips, too.

Mystery Shopping Tips

An experienced mystery shopper could win an Oscar, but even beginners can hone their mystery shopping skills starting with their very first mystery shop contract. When you’re convincing, it allows the person you are shopping to be just as convincing in their attempt to sell you.  Come back for additional mystery shopping tips in the future.