Four myths about interpreting from mileage to uniforms.

  1. Picking between mileage and drive-time.
    This myth has two main components: 1) I have to pick between mileage and drive-time for an assignment that is far away, and 2) One is better than the other. The reality is that most contracts are structured in a way that allows you to take both. Interpreters, read your contracts!
    Each interpreter should understand how their agency processes mileage and drive-time. I have worked at, for, or with many agencies and they all processed mileage and drive-time the same way:

    • Mileage "reimbursement" is paid as income and reported on your 1099-MISC as wages
    • Drive-time is paid as income and reported on your 1099-MISC as wages

    What does this mean? It means that you can take both!
    Calculate the distance at the current IRS reimbursement rate ($0.545/mile) and then calculate drive time, pick the larger amount to bill to your agency or customer. Then, track your mileage on your trip and write it off as a business expense. Unless you get a separate check that specifically mentions reimbursement, you are being paid income/wages and it is taxed. So, you should also deduct mileage!

  2. Interpreters have uniforms
    This myth is that because interpreters need to wear color-contrasting (no, it's not only black) tops without patterns, their clothing is a uniform and is tax deductible. No, it is not a uniform in the view of the IRS (No, not even if you bought that specific item only for work). Here's an easy rule of thumb: can you wear your "interpreter uniform" outside of work? Yes, you can. A uniform would fit a profession like a police officer, possibly a nurse's scrubs, pants and a top for a mechanic with their company name and employee name stitched into the shirt. Interpreter clothes, other than the solid colors, are just business-casual office clothes.
    Note, there is one way to do this: Your top needs to have a marketing purpose. So, if you have an DBA, LLC or S-Corp name and you have a workshirt with a logo on it, you can buy it for marketing purpose--but it's not a uniform.

  3. Interpreters do not need professional liability insurance
    This one depends on your contract work and your agencies' contracts. It's more and more common see contracts that mandate that interpreters have professional liability insurance. Specifically, this is likely to be required for interpreters who work in medical fields. This insurance serves two purposes, it is one less thing that the medical facility or the interpreting agency has to pay for (although, they still take out their own professional, general, and umbrella policies), but it also protects you as an interpreter. Errors and Ommissions coverage is the primary purpose of professional liability insurance for interpreters and translators, and it's definitely worth it. You can get $1 million of coverage per claim with $2 million total coverage for as low as $100-$150 a year. It goes up to $2m/4m and $3m/6m. Most agencies recommend (and I do as well) to get $2 million per incident /$4 million aggregate coverage. This is a tax deduction and protects you (and, possibly your personal finances) in the case of a lawsuit. Be smart, get insurance, protect yourself -- you might even be contractuallly required to have the policy.

  4. Interpreters are mandated reporters
    Interpreters are not mandated reporters. There are specific situations, which you need to be fully aware of, where you become a mandated reporter. The most obvious answer is accepting work in a K-12 institution, and certain county or state services require their interpreters to be mandated reporters. Otherwise, it is exceedingly rare that you (especially as an independent contractor) would be in a situation where you are a mandated reporter.
    Be smart: don't put yourself in situations where you are alone. Stay with the social worker, doctor, teacher, or clergy. They have more experience with reporting and following an incident, you can verify that they will be reporting the situation to the proper authorities.

    NB: This is for interpreters in the United States at the national level. Each country and state has different laws. Please check your country’s laws for relevant information. Thanks to Elizabeth Schniedewind for pointing out in the comments field that in Idaho, everyone is a Mandated Reporter regarding children. To learn about your state-specific laws, she shared this link to RAIN

Do you have any more popular myths to bust? Share in the comments below.

Emory David Dively

Emory is an NIC: Master ASL interpreter, has operated small and large agencies, and consulted with agencies across the US. He has an MA in Communication & Leadership from Gonzaga University.