Getting paid as an independent contractor
Employees who work for someone else have state, federal, Social Security and Medicare taxes withheld from every paycheck they receive. If you’ve ever worked for someone, you’ve probably seen these withholdings on your paystub. However, if you’re an independent contractor, it doesn’t work that way.
As an independent contractor, when your clients send payment for your work, you get the whole amount, with no taxes taken out.
However, this doesn’t mean you don’t owe taxes on that money.
Instead, as a self-employed person, it’s your responsibility to set aside enough money to pay your taxes by the filing deadline.
Taxes 1099 independent contractors need to pay (aka tax liability)
When you’re a self-employed individual, you’re running the show, and you need to handle what a company’s payroll team does: take out taxes from wages. The two taxes independent contractors need to pay are self-employment tax and state and federal income tax.
The self-employment tax rate is 15.3% of your net business income. The rate comprises two parts: 12.4% for Social Security taxes and 2.9% for Medicare taxes. These federal payroll taxes are called “FICA,” which you might have seen on a paystub before. When you’re an employee, you pay half the FICA, and your employer pays the other half.
Here’s the thing, though: when you’re a business owner, you’re paying both portions of FICA — the employee side and the employer side.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) knows this isn’t fair for self-employed individuals, so they allow them to deduct the employer portion as a business expense when figuring out their adjusted gross income. (More on deductions later!)
Just like every other taxpayer, you need to pay income tax. This amount is based on your total income for the year minus deductions.
Remember, self-employment income is compensation in any form, including cash, virtual currency (including cryptocurrency), goods and property.
Check the IRS’s page for taxable and non-taxable income.
What are estimated tax payments?
Because you don’t have an employer withholding (and paying) these taxes for you on every paycheck, the IRS wants you to make quarterly estimated tax payments instead of one lump sum on tax day. It’s an “estimated” payment because you estimate how much income you’ll make and pay taxes based on the estimate.
You’ll need to make quarterly tax payments if you meet both these requirements:
- You’re filing as a sole proprietor, a partnership or a corporation.
- You expect to owe $1000 or more when you file.
Quarterly payment due dates are in April, June, September and January of the following year.
You can calculate estimated tax payments using Form 1040-ES. It contains a worksheet that can help figure out these taxes. You can use the vouchers in the 1040-ES booklet to make your payments by mail, or you can pay online.
Similarly, online estimated tax calculators like Turbotax’s can help you. Accounting software like this does double duty by calculating the tax and filing returns.
Calculating your payments accurately is important because you may have to pay a penalty if you don’t pay enough throughout the year.
You can avoid penalties if you make quarterly payments of at least 90% of the amount owed for the current tax year. Or you can pay 100% of the taxes you paid the previous year — whichever is smaller.
When you file your annual tax return, if you’ve paid too much estimated tax, you’ll get a refund. And if you pay too little, you’ll owe additional taxes.
Get to know common independent contractor tax forms
All IRS forms discussed here come with instructions that explain how and when to complete them. Of course, the ultimate word comes from the IRS website, which has up-to-date tax information for self-employed professionals.
1099 contractor form
When you’re an employee, your employer sends you a Form W-2 that lists your income and all the deductions withheld from your pay throughout the year, including federal, state and FICA taxes.
However, you won’t get a tidy W-2 listing this information as a nonemployee. Instead, every client that paid you more than $600 is required to send you a 1099 contractor form; it will be either a Form 1099-NEC (nonemployee compensation) or a Form 1099-MISC. Clients that paid you less than $600 don’t have to send one.
In theory, if you add up all the 1099s you receive, it should equal your gross income for the year. But don’t rely solely on your 1099s.
Remember, clients that paid you less than $600 don’t have to issue one — and some clients may not send one, even though they’re supposed to.
Ultimately, you’re responsible for reporting all the income you earned during the year to the IRS, whether you received a 1099 or not. This is why it’s essential to keep track of the money you earn throughout the year, independently.
Form 1040 is the main form you use to file your taxes. Much of the information you need to include on Form 1040 will be calculated using the tax schedules below.
Schedule C or C-EZ
Typically, you’ll use Schedule C to report your income and expenses. This helps determine whether your business earned a profit or reported a loss for the year.
One of the benefits of being self-employed is that you can deduct business-related expenses to reduce your taxable income.
The tax deductions you can claim vary based on your type of business. For example, suppose you’re a contractor. In that case, you can deduct the cost of tools and equipment you need to replace siding, repair roofs or install cabinets.
If you’re a personal trainer, the fitness equipment you use to whip your clients into shape is deductible. And if you’re a consultant who works from a home office, your office furniture, computer and phone are deductible.
And remember, as we said above, you can deduct the employer portion of FICA taxes and can typically deduct any business insurance premiums you pay, no matter what type of business you run.
Tip: Learn about 16 amazing tax deductions independent contractors may qualify for. These include deductions for office expenses, car mileage, health insurance, and even hiring a certified public accountant (CPA).
Schedule SE form calculates the amount you have to pay in Social Security and Medicare taxes. You’ll use the income or loss calculated on Schedule C to determine what you owe.
Even if you’re collecting Social Security and Medicare benefits, you still have to pay; this tax applies no matter how old you are.