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Paying taxes as a freelancer can be a bit more involved—and expensive—than paying taxes as a W-2 employee. When you’re a freelancer, you’re the boss. That’s great if you want some flexibility, but it also means you’re self-employed, so you are responsible for both the employer and employee parts of employment taxes.
When you work for someone else, your paycheck amount is your pay minus all appropriate deductions. That includes deductions for federal and state income taxes as well as Medicare and Social Security contributions.
But what you might not realize is that your employer covers part of the Medicare and Social Security amounts. As a self-employed individual, you have to pay the total amount yourself. That’s 12.4 percent for Social Security and 2.9 percent for Medicare—a total of 15.3 percent of your taxable earnings, not including federal and other income taxes.
When Do I Have to Start Paying Taxes as a Freelancer?
According to the Internal Revenue Service, if you earn $400 or more in a year via self-employment or contract work, you must claim the income and pay taxes on it. The threshold is even lower if you earn the money for church work. If you earn more than $108.28 as a church employee and the church employer doesn’t withhold and pay employment taxes, you must do so.
What Tax Forms Should I Know About?
Freelancers report their income to the IRS using a Form 1040, but they may need to include a variety of Schedule attachments, including:
- Schedule A, which lists itemized deductions
- Schedule C, which reports profits or losses from their freelancer business
- Schedule SE, which calculates self-employment tax
These are only some of the forms that might be relevant to a freelancer filing federal taxes. Freelancers must also file a tax form for the state in which they live as well as with any local governments that require income tax payments.
If you’re planning to do your taxes on your own as a freelancer, it might be helpful to invest in DIY tax software. Look for options that cater specifically to home and business or self-employment situations. These software programs typically walk you through a series of questions designed to determine which forms you need to file and help you complete those forms correctly.
Six Tips for Doing Your Taxes as a Freelancer
As a freelancer, chances are you spend a lot of your time attending to clients and getting production work done. You may not have a lot of time for business organization tasks such as accounting. But a proactive approach to paying taxes as a freelancer can help you prepare to do your taxes and pay what can be a surprisingly big bill each year.
Here are six tips for handling taxes as a freelancer.
1. Keep Track of Your Income
Track your income so you know how much you may need to pay in taxes every year. Keeping track of your numbers also helps you understand whether your business is profitable and how you’re doing with income compared to past years.
You can track your income in a number of ways. Apps and software programs such as QuickBooks and Wave let you manage your freelance invoices and track income and expenses. Some also help you generate financial reports that might be helpful come tax time.
Alternatively, you can track your income in an Excel spreadsheet or even a notebook, as long as you’re consistent with writing everything down.
2. Set Money Aside in Advance
It’s tempting to count every dollar that comes in as money you can use. But it’s wiser to set money aside for taxes in advance. Depending on how much you earn as a freelancer, you could owe thousands in federal and state taxes by the end of the year, and if you didn’t plan ahead, you might not have the money to cover the tax bill.
That can lead to tax debt that comes with pretty stiff penalties and interest—and the potential for a tax lien if you can’t pay the bill.
3. Determine Your Business Structure
Make sure you know what your business structure is. Many freelancers operate as sole proprietorships. But you might be able to get a tax break if you operate as an LLC or a corporation. Talk to legal and tax professionals as you set up your business to find out about the pros and cons of each type of organization.
4. Know About Relevant Deductions
As a freelancer, you may be able to take certain federal tax deductions to save yourself some money. Tax deductions reduce how much of your income is considered taxable, which, in turn, reduces how much you owe in taxes. Here are a few common deductions that might be relevant to you as a freelancer.
You can take the home office deduction if you’ve set aside a certain area of your home for use by the business. The IRS does have a couple of stipulations.
First, you have to regularly use the space for your business, and it can’t be something you use regularly for other purposes. For example, you can’t claim your dining room as a home office just because you sometimes work from that location.
Second, the home has to be your principal place of business, which means it’s where you do most business activity. You can’t claim the deduction if you normally work outside the home but sometimes answer work emails while you’re in the living room.
Equipment and Supplies
You can also deduct the cost of equipment and supplies that you buy for your business. That includes software purchases and relevant subscriptions, such as if you pay monthly for Microsoft 365 or annually for a domain name.
Make sure you have backup documentation for any business expenses you deduct. That means keeping receipts that show what you purchased so you can prove that the expenses were for business. You also have to be careful to keep business and personal expenses separate—art supplies for your child’s school project, for example, wouldn’t typically be considered valid business expenses.
Travel and Meals
Meals and travel expenses that are related to your business may be tax deductible. If you stay in a hotel, book a flight or incur other travel expenses that are necessary for the running of your business, you can claim them as a deduction. The same is true for 50 percent of the value of meals and beverages that you pay for as a necessity when doing business.
The IRS does set an “ordinary and necessary” rule here. For example, if you’re traveling to meet with a client and you need to eat lunch, that is likely to be considered necessary. But if you opt for a very lavish meal for no other purpose than to do so, it might not be allowed under the “ordinary” part of the rule.
If you carry liability or similar insurance for your business, you can deduct it as a cost of doing business. You may also be able to deduct the cost of other insurance policies if they are necessary for your trade.
5. Estimate Your Taxes Quarterly
The IRS offers provisions for estimating your employment taxes on a quarterly basis. Self-employed individuals, including freelancers, can make these estimated tax payments, too. Paying as you go means you won’t owe a large sum every April, and if you overestimate, you may get a tax refund.
Quarterly payments are due in April, June, September and January. They can be mailed or made online. Depending on how much you earn, you may need to make quarterly estimated tax payments to avoid a penalty at the end of the year.
6. Consult a Tax Professional
As you can see just from the basic information and tips above, paying taxes as a freelancer can get complicated quickly. Consider talking to a tax professional to understand what all your obligations are and how best to reduce your tax burden using legal deductions. You might be missing a major deduction every year that could save you a lot of money.
And remember that as a freelancer, you’re running your own small business. That means paying attention to all your finances, including your credit report. If you ever want to take out a business loan or seek other funding to grow your business, you might need to rely on your good credit score.
Check your credit score, and if you find inaccurate negative information making an impact on your score, contact Lexington Law to find out how to get help disputing it.
Reviewed by Cynthia Thaxton, Lexington Law Firm Attorney. Written by Lexington Law.
Cynthia Thaxton has been with Lexington Law Firm since 2014. She attended The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia where she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in International Relations and a minor in Arabic. Cynthia then attended law school at George Mason University School of Law, where she served as Senior Articles Editor of the George Mason Law Review and graduated cum laude. Cynthia is licensed to practice law in Utah and North Carolina.
Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.