Tax Basics: Employed vs Self-Employed  


As more and more clients are starting businesses, picking up side consulting gigs or selling crafts online, this post focuses on the tax differences between being an employee vs being self-employed.

1) You are in charge of tracking your income and expenses when you are self-employed.

All income is taxable, absent a specific exclusion in the IRS code.  You don't need to track your income when you are an employee because you receive a W-2 from your employer summarizing your taxable income.

When you are self-employed, you are responsible for tracking your income and expenses.  I recommend using an accounting software like Quickbooks Online, but some people choose to just use an Excel spreadsheet.  Depending on what goods & services you are selling, you may get a summary of income earned at the end of the year.  For example, if you are providing consulting services, your clients need to send you a 1099-MISC form at the end of the year if they paid you $600 or more.  If you earned less than $600 from a given client, and don't receive a 1099-MISC, you still need to report the income.  The annual tax forms you are required to file depend on the type of entity you choose for your business.  The majority of my clients are sole proprietors or single-member LLC's which requires them to complete the Form Schedule C for federal tax purposes.  I recommend touching base with an accountant, at least in the beginning, to make sure you choose the best entity for your situation and get set up correctly.

2)  You need to pay taxes as you go, regardless of how you get paid.

The IRS requires us to pay a certain amount of tax throughout the year rather than everything at once at tax time.  This is very easy to do as an employee because you can have your employer withhold taxes from your wages with each paycheck.

The self-employed, on the other hand, likely need to pay quarterly estimated tax payments.  If you also have a job as an employee, in addition to your self-employment earnings, you can choose to withhold additional taxes to cover your required amount due for the self-employment income.  Likewise, if you are married and filing jointly with a spouse who is an employee, you can withhold more taxes from your spouse's earnings.  An accountant can help you figure out how much you are on track to owe and make sure you are doing it correctly.

3)  Now may be the time to pay for a professional tax preparer.

If you don't already have a tax preparer, consider getting one if you are starting to earn self-employment income.  My experience has been that the tax preparer can help save you time and money by doing it right the first time.  Tax preparers deal with the tax code everyday, know the ins and outs on what you can deduct, and have survived IRS audits.  I am always trying to meet new tax preparers in San Diego to use as referrals for my clients.  If you have a tax preparer you love who is taking new clients, please share their info!

This article is for general informational purposes and shouldn't be taken as a substitute for tax advice.