Independent Contractor: Self-employed Taxes Explained + Definition

Learn everything you need to know about self-employed taxes and the definition of an independent contractor in this comprehensive guide.

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An independent contractor is a self-employed individual who provides goods or services to another entity under terms specified in a contract or within a verbal agreement. Unlike employees, independent contractors do not work regularly for an employer but work as required. They are not subject to the employer's control regarding how they deliver their services and are free to provide their services to multiple clients. However, this freedom comes with the responsibility of handling their own taxes.

This glossary entry will provide a comprehensive understanding of the term 'Independent Contractor,' focusing on the tax implications and responsibilities that come with this status. We will delve into the definition, the difference between an independent contractor and an employee, the tax forms involved, the process of calculating and paying self-employment taxes, and the potential tax deductions and credits available to independent contractors.

Definition of an Independent Contractor

An independent contractor is a person or entity that provides services or goods to another entity under a contract or a verbal agreement. Independent contractors are not employees; they are self-employed, and they operate their own businesses. They can work for multiple clients at the same time and have a high level of control over how they complete their work.

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Being an independent contractor comes with certain freedoms, such as the ability to set your own hours and choose your clients. However, it also comes with additional responsibilities, including the need to manage your own taxes. This is a significant consideration for anyone considering becoming an independent contractor.

Legal Considerations

Legally, independent contractors are considered to be in business for themselves. They are not covered by many of the protections that apply to employees, such as minimum wage and overtime pay requirements, or benefits like health insurance and retirement plans. This is because they are considered to be their own employers.

However, the line between independent contractors and employees can sometimes be blurry. Misclassifying an employee as an independent contractor can lead to legal consequences, so it's important for both businesses and workers to understand the difference.

Independent Contractor vs Employee

The distinction between an independent contractor and an employee is not always clear-cut. The key difference lies in the degree of control the employer has over the worker. An employer has more control over an employee, including setting work hours, providing tools and equipment, and determining how the work is done. On the other hand, an independent contractor typically has more control over how they complete their work and can work for multiple clients.

However, the exact criteria used to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor can vary. In general, if the employer has the right to control what will be done and how it will be done, then the worker is most likely an employee. If the employer only has the right to control the result of the work, not the means and methods of accomplishing the result, then the worker is probably an independent contractor.

IRS Factors

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) uses a set of factors to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor for tax purposes. These factors are grouped into three categories: behavioral control, financial control, and the type of relationship between the parties.

Behavioral control refers to the degree of instruction given to the worker, such as when and where to work, what tools to use, or where to purchase supplies. Financial control refers to the extent to which the worker has the ability to affect their own business profit or loss, invest in equipment, or make their services available to the market. The type of relationship refers to how the worker and business perceive their interaction with each other.

Tax Implications for Independent Contractors

As an independent contractor, you are responsible for paying your own taxes. This includes both income tax and self-employment tax, which is a tax consisting of Social Security and Medicare taxes. Unlike employees, who have their taxes withheld from their paychecks by their employers, independent contractors must typically pay these taxes themselves through estimated tax payments.

It's also important to note that as an independent contractor, you are not subject to tax withholding. This means that you are responsible for calculating and paying your own taxes. This can be a complex process, and it's recommended that you seek the advice of a tax professional if you're unsure about anything.

Self-Employment Tax

Self-employment tax is a tax consisting of Social Security and Medicare taxes primarily for individuals who work for themselves. It is similar to the Social Security and Medicare taxes withheld from the pay of most wage earners.

In general, anytime the wording "self-employment tax" is used, it only refers to Social Security and Medicare taxes and not any other tax (like income tax). As an independent contractor, you're responsible for paying this tax yourself.

Estimated Tax Payments

As an independent contractor, you're required to pay estimated taxes on a quarterly basis. Estimated taxes are used to pay not only income tax, but self-employment tax and alternative minimum tax as well.

These payments are due on the 15th day of April, June, September, and January. If you fail to make these payments, you may be subject to penalties. Therefore, it's important to set aside money throughout the year for taxes and make these payments on time.

Tax Forms for Independent Contractors

There are several tax forms that independent contractors may need to be aware of. These include Form 1099-NEC, Schedule C (Form 1040), Schedule SE (Form 1040), and Form 1040-ES.

Form 1099-NEC is used by clients to report the amount of money they paid to independent contractors during the year. Schedule C is used by independent contractors to report their income or loss from their business. Schedule SE is used to calculate and report self-employment tax, and Form 1040-ES is used to pay estimated taxes.

Form 1099-NEC

Form 1099-NEC, Nonemployee Compensation, is a tax form that businesses use to tell the IRS that they've paid an independent contractor $600 or more over the course of the tax year. As an independent contractor, you should receive a 1099-NEC from each client that pays you $600 or more during the tax year.

It's important to note that even if you don't receive a 1099-NEC from a client, you are still required to report all of your income to the IRS. Therefore, it's a good idea to keep track of your income throughout the year.

Schedule C (Form 1040)

Schedule C (Form 1040), Profit or Loss from Business, is used to report income or loss from a business you operated or a profession you practiced as a sole proprietor. As an independent contractor, you're considered a sole proprietor in the eyes of the IRS.

On Schedule C, you'll calculate your business income and expenses. This includes your gross receipts or sales (your total income), your cost of goods sold (if applicable), and your business expenses. The result is your net profit or loss, which you'll report on your Form 1040.

Tax Deductions and Credits for Independent Contractors

As an independent contractor, you may be eligible for a number of tax deductions and credits that can reduce your tax liability. These include deductions for home office expenses, vehicle expenses, supplies, equipment, professional services, and more. Additionally, you may be eligible for credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Child and Dependent Care Credit.

It's important to keep detailed records of your business expenses throughout the year, as these can significantly reduce your taxable income. However, it's also important to understand which expenses are deductible and which are not. For this reason, it's often a good idea to consult with a tax professional.

Home Office Deduction

If you use part of your home exclusively and regularly for your business, you may be able to deduct expenses for the business use of your home. These expenses may include mortgage interest, insurance, utilities, repairs, and depreciation.

The home office deduction is available for homeowners and renters, and applies to all types of homes. However, there are specific requirements you must meet to claim this deduction. For example, the part of your home you use for business must be used exclusively for that purpose, and it must be the principal place of your business.

Vehicle Expenses

If you use your vehicle in your business, you can deduct car expenses. If you use your car for both business and personal purposes, you must divide your expenses based on actual mileage. You can deduct actual car expenses, which include depreciation, gas and oil, tires, repairs, tune-ups, insurance, and registration fees. Or, you can use the standard mileage rate determined by the IRS.

It's important to keep detailed records of your vehicle use, including the date, mileage, and purpose of each trip, as well as receipts for all car expenses. This will help you calculate your deduction and provide documentation in case of an audit.


Being an independent contractor comes with many freedoms, but also additional responsibilities. One of the most significant of these is the responsibility to manage your own taxes. Understanding the tax implications of being an independent contractor, including the forms you need to file, the taxes you need to pay, and the deductions and credits you may be eligible for, can help you navigate this aspect of self-employment.

While this guide provides a comprehensive overview, tax laws are complex and change frequently. Therefore, it's always a good idea to consult with a tax professional to ensure you're meeting your tax obligations and taking advantage of all possible deductions and credits.

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