Most people who work for an employer have their taxes automatically withheld from their paycheck. This makes life much easier when it comes time to file taxes because you don’t need to worry about filing estimated taxes or sending in any paperwork. You just wait for your W-2 to arrive in January, then you file your taxes with the IRS.
The taxes your employer withholds from your paycheck cover your income taxes and your FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) taxes: Social Security tax and Medicare tax. Your employer is also nice enough to pick up half the bill for those two programs (OK, they are required to, otherwise they probably wouldn’t!).
However, if you have self employment income, you are subject to SECA tax (Self-Employment Contributions Act), which is similar to FICA taxes. That means your are on the hook for the entire Social Security and Medicare tax bill.
Why? Because when you are self employed, you are the employer and the employee and you don’t have someone paying your half of the tax bill.
Who Has to Pay Self Employment Tax?
The IRS considers you self employed if you are a sole proprietor, an independent contractor, a partner in a partnership, a member of a single-member LLC or are otherwise in business for yourself. You generally have to pay self employment tax if you earn more than $400 of self-employment income, or earn more than $108.28 as a church employee. Basically, you are required to pay self employment tax if you work for yourself and someone else does not pay your tax Social Security or Medicare tax.
How Much is Self Employment Tax?
The self employment tax rate is 15.3%, and consists of two parts: 12.4% for Social Security and 2.9% for Medicare. Remember, self-employed individuals pay both parts of the Social Security tax, which is 12.4%. The Social Security portion of the self-employment tax is split evenly between the employer and the employee, so they both pay 6.2% of the pay, up to the annual up to the annual Social Security income tax limit.
A non-self-employed individual would have to pay FICA taxes equivalent to 9.1% of their pay (6.2% for Social Security, and 2.9% for Medicare), up to the annual Social Security income tax limit.
- Social Security Tax. Only your first $128,700 of combined wages, tips, and net earnings is subjected to the 12.4% Social Security tax.
- Medicare Tax. All income is subjected to the 2.9% Medicare tax.
Easy self employment tax formula. Social Security taxes are only assessed on incomes of $128,700 and less, so if you fall under that threshold, simply multiply your income by 15.3% (12.4% + 2.9%). If your income is greater than $128,700, multiply your income by 2.9% (to cover your Medicare tax), and add $15,958.80 (max Social Security tax in 2018).
*Note: These are the income caps for the 2018 tax year and are subject to change on an annual basis. You can see the historic income caps for social security tax here.
How to Pay Self Employment Taxes
You will report your self employment taxes in the “Other Taxes” section of Form 1040 when you file your tax return at the end of the year. However, depending on how much you earn, you may need to pay estimated taxes to make sure you are within IRS rules – or you may be subject to underpayment penalties.
This is something you should determine with your online tax software or by working with your accountant. Hiring an accountant to help me navigate a variety of small business tax issues was one of the smartest moves I’ve made. It’s relatively expensive, but in many ways it pays for itself in saved time and by preventing costly mistakes.
As for physically paying your taxes, you can do this by check, online, or pay with a credit card. The IRS makes it easy to create and EIN (like a Social Security Number for your business), which it uses to track your business income and taxes. Then you can easily set up electronic payments to the IRS. This makes it quick and easy to pay your taxes online.
Additional Self Employment Tax Tips
Self-employment tax deduction. You can deduct half of your self employment tax before applying the tax rate when calculating the amount of self employment tax you owe. For example, if you earn $100,000 from self-employment, you report that amount as income on Form 1040. However, you can deduct 7.65% from that number when figuring how much self employment tax to pay. Thus, you will only pay self employment taxes on $92,350, saving you $1,170 on self employment tax ($7,650 x 15.3%). This deduction is available whether or not you itemize.
Self employment tax is in addition to regular income taxes. When you are doing your tax planning, don’t forget to consider your normal tax rates. You will be required to pay your normal state and federal income tax in addition to self employment tax.
Consider Hiring a Professional
I’m a big believer in doing things myself. However, taxes are one time when I am not afraid to spend some money for the peace of mind to know that everything was done correctly and I have maximized my return or minimized my tax bill. This information is intended as a resource only and I recommend consulting with an account or IRS documentation for information specific to your needs. Hiring an accountant is one business expense I don’t mind paying.
Consider Using a Payroll Service
If you make enough money through your small business, you may consider paying yourself a salary, complete with paying state and federal taxes through your payroll, filing a W-2, etc. There is an added cost to do this, unless you want to manage all the filings yourself. But it can be worth it in the long run, depending on your business structure, and other items. I previously used PayChex to run my payroll, but I now use Gusto (formerly ZenPayroll).
Added benefits of using these types of services include automated payroll and tax filing, ability to automatically contribute to a self-employed retirement plan, and having your pay documented on a W-2. This can make it easier to obtain a mortgage if you are self-employed.
Setting up payroll was a great administrative move for my small business and I recommend it if your income justifies it. It’s a good long-term move and it adds to the legitimacy of your business.
Additional IRS Resources:
- Self-employment tax.
- Topic 554 – Self-Employment Tax.
- IRS Form 1040-ES.
- Tax Calendar for Small Businesses and Self-Employed.