Self-Employed or in the Gig Economy? Why the Difference Matters for Taxes


Unless you happen to fall into one of the two categories, you may not know the difference between self-employed professionals and gig economy workers. According to the Second Annual Self-Employment Report released by accounting software company FreshBooks, these two groups are often categorized as a single entity despite their differences. Self-employed professionals are defined as having a primary income that comes from independent, client based work. Members of the gig economy, on the other hand, work side gigs such as rideshare driving or freelance writing in addition to maintaining a traditional full-time job. Their primary source of income is the paycheck from their full-time position, with side hustles bringing in a little extra money.

With 27 million Americans estimated to exit traditional employment for self-employment by 2020, defining the difference between the two groups has become crucial for tax purposes. As you work on filing tax returns, here are the key areas for both self-employed professionals and gig economy workers to keep in mind.


Make sure you have been properly classified

Both self-employed and gig economy professionals must be properly classified for the services that they provided. The IRS states that business owners must correctly determine if these individuals are employees or independent contractors (AKA self-employed).

Self-employed individuals are in business for their own self and therefore do not have businesses that withhold or pay their taxes. Businesses that work with gig economy professionals use common law rules to determine if these workers are employees or independent contractors. The major three factors are behavioral (control, or not, as to how the worker does their job), financial (if there are business aspects of the worker’s job controlled by the payer), and their relationship type (such as written contracts).

Once these three factors have been examined, businesses will have contractors complete and file the appropriate forms like Form W-9 or Form 1099-MISC to pay their associated taxes.


Determine if you will need to pay estimated taxes

Paying estimated taxes is a tax strategy that self-employed professionals and members of the gig economy may consider doing, if they haven’t started already. Estimated tax payments are used by taxpayers to pay income and self-employment taxes. These quarterly payments are due on the 15th of April, June, September, and January.

If you do decide to start making estimated tax payments, remember that your payments must be made in full and on time. Failure to do so may result in being charged a penalty for underpaid taxes.


How are your records looking?

One of the most strategic moves that anyone, self-employed, in the gig economy, or an employee, can do when filing their tax returns is to keep their paperwork organized. Who did you work for or complete work throughout the year? Did you receive all of your necessary tax forms or are you still waiting on a few? What about deductions? Do you have your receipts handy for business expenses you can deduct? Establish a solid recordkeeping system for every year that you are self-employed or a member of the gig economy and keep it as up-to-date as possible. Doing this allows you to document and track your income and expenses and can come in quite handy if you need to provide proof of your professional activities within a specified time span.




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