How to Do Your Taxes if You’re a Freelancer

Alden Wicker

You’re free! Free to sleep in until 11 a.m., free to work while your adorable toddler plays at your feet, free to … keep really good records of all your expenses for your taxes.

We know. Not so fun. The reality is, being self-employed can be awesome for 11 months out of the year, and then come crashing down on your head in the form of lost receipts and unpaid estimated taxes in April. We want to save you from that sinking feeling. Read on for what every freelancer needs to know for your taxes.

Get Organized

First, keep good records. Go paperless, get organized and keep track of two things:

1. Your business income. This is your responsibility, and it is a big one. The IRS is especially sensitive about freelancers fudging their income. Yes, you will receive 1099 Forms from clients with what you earned, but only for jobs worth more than $600. So make sure you have a good recording system, like a “Freelance Income” folder in the Money Center.

2. Your business expenses. You don’t want to miss out on deductions related to business expenses, so carefully record what you spent, the date, who you paid it to and the purpose for expenses such as:

  • Business cards, online ads and other tools used to promote yourself and your business
  • Business insurance
  • Interest paid on your business credit card or business loans
  • Lawyer fees and other professional services
  • Rent or dues on a workspace
  • Repairs for your computer, camera and other business-related equipment
  • Routine office supplies like pens, paper, staples, etc.
  • Travel costs like plane and train tickets
  • Business meals with clients and other entertainment reasonable for your business

taxes for freelancers

Find the Right Tax Preparer

We’ll be straight with you. Taxes for freelancers are complicated, so we recommend you invest in a tax preparer. Look at it this way: You could pay about $300 to get your taxes done, and an accountant could easily save you $300 in fees, deductions you hadn’t heard of and more.

If you decide to pay for a tax preparer, make sure they are familiar with all the ins and outs of self-employment taxes. It’s best to find one that specializes in self-employed individuals and is available throughout the year if you have any questions.

Pay Quarterly Estimated Taxes

When you work full-time, you have your estimated taxes automatically withheld from each paycheck. But when you are a freelancer, you may be responsible for paying your estimated taxes every quarter, by the 15th of every April, June, September and January, for the previous tax year.

This is actually better for you, because it’s easier to pay your taxes in small chunks instead of in one big wallop in April. If you don’t file and pay quarterly, the IRS will charge you fines and penalties.

File your estimated taxes by using IRS form 1040-ES, and plan on paying 15.3% of your income every quarter. We suggest setting up a separate savings account where you can park the money until you pay. To make the process of paying smoother and faster, sign up with the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System.

  • Dan Taraborrelli

    This is such a great article and I am finding it extremely helpful now that I’ve recently become self-employed. Another tip I just learned is that website commissions, like those that Elance takes, and transaction fees, like through Paypal, are also tax deductible.