Q&A: Independent contractors face a wealth of tax consequences

Dear Liz: My son was recently hired in his dream job, but his employer has classified him as an independent contractor rather than as an employee. This would be his first time drawing pay without all the taxes, benefits, insurance and so on taken out. I’m afraid he’s only seeing the good wage and not the flip side.

He’s a newlywed and doesn’t need his mama telling him what’s what. I thought if I sent him this “anonymous” letter that appeared in your column, that advice would be coming from you and he might just listen!

Answer: If your son doesn’t listen, that dream job could turn into a tax nightmare.

Tax pros often suggest their self-employed clients put aside half of what they earn to cover taxes and other obligations. Independent contractors have to pay both the employer and employee portion of Social Security and Medicare taxes, or roughly 15.3% instead of the 7.65% regular workers pay. That’s in addition to whatever federal, state and local income taxes he’ll owe.

He’s now required to make quarterly estimated tax payments because ours is a “pay as you go” system. Employees typically have those taxes withheld, but independent contractors must make quarterly estimated tax payments by Jan. 15, April 15, June 15 and Sept. 15. (The deadlines are moved to the following Monday if those dates fall on a weekend.) If he waits until he files his annual tax return to pay, he’ll probably owe penalties.

He also may need to register his business with his city or county and get a tax registration certificate.

If he doesn’t get health insurance through his spouse, he’ll need to find a policy, probably through an Affordable Care Act exchange. He also should save at least something for retirement. Although the self-employed have several good options for retirement savings, including SEP IRAs and solo 401(k)s, he’ll have to do without the “free money” that company 401(k) matches represent.

Business insurance may be another concern. He may need coverage to protect against lawsuits, disabilities and other potential setbacks.

Your son would be smart to hire a tax pro, such as an enrolled agent or CPA, to help him navigate this brave new-to-him world of self-employment.

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Comments

  1. People with employers who classify them as independent contractors should learn exactly what that entails. I know of a company that classified many employees as independent contractors, and eventually they got into legal trouble. A true independent contractor is free of many of the requirements of a salaried or hourly employee. If the employer is making that “contractor” behave exactly like their actual employees (fixed hours, punching a clock, etc.), well, that contractor is actually an employee, and the employer must pay their S.S., Medicare, etc.