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What does it mean to be a 1099?

Things to know about being a 1099 employee and filing your 1099 tax form.

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Setting your own schedule and choosing only the projects you want take on may sound like a dream. And if it’s done right, it can be.

There’s a lot of ambiguity when you’re just starting out though — and 1099s can be at the center of that mystery. We’ll go over what a 1099 employee is, how it impacts how you work and what you should know about the often dreaded tax filings that come with it.

What is a 1099 employee?

To call somebody a “1099 employee” is misleading: To the person or company you’re working for under a 1099, you’re not an employee. Instead, you’re considered an independent contractor. Your income throughout the year is reported to the IRS with Form 1099-MISC.

Independent contractors are different from employees in that you are providing your services to the client, but the way you’re providing them is completely up to you. You’ll typically sign an agreement or contract that includes your working terms, but you may not have the same legal rights as an employee — including minimum and overtime wages.

Common types of independent contractors include:

  • Accountants
  • Airbnb hosts
  • Consultants
  • Contractors
  • Doctors
  • Dentists
  • Freelance workers
  • Housepainters
  • Lawyers
  • Real estate agents
  • Self-employed workers
  • Subcontractors
  • Veterinarians
  • Uber or Lyft drivers

Who is usually classified as a 1099?

Federal and state governments use different rules to determine whether someone should be classified as a 1099 employee.

Federal requirements

The IRS uses these three basic categories to determine if an employee is an independent contractor:

  • Behavioral control. The right of the employer to direct or control how you do the work could make it less appropriate for them to classify you as an independent contractor. Your title or merely allowing you to choose your own hours isn’t enough to free an employer from correct classification.
  • Financial control. If you’re paid on your own terms — for example, after invoicing the employer — investing in your own equipment and paying your own taxes, you’re more likely to be classified as 1099.
  • Relationships. If the business you’re working for hires you on for an indefinite period without a contract, provides benefits and protection and considers your work a key aspect of the business, you’re typically classified as a W-2 employee.

State requirements

Every state has its own way of classifying independent contractors. Many use the ABC test to determine if an employee is an independent contractor:

  • A: The worker is free from control and direction of the hiring entity.
  • B: The worker performs work outside the employer’s scope of business
  • C: The worker is customarily engaged in a similar trade, occupation or business similar to the hiring entity’s.

The benefits and drawbacks of being a 1099 employee

Pros

  • You set your own schedule. Work whenever you see fit, so long as you meet your deadlines and obligations.
  • Control the projects you take. Choose what you want to work on. If you aren’t happy with a client, you aren’t obligated to continue working with them.
  • Work from anywhere. As an independent contractor, you can work wherever you can render your services — at home, at a friend’s house, from the cafe down the road or halfway around the world.

Cons

  • More tax obligations. With a 1099-MISC, you may have to deal with additional tax payments throughout the year or lump-sum prepayments on top of your usual filing.
  • No benefits or protections. Health care and retirement aren’t built in to your services, like they are with more traditional employers. With mandatory health insurance regulations in place, you’ll need to cover your bases to avoid paying the individual mandate penalty.

Do I have to pay taxes as a 1099 employee?

Yes, you are responsible for paying your own taxes. Your client will not withhold federal or state taxes, like they will for W-2 employees.

If your pay is $600 or more, you should receive Form 1099-MISC to report your income to the IRS from your client. Use the form to calculate your gross income on Schedule C.

Outside of the 1099-MISC, you may need to file your estimated taxes quarterly if you will pay more than $1,000 in taxes for the fiscal year.

All 1099 employees pay a 15.3% self-employment tax. There are two parts to this tax: 12.4% goes to Social Security and 2.9% goes to Medicare. It’s your responsibility to set aside money to cover these costs as clients aren’t required to withhold these taxes from your paycheck.

Take advantage of the worksheets and resources for filing available on the IRS’s website. If you’re unsure whether you owe taxes or should file a 1099-MISC, it’s probably a good idea to speak with a tax professional.

How to file Schedule C for 1099-MISC

Here’s a brief rundown of how to fill out Schedule C:

    1. Calculate your gross income by adding up all the income from your 1099 forms and any employer who paid you less than $600. (If you sold physical products, subtract your returns and cost of good sold to get your gross income.)
    2. List out all your business expenses on lines 8 through 27 of Schedule C. Add them all up to get your total business expenses.
    3. Subtract your total business expenses from your gross income to calculate your tentative profit or loss.
    4. Use line 31 to calculate your deduction for the business use of your home and vehicle and subtract these expenses from your tentative profit or loss to get your net income.
    5. Carry your net income from line 31 of Schedule C over to line 12 of your Form 1040.

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What is a 1099 form?

A 1099 form is an “information filing form” that proves some other entity besides your employer paid you money. There are many different types of 1099 forms. For example, you may get one if your bank paid you interest or you earned income as a contract or freelance worker. Generally, the entity that paid you is responsible for sending a copy of your 1099 form to you in the mail.

Types of 1099 tax forms

You may receive a 1099 tax form for all types of reasons. Here’s a list of the most popular ones:

Common 1099 expense deductions

There are many different types of business expenses you can deduct from your taxes as a contractor. Here are 10 popular options:

      1. Home office expenses
      2. Work supplies
      3. Utilities
      4. Health insurance premiums
      5. Travel and meal expenses
      6. Car expenses and mileage
      7. Legal and professional services
      8. Fees, dues and subscriptions
      9. Continuing education
      10. Taxes and licenses

How to claim business expenses as a freelancer

You use Schedule C to calculate and claim business expenses. Here’s how:

      1. Calculate your gross income using boxes 1 through 7.
      2. List all your business expenses in boxes 8 through 27.
      3. Add up your business expenses and enter the total amount in box 28.
      4. Subtract box 28 from box 7 to calculate your tentative profit or loss. Enter this number in box 29.
      5. Calculate the expenses for the business use of your home using box 30.
      6. Subtract this expense from your tentative profit or loss on box 29 and enter this number in box 31.

The dollar amount listed on line 31 tells you your net profit or loss for your business.

How to pay your taxes online

Throughout the year, it may be a good idea to either do your accounting yourself or hire a professional so you can keep your books organized before filing taxes.

At tax time, you will have a record of your income and any allowable deductible expenditures to refer to.

How to do your taxes online

Man writing symbols on a piece of paper with a camera and a computer next to him

How much should freelancers budget for taxes?

Most experts recommend setting aside 25% to 30% of your paycheck for taxes. This may sound like a huge chunk of change, but you’re not just paying income tax. As a freelancer, you’re also responsible for self-employment tax, which covers Medicare and Social Security.

You send this budgeted money to the IRS every three months in the form of quarterly estimated payments. This allows you to pay your taxes as you go, just as your employer would do if you had a W-2 job. If you file your taxes and find out that you overpaid, you’ll get a refund.

For the 2020 tax year, quarterly estimated payments are due:

  • July 15, 2020 for income earned in Jan, Feb and March
  • June 15, 2020 for income earned in April, May and June
  • Sept 15, 2020 for income earned in July, Aug and Sept
  • Jan 15, 2021 for income earned in Oct, Nov and Dec

Bottom line

As an independent 1099 worker, you can enjoy the advantages of setting your own price, working around your own schedule and controlling how you meet your obligations to your clients. But you’ll typically lose out on employee benefits like compensated time off, overtime and unemployment benefits, not to mention the responsibility of filing your own taxes throughout or at the end of the year.

Frequently asked questions about 1099 workers

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4 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    johnApril 19, 2019

    My wife got hired at a hair salon as a 1099 employee. Her boss sets her schedule and pays her weekly not invoiced. My question is it legal to do this for an indefinite period of time, seems to me lime she is doing this to avoid unemployment tax and workers comp

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      nikkiangcoApril 20, 2019Staff

      Hi John,

      Thanks for getting in touch! As it says on the information above, when you work as a 1099 employee, you’re not an employee. Instead, you’re considered an independent contractor. As an independent 1099 worker, you can enjoy the advantages of setting your own price, working around your own schedule and controlling how you meet your obligations to your clients. But you’ll typically lose out on employee benefits like compensated time off, overtime and unemployment benefits, not to mention the responsibility of filing your own taxes throughout or at the end of the year.

      Hope this helps!

      Best,
      Nikki

  2. Default Gravatar
    JimmerApril 10, 2019

    I make @$500/month as a 1099 employee. Must I file quarterly estimates and who pays the social security on theses wages?

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      nikkiangcoApril 10, 2019Staff

      Hi Jimmer,

      Thanks for getting in touch with Finder! As it says on the page – Yes, you are responsible for paying your own taxes. Your client will not withhold federal or state taxes, like they will for W-2 employees. Outside of the 1099-MISC, you may need to file your estimated taxes quarterly if you will pay more than $1,000 in taxes for the fiscal year. Also, as a self-employed individual, you must pay Social Security and Medicare taxes.

      Hope this helps!

      Best,
      Nikki

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