Taxes on consulting fees explained: 6 must-know facts
In the U.S. alone, there are more than 42 million self-employed individuals. For many of those, dealing with taxes on consulting fees is a headache -- one that confuses and frustrates even the most number-savvy people, on par with the difficulty presented to some by contract templates or statement of work templates.
However, independent consultant or self employment taxes aren’t optional. While it can be tricky territory, learning how to manage taxes for consulting work is a small price to pay to have the freedom of being your own boss.
In the growing gig economy, platforms like Bonsai are an excellent resource to help you manage your freelance consultant career. You can also use Bonsai tax to identify your tax deductions and estimate quarterly taxes.
In this article, we’ll explore taxes on consulting fees in more detail, giving you the insights you need to prepare for tax season.
What is an independent consultant?
First and foremost, before you start filing tax returns, you need to figure out if the IRS actually classes you as a self-employed individual.
If another business tells you what to do and how to do it, you may well be classed as an employee. In that case, the company you work for should take care of all your taxes.
According to IRS regulations, you are generally considered self-employed if “you are a business owner or contractor who provides services to other businesses.”
So, if that sounds like your situation, you need to learn more about taxes on consulting fees.
How are consultants taxed?
If you're working for a company, you're classed as an employee. As such, the company withholds your taxes and pays them for you.
Once you confirm that you are indeed self-employed as an independent consultant, an obvious question arises:
How are consultants taxed?
The simple answer is that the onus is on you to manage your finances and to ensure you file your tax returns. Before you get deterred by that idea, let's consider the significant tax advantages independent consultants have over employees:
- Independent consultant taxes can be offset by deducting business expenses.
- The relatively new TCJA law suspended "unreimbursed employee business expenses", listing them as miscellaneous itemized deductions.
- Independent consultants are eligible to get the 20% qualified business income (QBI) deduction, unlike employees.
- Independent consultants can get individual health insurance plans and retirement plans, whereas employees are on the company’s preferred plans.
Not bad, right?
But that’s not the full picture. Let’s discover more.
Did you know that you can use Bonsai for accounting? Or that Bonsai can help you be prepared for self-employment tax by providing tax estimates, filling date reminders, and identifying your tax write-offs?
Let's see how that works. First, head to your main Bonsai dashboard and have a close look on the left side - we'll be working with the accounting and taxes sections. First click on "Accounting".
Inside the accounting section, you'll see a breakdown of your income and expenses. Both can either be automatically imported from your bank account, or manually added. Work you got paid for via Bonsai will also be registered here.
Make sure this section is properly filled in and click on "Taxes" next.
This is where the magic happens: Bonsai will do all the calculations for you, and we'll provide you with an overview of your tax estimates, a list of tax deductions you can use for the upcoming tax season, and reminders for all the upcoming filling dates.
Simple, right? If you're ready to check out Bonsai and explore all the features, go ahead and sign up for the free trial!
When to pay independent consultant taxes
Self-employed individuals must make quarterly payments to the IRS. These payments are due by the 15th of the month directly after the quarter’s end.
So, in 2020, your quarterly tax payments would be due on these dates:
- January 15th
- April 15th
- July 15th
- September 15th
Note that even when you make these taxes on consulting fees each quarter, you still need to file your annual tax return by April 15th.
If you think you will owe taxes under $1,000, it’s easier to pay everything together in your tax return. However, if you earn more than this, the IRS will ask you detail the income for each quarter. As such, it’s better in the long-run to make the estimated quarterly payments.
Read on and learn about 6 tips for independent consulting taxes. With the basics in mind, here are a few pointers for managing independent consultant taxes.
1. File your tax return no matter how much (or little) you earn
Any income you make must be reported on your tax return. If you do consulting work for three or four companies, they will all report your earnings to the IRS. As such, you need to do your part.
If you earn less than $400, you won't owe the IRS any tax. That being said, you should still file a return for the tax year, to stay on the safe side!
Remember: if you don't file a return, you can't claim any tax refunds.
Are you overwhelmed or confused by managing your business finances or preparing for tax season? Join Bonsai to make your consultancy more fun and let us help with with expense tracking, identifying tax deductions, and estimating your quarterly taxes.
2. Understand what self-employment tax covers
Currently, the self-employment tax rate in the U.S. is 15.3% of your net earnings. This tax comprises:
- 12.4% for Social Security
- 2.9% for Medicare
Employees and employers share social security and Medicare taxes, splitting it 50/50, with the employer taking responsibility to ensure it is paid.
If you’re self-employed -- and above the $400 threshold -- the IRS will expect you to pay your own independent consultant taxes, which will cover your social security and Medicare.
3. Get smart about how you record all your business income
For newcomers to self-employment, discerning your income is not always obvious. Independent consultants could generate income in multiple ways:
- Sales revenue when customers pay for your products or services
- Bonuses or commissions from referrals or sponsored sales
- Cash gifts from your clients for hitting targets
Knowing how to bill a client correctly is crucial, as that will help you track your sales revenue with greater accuracy.
Moreover, if you use the best tax and accounting software for self-employed consultants, you'll be in a better position to manage other income, such as gifts and bonuses.
4. Know which expenses are deductible
Once you become self-employed, you should get into the habit of tracking your freelance expenses, as these can be listed as business deductions to reduce your taxable income.
Some common expenses you can list as deductible include:
- Advertising and marketing – Business cards, website hosting, social media ads.
- Home office – Laptops, printers, even a portion of the electric and internet bills may be deductible.
- Vehicle expenses – Travel costs between clients.
- Startup costs – Training programs, starter kits, etc.
- Sample inventory – Demo products can be deducted unless you sell them. In this case, they would be inventory.
With all items that you intend to list as business expenses, make sure to keep the receipts to prove the purchase cost.
Independent consultants don’t need to waste their time when tax season comes. Let Bonsai help you save on taxes and get peace of mind - sign up for your free trial today.
5. Separate your business activities from hobbies
It's quite common for people to become an independent consultant to get a decent discount on a product they like. Much to their surprise, that can lead to a profitable side-hustle, which can soon turn into a full-time business.
As mentioned before, you need to report any income to the IRS, so it's essential that you determine the profitability of your consultant work -- or any other side gig for that matter.
6. Be aware of travel
Visor report that consultants who travel a lot may need to file taxes in multiple states. This could come as a shock to some consultants to find out that each state government can claim some of their income if it was earned in that state.
Make sure you don't pay double state tax in this instance, as you may be entitled to a tax credit in your home state if you pay taxes in other states.
Taxes on consulting fees don’t have to be hard
Naturally, it takes a little time to get acquainted with managing your own taxes and filing returns. With these tips, you can be prepared for tax season ahead of time, keeping up-to-date with quarterly payments, expense tracking, and your income.
If you need some extra assistance in managing your self-employed business and finances, join Bonsai to use the range of specialist tools that make business management much easier for independent consultants and freelance business owners.