Estimated Taxes for the Self-Employed

self-employed woman working in her office

When you are employed by someone else, they are responsible for withholding a specific amount of income from each paycheck for taxes.  

But when you’re self-employed, you’re responsible for your own withholdings. That is why it is important to calculate the amount you owe on the income you’re earning. Then you can either set it aside or pay quarterly payments. The choice is up to you. If you pay the right amount of taxes throughout the year AND you pay your taxes on time, you won’t be charged a penalty fee for underpayment of taxes.  

So should you be paying quarterly estimated taxes? Begin by asking these questions:  

Am I self-employed? 

Being self-employed means that taxes are not automatically withheld from your income. If you have a side gig, side hustle, own a small business, or you work freelance, you are considered self-employed. The source, amount, and frequency of your income probably varies, which makes taxes even more confusing.  

Should I pay quarterly payments or one lump sum?  

To make sure you don’t miss an important payment and wind up with a fine, the IRS encourages self-employed taxpayers to “pay as you go, so you won’t owe.” Keeping records of all your income and your expenses is extremely important and will make filing quarterly taxes much simpler.  

If you expect to owe $1,000 or more in taxes when you file your tax return, then you should pay estimated tax throughout the year. If you expect to owe less than $1,000 in taxes, you can pay it all at once when you file your tax return. You will not be charged for underpaying. 

What happens if I miss a quarterly tax payment?  

If you miss the deadline for making a quarterly tax payment, you will be charged a fee. Even if you are only a day late, you will be penalized for underpaying your taxes. The amount of the penalty depends on how much you owe and how late you were in paying. If you pay immediately after the deadline, you will owe less than if you put it off. 

How do I make quarterly tax payments? 

As a first step, complete the worksheet portion of Form 1040-ES to figure the amounts of your estimated taxes. Estimated tax payment due dates are listed on this form, as well as a list of documents needed to figure the estimated tax. How and where to send payments is also detailed on this form. 

What info will I need for Form 1040-ES? 

Self-employed workers should be prepared to answer questions about their expected adjusted gross income, what portion of that is taxable, and credits and deductions. Having a prior year tax return is especially helpful while completing Form 1040-ES. 

How much will I owe each quarter? 

How much you pay each quarter depends on a few factors, including major life events such as a death in the family or divorce. Self-employed workers should also consider tax laws, which change frequently. It’s a good idea to reference the IRS website for guidance on this topic. And you can use TaxSlayer’s refund calculator to estimate your tax liability. 

This article is up to date and accounts for tax law changes for tax year 2018 (tax returns filed in 2019). Learn more about tax reform enacted under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act here.

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