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So you’ve made the big step from creating content as a hobby to actually making money from your work—congratulations! Unfortunately, with the additional income also comes the responsibility of filing self-employment taxes.
Tax preparation for content creators differs from that of those working traditional jobs in that the income is often classified as self-employment income, which requires different paperwork and additional self-employment taxes, and veers into a new line of available deductions.
It can be daunting, but fortunately, there are a number of resources available to help answer questions and ultimately walk you through preparing and filing both federal and state taxes. But first, let’s go through some of the basics for filing taxes as a content creator in the United States.
PS: Jan. 23rd is the official start to filing season with an Apr. 18th deadline this year!
Do I qualify as self-employed?
The IRS says that anyone who matches at least one of the following criteria generally qualifies as being self-employed for tax purposes:
- You carry on a trade or business as a sole proprietor or an independent contractor.
- You are a member of a partnership that carries on a trade or business.
- You are otherwise in business for yourself (including a part-time business or a gig worker).
Essentially, if you were hired by a company, filled out a W-2 form, and were paid a salary or an hourly wage on a regular basis, you are considered an employee. But if you did work that was paid out in another way, on a per-project basis, or filled out a W-9 form with a company, you are most likely considered an independent contractor or sole proprietor.
Making money from ads, selling products directly to consumers or through a platform like Etsy or Amazon, and occasionally doing sponsorship deals with companies that don’t directly employ you are all examples of self-employed income.
Now, you may have a regular job and also make money that qualifies as self-employed, in which case, you will file each type of income in the appropriate way.
What are my tax obligations?
When you are traditionally employed, things like social security, Medicare, income tax, and state tax are withheld from your regular paycheck. When you are self-employed, you are responsible for all of these things come tax time.
This comes in the form of having to pay both income tax and self-employment tax. Income tax is calculated based on how much money you make in a given year, also known as your tax bracket, whereas the self-employment tax rate is currently an additional 15.3%, which covers social security and Medicare obligations.
What information do I need to file taxes as a content creator?
Ideally, you should keep track of everything you may need to file taxes throughout the year, so you don’t find yourself rushing to meet the deadline, or deadlines, at the last minute. So, what does all that include?
1) Tax forms
If you received $600 or more from a specific company, they will send you a 1099, which you should receive sometime in January. Keep careful track of these as they roll in as they will make filing your taxes much easier.
If you don’t receive a 1099, either because you made less than $600 or because of a mistake on the company’s part, you are still responsible to pay taxes on that income. It can be helpful to keep track of this money through a spreadsheet or other methodology throughout the year so that you have the information ready to report in the spring.
2) Records of expenses
One of the key differences between filing taxes as an employee and filing taxes when you are self-employed is that the latter allows for the deduction of a number of expenses that can help lower the amount of tax you ultimately owe.
What you are able to deduct will vary depending on the specifics of your work as a content creator, but generally applies to items purchased in relation to your work. Home office expenses, advertising costs, equipment, and business-related travel expenses are some of the more basic examples of things you can deduct, although you may want to consult a tax professional or other resources for specifics.
You can keep track of these expenses with paper receipts, or using your bank or credit card statements, along with a record of what you purchased, when you purchased it, how much you spent, and, in some instances as with meals or travel, how it pertains to your work. If you make large purchases in cash, it’s usually a good idea to hold onto the actual receipt in case of an audit down the line.
3) When do I file taxes?
Your federal tax return has to be filed by Apr. 15, except in years when that falls on a weekend. For instance, in 2023, taxes must be filed by Apr. 18.
For states that require separate tax returns, the deadline is often the same, but you should check with your state website to be sure if you live anywhere other than Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, or Wyoming (all states that don’t have a state income tax).
However, self-employed individuals are generally required to file quarterly estimated taxes. This can be difficult for those just starting out, or those whose income varies dramatically from year-to-year. If you overpay throughout the year, you can note that during your final tax return and expect to receive a refund. Similarly, if you underpay—or don’t make estimated quarterly payments at all—you can make the difference up in April, although you may be hit with a fine if you were off by more than 10%.
The exceptions to this rule are people who will owe less than $1000 in taxes for the year, and people who had no tax liability for the prior year and meet several other conditions.
The due dates for estimated federal payments are Apr. 15, June 15, Sept. 15, and Jan. 15.
Should I file my taxes myself?
If you aren’t new to the workforce, you may have already filed your taxes on your own in the past, but obtaining self-employed income throws a lot of complications into the mix.
Factors like how much you make, how many different sources of income you have, and how much time you have to devote to tax preparation can influence the way in which you decide to file your taxes. If you’re making six figures and working with a number of different brands or companies, it might be time to visit a tax professional to make sure everything is in shape. In that case, you’ll want to gather any 1099s you’ve received and all the records you’ve been keeping throughout the year, and find someone who has experience working with self-employed people—preferably those in creative fields—to minimize your tax obligation.
If you aren’t that far along in your journey as a content creator and are still making a more modest income from this particular work, there are likely enough resources available to help you feel comfortable using an online tax filing service on your own.
The best services for filing your taxes as a content creator
If you’ve decided to go ahead and prepare and file your taxes on your own, there are online services that make it easier to do so, including ones that will walk you through step-by-step, asking questions and automatically populating the tax forms with the correct responses and calculations based on the information you provide.
When choosing a tax preparation service, it’s important to note whether they are capable of filing self-employed taxes and, if you need it, a state tax return and whether there are pricing differences between those options and the more standard option.
H&R Block is a well-known, trust company that offers both in-person service and an online self-preparation option with the option of receiving assistance from a professional over the internet using video chat and even screen share for an additional cost. Their self-employed tax preparation software allows you to start filling out your information for free, and then figure out which pricing option you need to complete your filing—which can be good if you don’t know exactly what you need upfront but may be a drawback for those who end up needing to drop more money than anticipated. Still, anyone anticipating needing assistance with their taxes may want to consider H&R Block.
Federal filing fee: $84.99+
State filing fee: $36.99+
TurboTax is another option with name recognition. Also on the pricier side, the software for self-employed individuals offers strong customer service via phone, email, or chat, a guided walk-through, and an IRS audit risk assessment. It also integrates with QuickBooks, for those who use that software to track their expenses, and, similar to H&R Block, allows you to start the tax preparation process for free to see if TurboTax works for you.
Federal filing fee: $89.00
State filing fee: $39.00
TaxSlayer may not have as much name recognition as the previous two options, but it’s just as good, if not better, for many self-employed filers. In addition to walking you through your tax preparation step-by-step, TaxSlayer also has a customer service phone line should you run into questions, and allows the more seasoned tax filer to simply fill out the forms directly if you prefer.
Federal filing fee: $59.95
State filing fee: $39.95
Cash App Taxes
Yes, that Cash App. The popular alternative to Venmo offers a tax filing service, although it’s one that may best serve those who are already well-versed in preparing their own taxes and don’t want to pay a fee for guided software. The upsides here are that the interface is extremely simple and it costs nothing to file, while the downside is that the customer support and other help with preparation are minimal to non-existent. Still, for content creators who are just now starting to turn a small profit and still make most of their money from a regular day job, this may be a worthwhile alternative to coughing up money for more in-depth software.
Federal filing fee: $0
State filing fee: $0
JustAnswer isn’t a place to file your taxes, but it is a great resource for those who have questions during the preparation process. It allows you to ask specific questions of actual tax professionals that will generally be answered within minutes, minimizing the interruption to your workflow so you can get your taxes finished as quickly as possible.
Some final advice:
You’ve probably heard this one before, but don’t put off filing your taxes until the last minute—especially if this is your first year with self-employed income. Depending on your situation, it can take longer than you expect, and it’s good to have the option to go to a professional or call up somebody for help if you get stuck.
It’s also very important to look into the specifics surrounding self-employment in both your state and city, as there may be additional requirements that aren’t covered here, and to keep up with changes to tax law from year to year.
And now that you’re making money as a content creator, if you haven’t already started setting aside a portion of your income for taxes as it rolls in, it’s a good idea to do that moving forward to avoid the surprise of a hefty tax bill either while paying quarterly taxes or at years end.
Lastly, don’t forget to hold onto all your records for at least three years after filing your taxes.