How Often Do Freelancers Pay Taxes? A Guide to Understanding Tax Obligations for Freelancers

As freelancers, we often enjoy the perks of being our own boss, setting our schedule, and working from anywhere. However, with great freedom comes great responsibility, and one of the responsibilities we have as freelancers is paying our taxes. The question is, how often do freelancers pay taxes?

Unlike traditional employees who have their taxes deducted from their paychecks by their employers, freelancers are responsible for setting aside a portion of their income to pay taxes. Generally, freelancers are required to pay taxes quarterly, meaning they must estimate their income, expenses, and tax liability every three months and make a payment to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) accordingly.

While paying taxes can be overwhelming for freelancers, especially those just starting, it is important to stay organized and keep track of income and expenses to ensure accurate payments. Neglecting to pay or pay on time can result in penalties and interest charges, adding unnecessary stress and expenses. Let’s explore the ins and outs of how often freelancers pay taxes and how to stay on top of the process.

Types of freelance income subject to taxes

As a freelancer, it’s essential to understand the different types of income that are subject to taxes. Here are the most common types of freelance income that you need to know:

  • Self-Employment Income: As a freelancer, your primary source of income is likely to come from self-employment. This income is subject to self-employment taxes, which is a combination of Social Security and Medicare taxes. These taxes are calculated based on your net income, which is your total income minus your business expenses.
  • Rental Income: If you rent out property as a freelancer, such as a home or commercial space, the income you receive from rent is also subject to taxes. This income is typically reported on Schedule E of your tax return.
  • Investment Income: As a freelancer, you may have additional income from investments, such as stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. This income is subject to different tax rates depending on the type of investment and the length of time you hold it.
  • Capital Gains: If you sell an asset, such as a property or a stock, for more than the purchase price, the profit you make is subject to capital gains tax. The amount of tax you pay depends on how long you held the asset and your tax bracket.

It’s important to keep track of all your income as a freelancer, including income from multiple sources. You can use accounting software to help you keep track of your income and expenses, and to generate reports that you can use to file your taxes.

Tax deadlines for freelancers

Filing taxes can be a stressful topic for freelancers, especially if you’re new to the field. Understanding when taxes are due can help you avoid penalties and fines. Here are some important tax deadlines to keep in mind:

  • Quarterly estimated taxes are due on April 15, June 15, September 15, and January 15 of the following year.
  • Your annual tax return is due on April 15th of every year.
  • If you file for an extension, your tax return is due on October 15th.

It’s important to note that even if you file for an extension, any taxes owed are still due by April 15th. Failing to pay taxes by the deadline can result in penalties and interest charges.

One helpful tool for managing your tax deadlines is creating a tax calendar. This can be done both manually or online, and will remind you of important tax deadlines throughout the year.

Record Keeping Tips

Keeping good records can help you at tax time. Here are a few tips for staying organized:

  • Track your income and expenses throughout the year using bookkeeping software or spreadsheets.
  • Save electronic and paper receipts to document your expenses.
  • Record your travel and mileage accurately.
  • Document any business-related meals and entertainment expenses.

Federal Income Tax Rates for 2021

The federal income rates for 2021 vary depending on your income. Here is a breakdown of the tax brackets and rates:

Tax Rate Single Married filing jointly
10% Up to $9,950 Up to $19,900
12% $9,951 to $40,525 $19,901 to $81,050
22% $40,526 to $86,375 $81,051 to $172,750
24% $86,376 to $164,925 $172,751 to $329,850
32% $164,926 to $209,425 $329,851 to $418,850
35% $209,426 to $523,600 $418,851 to $628,300
37% Over $523,600 Over $628,300

Knowing when taxes are due and being organized can help make tax season less stressful for freelancers. Remember, it’s always a good idea to consult with a tax professional to ensure you are meeting all of your legal obligations.

How to Calculate Taxes as a Freelancer

As a freelancer, figuring out how much you need to set aside for taxes can be a daunting task. It’s important to stay on top of your taxes to avoid any surprise bills from the IRS. Here are some tips to help you calculate your taxes as a freelancer.

  • Determine your tax bracket: Your tax bracket will depend on your income level. The IRS has seven tax brackets, ranging from 10% to 37%. Once you determine your income, you can determine your tax bracket and calculate the amount of tax owed.
  • Keep track of expenses: As a freelancer, you may have certain expenses that you can deduct from your income, such as home office expenses, equipment, and travel. Keeping track of these expenses can help lower your taxable income and reduce your tax bill.
  • Calculate self-employment tax: Freelancers are responsible for paying the self-employment tax, which includes Social Security and Medicare taxes. This tax is typically 15.3% of your net income, with some deductions available.

It’s important to keep accurate records and stay organized throughout the year to make tax time less stressful. You can also consider working with a tax professional who specializes in working with freelancers to ensure you’re taking advantage of all possible deductions and paying the right amount of tax.

By following these tips and keeping track of your income and expenses, you’ll be able to confidently calculate your taxes as a freelancer and avoid any unexpected bills from the IRS.

If you’re still unsure about how to calculate your taxes, the IRS provides a useful worksheet for self-employed individuals to determine their tax liability. You can find this worksheet on the IRS website or consult with a tax professional.

Freelancer Tax Deductions

As mentioned earlier, keeping track of your expenses can help lower your taxable income and reduce your tax bill. Here are some commonly overlooked tax deductions for freelancers:

  • Home office expenses: If you use a dedicated space in your home for work, you may be able to deduct a portion of your home expenses, such as rent, utilities, and internet.
  • Equipment expenses: You may be able to deduct the cost of equipment, such as a computer, camera, or other tools needed to do your work.
  • Professional development expenses: If you attend conferences, workshops, or take courses related to your work, you may be able to deduct those expenses.
  • Travel expenses: If you travel for work, such as to meet with clients or attend a conference, you may be able to deduct those expenses, including transportation, lodging, and meals.

It’s important to keep detailed records and receipts of your expenses in case of an audit.

Tax Deadlines for Freelancers

Freelancers are responsible for paying estimated taxes throughout the year to avoid penalties. The estimated tax deadlines are as follows:

Quarter Due Date
1st Quarter April 15th
2nd Quarter June 15th
3rd Quarter September 15th
4th Quarter January 15th of the following year

It’s important to note that these deadlines may change due to holidays or weekends. You can find the most up-to-date deadlines on the IRS website or consult with a tax professional.

By staying organized and on top of your taxes, you can avoid any surprises from the IRS and focus on growing your business as a freelancer.

Tax deductions for freelancers

One of the biggest benefits of being a freelancer is the ability to deduct business expenses from your taxes. By keeping track of your expenses throughout the year, you can significantly lower your taxable income and the amount of taxes you owe. Here are some tax deductions that freelancers should be aware of:

  • Home office expenses: If you use a part of your home exclusively for your business, you can deduct a portion of your rent/mortgage, utilities, and property taxes as a home office expense.
  • Business supplies and equipment: Anything you purchase that is necessary to run your business, such as a computer, printer, or software, can be deducted as a business expense.
  • Mileage: If you use your personal vehicle for business purposes, you can deduct the mileage driven for those trips.

It’s important to keep detailed records of all expenses and to separate business expenses from personal ones. Additionally, some expenses may be partially deductible, such as meals and entertainment expenses that are directly related to business activities.

For a full list of tax deductions available to freelancers, consult with a tax professional or refer to IRS Publication 535, Business Expenses.

Common mistakes to avoid

While tax deductions can significantly reduce the amount of taxes owed by freelancers, there are some common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not keeping detailed records: If you don’t keep track of your expenses throughout the year, you may miss out on potential deductions or face penalties for inaccurate reporting.
  • Overestimating deductions: Be careful not to overestimate your deductions, as this can lead to audits and fines.
  • Not consulting with a tax professional: Tax laws can be complex, and it’s important to consult with a tax professional to ensure you are taking advantage of all available deductions while avoiding errors.

Estimated quarterly taxes

Unlike traditional employees, freelancers are responsible for paying their taxes throughout the year, as taxes are not automatically withheld from their paychecks. This means that freelancers must make estimated quarterly tax payments to the IRS based on their projected income for the year.

You can calculate your estimated quarterly taxes using Form 1040-ES, which includes instructions and worksheets to help you determine how much you owe. It is important to pay these taxes on time to avoid penalties and interest charges.

Tax bracket for freelancers

The tax bracket for freelancers is based on their taxable income, which includes all income earned from freelance work minus any deductions and exemptions. Freelancers pay both federal and state income taxes, as well as self-employment taxes, which cover Social Security and Medicare contributions.

Tax Bracket Single Filers Married Filing Jointly
10% Up to $9,950 Up to $19,900
12% $9,951 – $40,525 $19,901 – $81,050
22% $40,526 – $86,375 $81,051 – $172,750
24% $86,376 – $164,925 $172,751 – $329,850
32% $164,926 – $209,425 $329,851 – $418,850
35% $209,426 – $523,600 $418,851 – $628,300
37% Over $523,600 Over $628,300

It’s important to stay informed about tax laws and regulations as they pertain to freelancers, and to consult with a tax professional for any questions or concerns about filing taxes as a freelancer.

Common mistakes freelancers make when paying taxes

For many freelancers, taxes can be an overwhelming and confusing part of their business. Without proper knowledge and preparation, mistakes can easily be made, resulting in unnecessary penalties and fees. Here are some of the most common mistakes that freelancers make when paying taxes:

  • Not keeping track of income: As a freelancer, it is crucial to keep track of all income received throughout the year. Failure to do so can lead to underreported income and potential penalties from the IRS. Utilizing accounting software or hiring a professional accountant can assist in keeping track of income and expenses.
  • Forgetting about self-employment taxes: Unlike employees who have taxes withheld from their paychecks, freelancers are responsible for paying their own self-employment tax. This tax includes both Social Security and Medicare taxes and is calculated based on the freelancer’s net earnings. It is important to factor in these taxes when budgeting and saving for tax season.
  • Confusing deductions with credits: Deductions and credits are not the same thing when it comes to taxes. Deductions reduce taxable income, while credits directly reduce the amount of taxes owed. Freelancers can often take advantage of deductions for expenses such as home office space, equipment, and travel expenses. However, confusing deductions with credits can lead to overestimating tax refunds and underpaying taxes.

Not consulting a tax professional

Freelancers who are unsure of how to properly navigate the tax system should consider seeking advice from a tax professional. This can save time, money, and prevent costly mistakes. Additionally, tax professionals can often identify deductions and credits that may have been overlooked and ensure that tax obligations are met on time.

Understanding Tax Deadlines

Missing tax filing deadlines is a common mistake made by freelancers. Knowing the various tax deadlines is key to avoiding penalties and interest charges. Estimated taxes are due quarterly, with due dates of April 15th, June 15th, September 15th, and January 15th (if applicable). Income tax returns are due on April 15th. Note that extension request forms do not extend the due date of the tax payment itself but instead extend the time for paperwork completion.


As a freelancer, keeping accurate records is essential. Record-keeping aids in identifying potential deductions for expenses, tracking payments received or made, and organizing receipts and invoices for easy reference. A table showing income, expenses, and profits can be beneficial. These records help to avoid under or overpayments, prevent audits, and are required for supporting deductions.

Income Expenses Profits
$5,000 $1,000 $4,000
$3,500 $500 $3,000

By avoiding these common mistakes and staying organized, freelancers can manage their taxes with ease and confidence, minimizing stress and maximizing profits.

Tax implications of incorporating as a freelancer

As a freelancer, you have a few options when it comes to incorporating your business. Incorporating simply means setting up a separate legal entity for your business, which can have some tax implications. Here are some things to consider:

  • Sole proprietorship: If you’re a freelancer, you’re likely operating as a sole proprietorship by default. In this case, your business income is simply reported on your personal tax return, and you pay self-employment taxes (which include both the employer and employee portions of Social Security and Medicare). You can deduct business expenses on your return, but you don’t get any liability protection.
  • LLC: Forming a limited liability company (LLC) can offer some liability protection for your business. As an LLC, you can still report your business income on your personal return and pay self-employment taxes, but you may be able to deduct more expenses and have some reduced liability if you’re sued. Depending on your state and the type of work you do, you may also be subject to additional taxes or fees for maintaining an LLC.
  • S Corporation: If you’re a higher-earning freelancer, forming an S Corporation may offer some tax advantages. In this case, you’ll need to set up a separate legal entity for your business and pay yourself a “reasonable salary,” which is subject to payroll taxes. However, any remaining profits can be distributed to you as dividends, which are subject to a lower tax rate than self-employment taxes.

It’s important to note that each situation is unique, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to incorporating as a freelancer. Consulting with a tax professional or accountant can help you understand the tax implications of each option and determine which is best for your business.

Here’s a table that breaks down some of the key differences between these three options:

Sole proprietorship LLC S Corporation
Liability protection None Some Some
Self-employment taxes Yes Yes Only on salary
Business expenses Some More More
Separate legal entity No Yes Yes
Dividend taxes N/A N/A Lower than self-employment taxes

Again, make sure to consult with a tax professional before making any decisions about incorporating your business as a freelancer. The tax code can be complex, and you don’t want to unintentionally run afoul of any rules or regulations.

How to Avoid an IRS Audit as a Freelancer

As a freelancer, one of the most critical things that you need to manage is your tax obligations. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has specific requirements for freelancers, and failure to meet these can result in an audit. The good news is that there are simple ways to avoid an IRS audit and maintain compliance with the legal requirements. Here are seven tips to help you avoid an IRS audit:

  • File your taxes on time – one of the biggest mistakes that freelancers make is failing to file their taxes on time. When you miss the deadline, you are automatically in violation of the law. To avoid legal trouble and a potential audit, always file your taxes on or before the deadline.
  • Keep accurate records – as a freelancer, you can deduct many of your business expenses from your taxes. However, if you can’t show proof of your expenses, you may get audited. Keep accurate records of all your business expenses to avoid any red flags.
  • Report all your income – some freelancers believe that they don’t have to report all their income, especially if they were paid in cash. However, this is not true. You need to report all your income, whether you were paid by check, wire transfer, or cash. Failure to do so may get you in trouble with the IRS.
  • Be honest – always be truthful on your tax forms. If you have any doubts about a particular item, consult a tax expert or accountant. Lying on your tax forms is a crime and can result in severe penalties.
  • File electronically – filing electronically is not only convenient, but it is also a way to reduce the chances of an audit. Studies have shown that electronic filing minimizes errors, and mistakes are one of the most common reasons for an audit.
  • Pay your estimated taxes – if you expect to owe more than $1,000 in taxes for the year, you need to pay estimated taxes. Failure to do so may result in penalties and an audit.
  • Hire a professional – if you have trouble interpreting tax laws and regulations or need help filing your taxes, don’t hesitate to hire a professional. Many tax professionals specialize in working with freelancers and can provide personalized guidance and support.


Avoiding an IRS audit is critical as a freelancer since it can be time-consuming, stressful, and costly. The best way to avoid an audit is to follow all the legal requirements, maintain accurate tax records, and hire a professional if needed. By adopting these simple practices, you can ensure that your tax obligations are met, and you remain compliant with the law.

How Often Do Freelancers Pay Taxes? FAQs

Q: Do freelancers have to pay taxes?

A: Yes, freelancers are responsible for paying taxes on their earnings just like any other individual or business.

Q: How often do freelancers need to file taxes?

A: Freelancers typically need to file taxes annually, by the April 15th deadline. However, they may need to make estimated quarterly tax payments throughout the year.

Q: What is an estimated quarterly tax payment?

A: An estimated quarterly tax payment is a payment made by freelancers to the IRS on a quarterly basis to cover their tax liability, since they do not have taxes withheld from their earnings like employees do.

Q: How is a freelancer’s tax liability calculated?

A: A freelancer’s tax liability is based on their income, expenses, and deductions. They will need to keep accurate records of their earnings and expenses to accurately calculate their taxable income.

Q: What happens if a freelancer doesn’t pay taxes?

A: If a freelancer fails to pay taxes, they may be subject to penalties and interest on the unpaid amount. In extreme cases, they could face legal action from the IRS.

Q: Can freelancers get help with their taxes?

A: Yes, there are many resources available to help freelancers with their taxes, including tax professionals, online tax preparation software, and IRS publications and resources.

Closing Thoughts

Thanks for reading our FAQs on how often do freelancers pay taxes! Remember, while the idea of taxes may be daunting, staying on top of your tax obligations is crucial for maintaining financial health as a freelancer. Be sure to keep accurate records and seek help when needed. We hope this article has been helpful, and don’t forget to visit us again for more freelancing tips and tricks!