If you earn money selling your words to websites and other publishers, the Internal Revenue Service will likely say you’re a small business owner. Freelance income is self-employment income, and so are any royalties you receive for that book you published or self-published. That can be a good thing, because the self-employed are privy to some tax perks that employees don’t usually receive.
The article below is accurate for your 2017 taxes, the one that you file this year by the April 2018 deadline, including a few retroactive changes due to the passing of tax reform. Some tax information below will change next year for your 2018 taxes, but won’t impact you this year. Learn more about tax reform here.
When you sell your work to a company for a total of $600 or more, the publisher should provide you with a 1099-MISC form at year’s end. You must report all your income to the IRS, so if one company paid you only $400—less than the 1099-MISC requirement—this doesn’t mean you don’t have to claim it; it just means the publisher doesn’t have to provide a 1099 form.
Completing Schedule C
You probably won’t have to pay taxes on all of the income you earn from writing. As a self-employed freelance writer, you’ll complete Schedule C to arrive at your taxable income. Use Schedule C to list your income and costs of doing business. Some costs might include:
- supplies such as printer paper, ink, and other office necessities
- that laptop you’ve been tapping away on all year
- software for the computer
- the fax machine and copier
- mileage, meals, and entertainment
- pretty much anything that is “ordinary and necessary” to running your writing business
These costs are deducted from your total business income, and the resulting number is what you claim as self-employed income on your tax return. Be sure to keep good records of all of your business expenses so you can provide them to the IRS if necessary.
The Home Office Deduction
As a freelancer, you probably plant yourself at your desk each morning right there in your home. For this reason, you may be able to claim a home office tax deduction based on the percentage of your home that you use for work. For example:
- If your dedicated work space takes up 15% of the total square footage of your home, you can deduct 15% of your mortgage principal or rent payment, utilities, and insurance.
But if it’s your habit to work at the kitchen table, you’re out of luck because you use that room for other things as well as your writing business. Your home office space must be dedicated exclusively to your writing, so clean out that spare bedroom, move in your office equipment and supplies, and get to work.
The Self-Employed Health Insurance Deduction
It's likely that you pay for your own health insurance if you’re a freelancer. If you’re not covered by an employer-sponsored policy, you can likely claim a deduction for the full cost of your premiums, even if your policy also covers your spouse and dependents. The policy needs to be in your name or in the name of your business. This deduction isn’t entered on your Schedule C—it's an adjustment to your income on the first page of your tax return.
The Self-Employment Tax
When you work for someone else, your employer pays half of your Social Security and Medicare taxes, but when you're self-employed, you must pay all of these taxes yourself. This is called the self-employment tax.
- The amount you owe—15.3% as of the 2017 tax year—is based on the net amount of income you arrived at when you completed your Schedule C.
The IRS gives a little back, however. You can deduct half of your self-employment tax on the first page of your tax return, reducing your overall taxable income.
If You Also Earned Royalties
If all your income derives from publishing books, you won’t have numerous 1099-MISC forms to keep track of, but you should still receive one from the company you published with. This income goes on Schedule C as well.
If you also held down a regular job during the year, you’ll only have to pay self-employment tax on the portion of the income you included on Schedule C. If you had more expenses than income from the publication of your book, this is a business loss. It can reduce the amount of income you have to pay taxes on, even if you earned that income from an employer.
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