Self-employment is the act of generating one’s income directly from customers, clients or other organizations as opposed to being an employee of a business (or person).
Generally, tax authorities will view a person as self-employed if the person (1) chooses to be recognized as such, or (2) is generating income such that the person is required to file a tax return under legislation that subsists in the relevant jurisdiction(s). In the real world the critical issue for the taxing authorities is not that the person is trading but is whether the person is profitable and hence potentially taxable. In other words the activity of trading is likely to be ignored if no profit is present, so occasional and hobby- or enthusiast-based economic activity is generally ignored by authorities.
Self-employed people generally find their own work rather than being provided with work by an employer, earning income from a trade or business that they operate. In some countries governments (the United States and UK, for example) are placing more emphasis on clarifying whether an individual is self-employed or engaged in disguised employment, often described as the pretense of a contractual intra-business relationship to hide what is otherwise a simple employer-employee relationship.
Although the common perception is that self-employment is concentrated in a few service sector industries, like sales people and insurance agents, research by the Small Business Administration has shown that self-employment occurs across a wide segment of the U.S. economy. Furthermore, industries that are not commonly associated as a natural fit for self-employment, such as manufacturing, have in fact been shown to have a large proportion of self-employed individuals and home-based businesses. In the United States, any person is considered self-employed for tax purposes if that person is running a business as a sole proprietorship, independent contractor, as a member of a partnership, or as a member of a limited liability company that does not elect to be treated as a corporation. In addition to income taxes, these individuals must pay Social Security and Medicare taxes in the form of a SECA (Self-Employment Contributions Act) tax.
The self-employment tax in the United States is typically set at 15.30%, which is roughly the equivalent of the combined contributions of the employee and employer under the FICA tax. The rate consists of two parts: 12.4% for social security and 2.9% for Medicare. The social security portion of the self-employment tax only applies to the first 0,100 of income for the 2012 tax year. There is no limit to the amount that is taxable under the 2.9% Medicare portion of the self-employment tax. Generally, only 92.35% of the self-employment income is taxable at the above rates. Additionally, half of the self-employment tax, i.e., the employer-equivalent portion, is allowed as a deduction against income. The 2010 Tax Relief Act reduced the self-employment tax by 2% for self-employment income earned in calendar year 2011, for a total of 13.3%. This rate will continue for income earned in calendar year 2012, due to the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011. Self-employed persons sometimes declare more deductions than an ordinary employee. Travel, uniforms, computer equipment, cell phones, etc., can be deducted as legitimate business expenses. Self-employed persons report their business income or loss on Schedule C of IRS Form 1040 and calculate the self-employment tax on Schedule SE of IRS Form 1040. Estimated taxes must be paid quarterly using form 1040-ES if estimated tax liability exceeds ,000.
Self-employed workers cannot contribute to a company-run 401k plan of the type with which most people are familiar. However, there are various vehicles available to self-employed individuals to save for retirement. Many set up a Simplified Employee Pension Plan (SEP) IRA, which allows them to contribute up to 25% of their income, up to ,000 (2013) per year. There is also a vehicle called the Self-Employed 401k (or SE 401k) for self-employed people. The contribution limits vary slightly depending on how your business is organized but are generally higher than the other types of plans.