How are 1099 contractors different from W2 contractors?
November 15, 2011 5:41 PM   Subscribe

I got a part-time job contracting for a non-profit. Turns out they have me as a 1099 contractor instead of a W2 as I'm accustomed to. What do I need to do or know?

Sorry if this doesn't make sense. I just found out about this today and it's sent my blood pressure through the roof.

I've contacted my state (PA) unemployment compensation center and filled out a new form over the phone. I was claiming partial unemployment all this time (one month) under the assumption that I was still a W2. I'm worried that I may now owe money to the state. If so, how can I determine the amount? Will they think I was withholding or falsifying information? What do I do when tax time rolls around? Any advice from people who work as 1099ers would be a huge help!
posted by never nice to Work & Money (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The big difference is that no one is going to withhold taxes or other deductions for you. If you don't set aside a portion of your earnings to be gift wrapped for Uncle Sam (or Uncle Penn) when tax time comes, you're in for a nasty surprise.
posted by holterbarbour at 5:49 PM on November 15, 2011

Talk to an accountant. You'll be responsible for your own income tax witholding and quite possibly other forms of witholding as well.
posted by gauche at 5:52 PM on November 15, 2011

I have used TurboTax to file my taxes when I got a 1099 and it was fairly straightforward. Just remember that you're not getting taxed on that income now - so start setting aside money now for the hit in April.
posted by gnutron at 5:59 PM on November 15, 2011

I worked this way for a while. My accountant advised me to save half my paycheck every week, which I did. When tax time rolled around I ended up only owing about 70% of that saved money to Uncle Sam, so the remaining 30% seemed like a fabulous end-of-year bonus. YMMV, especially due to issues regarding your marital/filing status, # of dependents, etc.
posted by BlahLaLa at 5:59 PM on November 15, 2011

It also means that you will not be eligible for unemployment when the job ends - FYI.

Unless you are allowed to set your own hours and work at your own home , if you choose, they are violating IRS regulations by claiming that you are a 1099 contractor.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 6:00 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm in PA and had two 1099s (and a variety of other ugly stuff) last year. I used TaxAct free online software and it did all the tax work for me. I would set aside about 1/4 of your pay for taxes if you've got some wiggle room, otherwise you might want to get closer to 1/3 to be on the safe side.
posted by jabes at 6:03 PM on November 15, 2011

Response by poster: @Poet_Lariat - OMG, I'm more screwed than I thought! Would pulling out of the contract now make a difference? Getting full-time work has been impossible for me and I'm in a really bad patch financially (as seen by my previous AskMe.) When this contract ends I doubt I'll have another job lined up. :(
posted by never nice at 6:09 PM on November 15, 2011

Best answer: Yeah, you're not covered by unemployment or worker's comp, and you'll have to pay self-employment taxes. You're only getting cash for your work - no health insurance, no paid vacation, etc., etc. If you negotiated your pay with the understanding that you would be an employee rather than a contractor then you're probably being dramatically undercompensated.
posted by jon1270 at 6:10 PM on November 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

It's not the end of the world, but it certainly is a big pain in the ass, especially if you didn't know you were being 1099ed. It basically means you're a contractor rather than a payroll employee, and therefore responsible for paying taxes on your own, as they will not be withholding anything from your pay.

As a 1099 contractor, you are self-employed in the eyes of the Fed, and need to know all this stuff, but especially that you need to make quarterly estimated income tax payments.
posted by trip and a half at 6:13 PM on November 15, 2011

If you negotiated your pay with the understanding that you would be an employee rather than a contractor then you're probably being dramatically undercompensated.

Quoted for truth.
posted by ottereroticist at 6:18 PM on November 15, 2011

You also will owe 15% for social security taxes, instead of the usual 7.5% as you have to pay the employer portion too. Generally speaking, when you are a contractor you should be getting paid at least 150% of what you would expect as an employee - it not closer to double.
posted by COD at 6:22 PM on November 15, 2011

Response by poster: They set the pay rate, and the amount of time on the job is stated in my contract, stretched over nine months. Yeah, I got the wool pulled over my eyes. *headdesk*

Can I use the abovementioned amount to determine how much I need to set aside for taxes? Also, how do the self-employed cope with unemployment if they don't have UC to fall back on?
posted by never nice at 6:22 PM on November 15, 2011

Best answer: Oh yeah: what everyone else after me said, too. Essentially, if you were unaware that you were being engaged as a 1099, you can expect your money hand to turn out to less than half of what you were expecting after taxes, insurance, probably hiring an accountant, etc.
posted by trip and a half at 6:24 PM on November 15, 2011

...your money IN hand...
posted by trip and a half at 6:25 PM on November 15, 2011

You can use that amount, but get ready for sticker-shock: when I was 1099, I was advised to set aside 33% for Federal Income Tax alone. Turned out closer to 40% in my case.

And yeah, no UC... you have to factor everything you've been used to not worrying about (all benefits such as health insurance, PTO, etc.) as a W2 employee into what you charge as your rate. So that would include putting savings aside for unemployment.
posted by trip and a half at 6:39 PM on November 15, 2011

Never nice: don't panic. keep the job and save the money - as much as you can. They probably screwed you on the hourly knowing that you didn't know about the 1099 thing. Basically a 1099 contract should pay a minimum of 30% more salary than "normal" to compensate you for the increased SSN payments that you have to pay, etc. Get a new job ASAP while you are working this one.

You now have leverage. After a few months you will be able to threaten turn them in to the IRS which means that they will owe a LOT AND very likely you will be able to collect in small claims court for overtime, etc by claiming that you were never really a 1099 employee. To reiterate: if you so not set your own hours and you are not allowed to set your own workplace (i.e. they require that you come to their placer of work to do your job) then you are not really a 1099 employee in the eyes of the IRS. Have a new job ready because as soon as you mention this they will let you go but employees in many companies (such as Microsoft and HP) have successfully sued on this basis. Get another job. Turn these assholes into the IRS.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 6:41 PM on November 15, 2011

"You now have leverage... Turn these assholes in"

This seems premature to me. The OP has said nothing to indicate that his 1099 status is illegitimate. I'm sure the OP's situation genuinely sucks, but we can't tell from the provided information whether this is a case of intentional wool-pulling or simple ignorance/naivety.
posted by jon1270 at 1:56 AM on November 16, 2011

Not to mention that it can be unethical or illegal (depending on the context) to make a threat to report a crime in order to gain "leverage".
posted by megatherium at 4:48 AM on November 16, 2011

I don't know about the UC laws in your state, but I think you should consider quitting, or rather terminating this contract and going back on your old claim. You were hired under false pretenses. You should be able to go back to the local unemployment office and ask about going back on the old claim.
posted by Gungho at 7:07 AM on November 16, 2011

Response by poster: Thankfully I got things sorted out and am in the process of filling out a W2 form. I simply cannot take the risk of continuing as a 1099 and not have a job lined up after this one. Thanks for the info - I'll keep it in mind for the future. :)
posted by never nice at 6:33 AM on November 17, 2011

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