Self Employment Tax Basics

Aug 07, 2022

Self-employment taxes are what I see as the most common cause of those surprise tax bills at the end of the year so I wanted to break them down a bit here.

If you own an unincorporated business, you likely pay at least three different federal taxes. In addition to federal income taxes, you must pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, also called the self-employment tax.

Self-employment taxes are not insubstantial. Indeed, many business owners pay more in self-employment taxes than in income tax. The self-employment tax consists of

  • a 12.4 percent Social Security tax up to an annual income ceiling ($147,000 for 2022) and
  • a 2.9 percent Medicare tax on all self-employment income.

These amount to a 15.3 percent tax, up to the $147,000 Social Security tax ceiling. If your self-employment income is more than $200,000 if you’re single or $250,000 if you’re married filing jointly, you must pay a 0.9 percent additional Medicare tax on self-employment income over the applicable threshold for a total 3.8 percent Medicare tax.

You pay the self-employment tax if you earn income from a business you own as a sole proprietor or single-member LLC, or co-own as a general partner in a partnership, an LLC member, or a partner in any other business entity taxed as a partnership. (There is an exemption for limited partners.)

You don’t pay self-employment tax on personal investment income or hobby income. For example, you don’t pay self-employment tax on profits you earn from selling stock, your home, or an occasional item on eBay.

The tax code bases your self-employment tax on 92.35 percent of your net business income.


That means your business deductions are doubly valuable since they reduce both income and self-employment taxes. In contrast, personal itemized deductions and “above-the-line” adjustments to income don’t decrease your self-employment tax.

Some types of income are not subject to self-employment tax at all, including

  • most rental income,
  • most dividend and interest income,
  • gain or loss from sales and dispositions of business property, and
  • S corporation distributions to shareholders.

 

One other important thing to note is that self-employment taxes should be included in your quarterly tax calculation and sent in with your estimates.