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Most real estate professionals operate their business as a sole proprietorship. This means that you are not someone’s employee, you haven’t formed a partnership with anyone, and you have not incorporated your business.

Statutory Nonemployees

Licensed real estate agents are statutory nonemployees and are treated as self-employed for all Federal tax purposes, including income and employment taxes, if:

  • Substantially all payments for their services as real estate agents are directly related to sales or other output, rather than to the number of hours worked
  • Their services are performed under a written contract providing that they will not be treated as employees for Federal tax purposes

This category includes individuals engaged in appraisal activities for real estate sales if they earn income based on sales or other output.

Who is Self-Employed?

Generally, you are self-employed if any of the following apply to you.

Sole Proprietor

A sole proprietor is someone who owns an unincorporated business by himself or herself. However, if you are the sole member of a domestic limited liability company (LLC), you are not a sole proprietor if you elect to treat the LLC as a corporation.

If you are a sole proprietor use the information in the chart below to help you determine some of the forms that you may be required to file.

IF you are liable for: THEN use Form:
Income Tax 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return

and Schedule C (Form 1040), Profit or Loss from Business

or Schedule C-EZ (Form 1040), Net Profit from Business

Self-employment tax Schedule SE (Form 1040), Self-Employment Tax
Estimated tax 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals
Social security and Medicare taxes and income tax withholding 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return

943, Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return for Agricultural Employees

944, Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return

Providing information on social security and Medicare taxes and income tax withholding W-2, Wage and Tax Statement (to employee)

and W-3, Transmittal of Wage and Tax Statements (to the Social Security Administration)

Federal unemployment (FUTA) tax 940, Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return
Filing information returns for payments to nonemployees and transactions with other persons See Information Returns
Excise Taxes Refer to the Excise Tax Web page

Independent Contractor Defined

People such as doctors, dentists, veterinarians, lawyers, accountants, contractors, subcontractors, public stenographers, or auctioneers who are in an independent trade, business, or profession in which they offer their services to the general public are generally independent contractors. However, whether these people are independent contractors or employees depends on the facts in each case. The general rule is that an individual is an independent contractor if the payer has the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not what will be done and how it will be done. The earnings of a person who is working as an independent contractor are subject to Self-Employment Tax.

If you are an independent contractor, you are self-employed. To find out what your tax obligations are, visit the Self-Employed Tax Center.

You are not an independent contractor if you perform services that can be controlled by an employer (what will be done and how it will be done). This applies even if you are given freedom of action. What matters is that the employer has the legal right to control the details of how the services are performed.

If an employer-employee relationship exists (regardless of what the relationship is called), you are not an independent contractor and your earnings are generally not subject to Self-Employment Tax.

However, your earnings as an employee may be subject to FICA (Social Security tax and Medicare) and income tax withholding.

For more information on determining whether you are an independent contractor or an employee, refer to the section on Independent Contractors or Employees.

Partnerships

A partnership is the relationship existing between two or more persons who join to carry on a trade or business. Each person contributes money, property, labor or skill, and expects to share in the profits and losses of the business.

A partnership must file an annual information return to report the income, deductions, gains, losses, etc., from its operations, but it does not pay income tax. Instead, it “passes through” any profits or losses to its partners. Each partner includes his or her share of the partnership’s income or loss on his or her tax return.

Partners are not employees and should not be issued a Form W-2. The partnership must furnish copies of Schedule K-1 (Form 1065) to the partners by the date Form 1065 is required to be filed, including extensions.

If you are a partnership or a partner (individual) in a partnership, use the information in the charts below to help you determine some of the forms that you may be required to file.

Chart 1 (Partnership)
If you are a partnership then you may be liable for… Use Form… Separate Instructions…
Annual return of income 1065,U.S. Return of Partnership Income (PDF) Instructions for Form 1065 U.S. Return of Partnership Income(PDF)
Employment taxes:

  • Social security and Medicare taxes and income tax withholding
  • Federal unemployment (FUTA) tax
  • Depositing employment taxes
941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return (PDF) and 943, Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return for Agricultural Employees(for farm employees) (PDF)

940, Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return(PDF)

Instructions for Form 941 Employers QUARTERLY Federal Tax Return (PDF)

Instructions for Form 943 Employers Annual Federal Tax Return for Agricultural Employees (PDF)

Instructions for Form 940 Employers Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return(PDF)

Excise Taxes Refer to the Excise Tax Web page
Chart 2 (Individual Partners in a Partnership)
If you are a partner (individual) in a partnership then you may be liable for… Use Form… Separate Instructions…
Income Tax 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return (PDF) and Schedule E (Form 1040), Supplemental Income and Loss (PDF) Instructions for 1040 U.S. Individual Income Tax Return (PDF)Instructions for Schedule E (Form 1040) (PDF)
Self-employment tax 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return (PDF) and Schedule SE (Form 1040), Self-Employment Tax (PDF) Instructions for Schedule SE (Form 1040)(PDF)
Estimated tax 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals (PDF)

Business Activities

Trade or Business

A trade or business is generally an activity carried on for a livelihood or in good faith to make a profit. The facts and circumstances of each case determine whether or not an activity is a trade or business. The regularity of activities and transactions and the production of income are important elements. You do not need to actually make a profit to be in a trade or business as long as you have a profit motive. You do need, however, to make ongoing efforts to further the interests of your business.

Part-time Business

You do not have to carry on regular full-time business activities to be self-employed. Having a part-time business in addition to your regular job or business also may be self-employment.

Example: You are employed full time as an engineer at the local plant. You fix televisions and radios during the weekends. You have your own shop, equipment, and tools. You get your customers from advertising and word-of-mouth. You are self-employed as the owner of a part-time repair shop.

 

What are My Self-Employed Tax Obligations?

As a self-employed individual, generally you are required to file an annual return and pay estimated tax quarterly.

Self-employed individuals generally must pay self-employment tax (SE tax) as well as income tax. SE tax is a Social Security and Medicare tax primarily for individuals who work for themselves. It is similar to the Social Security and Medicare taxes withheld from the pay of most wage earners. In general, anytime the wording “self-employment tax” is used, it only refers to Social Security and Medicare taxes and not any other tax (like income tax).

Before you can determine if you are subject to self-employment tax and income tax, you must figure your net profit or net loss from your business. You do this by subtracting your business expenses from your business income. If your expenses are less than your income, the difference is net profit and becomes part of your income on page 1 of Form 1040. If your expenses are more than your income, the difference is a net loss. You usually can deduct your loss from gross income on page 1 of Form 1040. But in some situations your loss is limited. See Pub. 334, Tax Guide for Small Business (For Individuals Who Use Schedule C or C-EZ) for more information.

You have to file an income tax return if your net earnings from self-employment were $400 or more. If your net earnings from self-employment were less than $400, you still have to file an income tax return if you meet any other filing requirement listed in the Form 1040 instructions (PDF).

How Do I Make My Quarterly Payments?

Estimated tax is the method used to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes and income tax, because you do not have an employer withholding these taxes for you. Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals (PDF), is used to figure these taxes. Form 1040-ES contains a worksheet that is similar to Form 1040. You will need your prior year’s annual tax return in order to fill out Form 1040-ES.

Use the worksheet found in Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals to find out if you are required to file quarterly estimated tax.

Form 1040-ES also contains blank vouchers you can use when you mail your estimated tax payments or you may make your payments using the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS). If this is your first year being self-employed, you will need to estimate the amount of income you expect to earn for the year. If you estimated your earnings too high, simply complete another Form 1040-ES worksheet to refigure your estimated tax for the next quarter. If you estimated your earnings too low, again complete another Form 1040-ES worksheet to recalculate your estimated taxes for the next quarter.

See the Estimated Taxes page for more information. The Self-Employment Tax page has more information on Social Security and Medicare taxes.

How Do I File My Annual Return?

To file your annual tax return, you will need to use Schedule C (PDF) or Schedule C-EZ (PDF) to report your income or loss from a business you operated or a profession you practiced as a sole proprietor. Schedule C Instructions (PDF) may be helpful in filling out this form.

Small businesses and statutory employees with expenses of $5,000 or less may be able to file Schedule C-EZ instead of Schedule C. To find out if you can use Schedule C-EZ, see the instructions in the Schedule C-EZ form.

In order to report your Social Security and Medicare taxes, you must file Schedule SE (Form 1040), Self-Employment Tax (PDF). Use the income or loss calculated on Schedule C or Schedule C-EZ to calculate the amount of Social Security and Medicare taxes you should have paid during the year. The Instructions (PDF) for Schedule SE may be helpful in filing out the form.

Am I Required to File an Information Return?

If you made or received a payment as a small business or self-employed (individual), you are most likely required to file an information return to the IRS.

Business Structures

When beginning a business, you must decide what form of business entity to establish. Your form of business determines which income tax return form you have to file. The most common forms of business are the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and S corporation. A Limited Liability Company (LLC) is a relatively new business structure allowed by state statute. Visit the Business Structures page to learn more about each type of entity and what forms to file.

Home Office Deduction

If you use part of your home for business, you may be able to deduct expenses for the business use of your home. The home office deduction is available for homeowners and renters, and applies to all types of homes.

Married Couples Business – What is a Qualified Joint Venture?

Married Couples Business
The employment tax requirements for family employees may vary from those that apply to other employees. On this page we point out some issues to consider when operating a married couples business.

Election for Married Couples Unincorporated Businesses
For tax years beginning after December 31, 2006, the Small Business and Work Opportunity Tax Act of 2007 (Public Law 110-28) provides that a “qualified joint venture,” whose only members are a married couples filing a joint return, can elect not to be treated as a partnership for Federal tax purposes.

Considering a Tax Professional

Tips for Choosing a Tax Return Preparer

Online Learning Tools

The Small Business Taxes: The Virtual Workshop is composed of nine interactive lessons designed to help new small business owners learn their tax rights and responsibilities. The IRS Video Portal contains video and audio presentations on topics of interest to small businesses, individuals and tax professionals.