What tax forms do I need for an independent contractor?

What tax forms do I need for an independent contractor?

Tax information for businesses & individuals


Step 1: independent contractor or employee?

Independent contractors and employees are not the same, and it's important for employers to know the difference. Knowing the difference is critical for tax purposes and for helping your business avoid costly legal consequences.

The main difference is the degree of control that an individual exerts over his/her work. Independent contractors have a high degree of control over the work they do, the hours they work, the supplies they use, will simultaneously work for multiple employers, and advertise their own business. In contrast, employees typically exert less control over their work, have duties assigned by the employer, are giving training for the work being performed, and typically only work for one employer at a time.

A list of differences:

Independent Contractor:

  • Operates under a business name
  • Has his/her own employees
  • Maintains a separate business checking account
  • Advertises his/her business' services
  • Invoices for work completed
  • Has more than one client
  • Has own tools and sets own hours
  • Keeps business records

Many small businesses rely on independent contractors for their staffing needs. There are many benefits to using contractors over hiring employees:

  • Savings in labor costs
  • Reduced liability
  • Flexibility in hiring and firing

An Employee:

  • Performs duties dictated or controlled by others
  • Is given training for work to be done
  • Works for only one employer

Why Does It Matter?

Misclassification of an individual as an independent contractor can have a number of legal & financial consequences.

If you erroneously classify someone as an independent contractor and they turn out to be an employee, you or your business may be required to:

  • Reimburse them for wages you should've paid them under the Fair Labor Standards Act, including overtime and minimum wage
  • Pay back taxes and penalties for federal and state income taxes, Social Security, Medicare and unemployment
  • Pay any misclassified injured employees workers' compensation benefits
  • Provide employee benefits, including health insurance, retirement, etc.

The Form W9

The Form W9 is an official IRS form that employers give to employees and/or independent contractors for the purposes of obtaining their name, mailing address, social security number, and/or tax ID number.

If you file any tax forms on behalf of your employee or independent contractor, you need them to fill out a Form W9.

You can find the Form W9 here.


Independent contractors making less than $600

When you pay an independent contractor less than $600, there are no forms to fill out. You will not need to have the individual fill out a W9 because you are not filing any tax paperwork where you would need the information contained in the W9.


Independent contractors making more than $600.

For Employers

When you pay an independent contractor more than $600, you must file a Form 1099 Misc. with the IRS and give a copy to the independent contractor by January 31st of the following year. No other forms or taxes are owed.

Because you must file a Form 1099 Misc., this means that you need the information provided on the W9, so the independent contractor must also fill out a W9.

Forms you need:

For Independent Contractors

For independent contractors that make more than $600, you will receive a 1099 Misc. form from your employer. Your employer will have sent this document to both you and the IRS. 

When you file your taxes, you will not directly file the 1099 Misc. Instead, you will use the information reported on the 1099 Misc. form to fill out your tax return.