How To Handle Taxes on Side Hustle Income

How To Handle Taxes on Side Hustle Income

Keeper Staff
February 28, 2024
February 28, 2024
Icon check
Reviewed by
Tax guide
How To Handle Taxes on Side Hustle Income
Keeper Staff
February 28, 2024
February 28, 2024
Icon check
Reviewed by

We all know the expression, “Don’t quit your day job.” But for many of us, having a side hustle alongside our salaried job offers us that necessary financial breathing room to plan for the future. 

What many people don’t realize is that even a few extra bucks a week can come with a price tag at tax time. But fear not! Armed with the right tools, your side gig might even save you money when you file.


How does a side hustle affect your taxes? 

Leave it to Uncle Sam to spoil a good thing. Even if you only earned a few hundred bucks from your gig work, you still have to pay tax on it.

Any income you earn outside of your day job is referred to as “self-employment income.” That’s  shorthand for: you’re a business owner.

That might sound overkill for something like Lyft driving on nights and weekends, or writing a corporate blog post here and there. But as far as the IRS is concerned, you’re a sole proprietor for tax purposes, running a small business all by yourself. 

What a sole proprietorship means for your taxes

There’s a lot of bad guidance out there for self-employed individuals, so let’s cut to the chase: 

  • ✘ No, you don’t need to register for an LLC
  • ✘ No, you don’t need to file for a business EIN number
  • ✘ And no, you don’t need to open a business checking account

Here’s the skinny: as a sole proprietor, you can earn business income and claim business deductions without formally starting a business.

When it comes time to file, all you have to do is attach Form Schedule C to your individual 1040 tax return. Schedule C reports your 1099 income. From there, you can calculate your self-employment taxes using Schedule SE. (More on this later.)

When should you start a business for your side hustle?

It only makes sense to consider formalizing your side gig if:

  • ✓ Your side hustle begins to make real money
  • ✓ You plan to keep it going for several years

Even then, it’s not a requirement for your taxes. It’s mainly to make the process of doing business easier.

How a formal business name can streamline your side hustle

If your freelance photography business, for example, takes off and becomes your bread and butter, you’ll most likely want a formal business name. You can:

A business name adds legitimacy to your work and advertises what your business is about.

Why starting a business isn't required

You can operate under your personal name and Social Security number while doing business. As far as the IRS is concerned, you just need to report all your earnings on your Schedule C.

However, there might be some state and local governments that require you to register a business name, so always check the requirements for operating a business in your state.

How to deal with self-employment taxes on your side gig

While there are many upsides to being self-employed, there’s one huge downside: self-employment taxes. 

These are a combination of Social Security and Medicare taxes, and they have a combined tax rate of 15.3%. To learn more about how they work, check out our intro to self-employment taxes.

They’re only calculated on your net business income, not your total income for the year. So if you have W-2 income of $30,000 and business income (after expenses) of $10,000, only the $10,000 will be subject to self-employment tax. In this example, that amounts to $1,530 ($10,000 X 0.153).

Unlike income tax, which can be reduced through tax adjustments and individual deductions, the only thing that can reduce self-employment taxes are business write-offs and tax credits. So don’t be surprised if you owe slightly more than usual after you start your side hustle.

Tips for dealing with side income

Not keen on a higher tax bill? I’m right there with you.

Let’s look at some tips and tricks to minimize your self-employment taxes, so you aren’t caught off guard come April. 

Tip #1: Know what you can write off

Self-employment taxes are assessed on your net business income. That’s your gross income minus expenses.

That means the best way to lower taxes on your side hustle is to lower your business income.

How does one do that? Great question.

The answer is business write-offs. A business write-off is just another way of saying your work-related expenses. Common examples include things like:

  • 🚗  Auto expenses
  • 📱  Your cell phone bill
  • 🔧  Tools and supplies
  • 🌐  Wi-Fi costs
  • 🧑 Dues and subscriptions for memberships to business associations or unions
  • 🖥️  Office expenses

If you’re able to pull together enough write-offs, you might not owe any SE tax at all. (And if you have so many that you generate a loss, it might even lower your regular income taxes.)


Tip #2: Skip the business bank account

When it comes to claiming write-offs, many resources say you need a business checking account. This isn’t true. What you are required to do is keep business records, which is much easier to do with separate accounts.

For side hustlers and gig workers, using your personal accounts might make more sense.

As long as you have a system for tracking your work expenses during the year, you aren’t breaking any laws by buying work-related things using your personal account.

In fact, this challenge is what inspired Keeper’s app in the first place. Gig workers and side hustlers need tools to track their write-offs easily and efficiently.


Tip #3: Set aside 20-30% of your earnings for taxes

Woof, right? I hated writing that as much as you hated reading it. Unfortunately, 20-30% is the most realistic estimate of how much to save. Here’s why.

Most taxpayers working side gigs fall into federal income tax brackets with effective rates ranging from 12-22%. (Your effective tax rate is your average tax rate.) Add the 15.3% from self-employment taxes on top of that, and the safest approach is to assume 30% of your income will evaporate into thin air.

That might not actually be the case if you maximize your tax write-offs. Still, it’s always better to be conservative when it comes to taxes. If you overpay, you’ll get it back as a refund, but if you underpay, you could be subject to underpayment penalties and interest.


Tip #4: Make payments as you go

We have a pay-as-you-go tax system. What does that mean? It means that your tax technically isn’t due April 15, it’s due at the time it’s earned.

For your W-2 income, this part is easy. Your employer will withhold taxes on the money you earn from your day job, so you don’t have to  worry about it at the end of the tax season. 

When it comes to your moonlighting, though, paying as you go, can complicate matters. Without an employer handling taxes on that income for you, you’re left to fend for yourself.

This isn’t just bad news for you, it’s bad news for the IRS too. They want your – err – their money as soon as possible. Consequently, they’ve designed a very easy system to help you pay up on time: 

Making estimated tax payments

Due every three months, estimated tax payments are a great way for freelancers and side hustlers to stay on top of things. You can use Keeper’s quarterly tax calculator for an easy projection of how much to pay on the extra money.

The IRS sets deadlines for estimated tax payments on a quarterly basis. The dates don’t align with regular calendar quarters, though. The IRS keeps its calendar of tax deadlines updated on its website.

If cash-flow is tight, just pay as much as you can. It’s better to make a small payment by the due date than to play catch-up on the whole amount next quarter. Don’t want the headache of making estimated payments?

Depending on your situation, you might have another option: using your W-2 job to pay as you go.

Adjusting your W-2 withholding

Believe it or not, you can ask your employer to increase your W-2 withholding to cover the taxes on your side income. All you need is an idea of how much you want to set aside for taxes. Just tell your employer how much extra you want them to withhold for the month — or for the quarter. Alternatively, you can complete a new Form W-4, which lets you report additional income to adjust your withholding calculation.

Tip #5: Get familiar with your Schedule C 

I mentioned this earlier, but Schedule C is how you’ll report your side income. I recommend every freelancer at least look at their Schedule C once, even if they hire someone else to prepare it.

Schedule C is where you’ll report your income, business write-offs, mileage deduction, and home office deduction. It’s also the form you’ll need to produce if you ever apply for a bank loan or need to verify income to other creditors.

If you’re a DIY kind of person, check out our step-by-step guide to filling out your Schedule C.

Whether you’re driving for Lyft, freelancing as a web designer, or building your TikTok follower base, with Keeper on your side, you might be able to quit your day job after all!

Keeper Staff

Keeper Staff


Keeper is a delightfully smart tax filing software that's especially useful for people with 1099 contracting and freelance income. Our blog breaks down IRS guidance with real-world examples and analysis by tax professionals — empowering taxpayers to save money and take control of their finances.

Estimate tax saving

Over 1M freelancers trust Keeper with their taxes

Keeper is the top-rated all-in-one business expense tracker, tax filing service, and personal accountant.

How To Handle Taxes on Side Hustle Income
How To Handle Taxes on Side Hustle Income

Over 1M freelancers trust Keeper with their taxes

Keeper is the top-rated all-in-one business expense tracker, tax filing service, and personal accountant.

How To Handle Taxes on Side Hustle Income
How To Handle Taxes on Side Hustle Income

Over 1M freelancers trust Keeper with their taxes

Keeper is the top-rated all-in-one business expense tracker, tax filing service, and personal accountant.

Expense tracking has never been easier

Keeper is the top-rated all-in-one business expense tracker, tax filing service, and personal accountant.

Get started
Free Resource
I’m a self-employed ...
Lyft / Uber driver
Lyft / Uber driver
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Adult entertainer
Airbnb host
Amazon Flex driver
Audio engineer
Car rental provider
Childcare provider
Cleaner / housekeeper
Commercial painter
Community manager
Computer technician
Construction contractor
Content creator
Costume / fashion designer
Customer support specialist
Delivery driver
Dog walker
Event planner
Financial advisor
HVAC technician
Insurance agent
Interior designer
Janitor / custodian
Lab technician
Loan officer
Lyft / Uber driver
Makeup artist
Massage therapist
Medical biller / coder
Nail tech
Notary / signing agent
Nutritionist / dietitian
Oil / gas contractor
Online seller
Personal concierge
Personal trainer
Pharmacy technician
Pressure washer owner
Property owner / real estate investor
Railroad contractor
Real estate agent
Security guard
Social worker
Sports coach
Tattoo artist
Teacher / tutor
Travel nurse
Translator / interpreter
Truck driver
Virtual assistant
Web developer
Wedding planner
Yoga teacher
Uber / Lyft driver
Text Link

At Keeper, we’re on a mission to help people overcome the complexity of taxes. We’ve provided this information for educational purposes, and it does not constitute tax, legal, or accounting advice. If you would like a tax expert to clarify it for you, feel free to sign up for Keeper. You may also email with your questions.