Sam Brotman, JD, LLM, MBA July 6, 2016 15 min read

California Self Employment Tax 2022: What You Must Know!

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Sam Brotman, JD, LLM, MBA

Owner and Director of Legal
Brotman Law

With so much conflicting information about the California self employment tax process floating around online, it can often be difficult for a lot of people to figure out precisely what these taxes are, how they're calculated, paid, and what the consequences of non-payment might be. 

We're here to help demystify California self employment taxes so that you can focus your energies on growing your business instead of worrying about your tax return.

What is self employment tax in California?

When you're employed by someone, be it in a part-time or full-time job, your employer is responsible for withholding taxes from your paycheck. It's their responsibility to not only withhold taxes but to also pay them to the government. 

Things are a bit different when you're working for yourself, or in simpler words, when you're a self employed individual. Your clients won't be withholding taxes on your behalf. It's entirely your responsibility to withhold and pay taxes on the income generated from your business.

For taxation, self-employed people are deemed to be independent contractors, since they’re not employed by the client. Thus the California independent contractor tax rate applies to all earnings from the business. The collections are performed by the Franchise Tax Board. They're responsible for collecting personal and corporate income tax for the State of California. 

What does CA self employment tax consist of?

You're required to pay taxes on the income you generate from self employment in California. The self employed taxes California collects funds Social Security and Medicare only. The CA self employment tax does not include any other taxes.

Who is considered liable to pay California self employed tax?

It's not uncommon to be confused about whether you are liable to pay self employment taxes in California. You might be under the impression that the small business you’re running isn't taxed or you might think that your little side hustle doesn't create any tax liabilities. It's imperative to understand who is liable to pay these taxes in California.

The IRS considers you to be self-employed if you: 

  • Are practicing a trade or operating a business as an independent contractor or as a sole proprietor 

  • Are a member of a partnership that carries on a trade or business 

  • If you're otherwise in business for yourself, including a part-time business

For example, you could be a freelance designer or writer, and you'll be considered self employed for taxation. The same applies to professionals such as tutors, lawyers, physicians, etc who are not employed by an organization and are in business for themselves.

How much is self employment tax in California?

You will only owe self employment tax in California if your net earnings are more than $400 for the year. You can calculate your net earnings by subtracting your business expenses from your business income. If your income is above this threshold, you’ll be required to pay a fixed California self employment tax rate. We provide examples below to show you how you can properly calculate your self employment tax.

People who are self employed are allowed to pay their taxes every quarter. This can be advantageous in most situations but it might also end up becoming an issue if your bookkeeping isn't accurate enough to consistently account for quarterly tax payments. This can become even more difficult when you're unsure of what your earnings could end up looking like at the end of the quarter.

Determining if you owe California state self employment tax

Understanding if you owe self employment taxes in California is quite simple. If you're a sole proprietor, you'll be liable for self employment taxes if you have a net profit of $400 or more annually. Individuals with a corporate structure such as a partnership or LLC are also liable for these taxes provided that they post a net profit of $400 or more annually.

If you owe self employment taxes in California, you're typically going to make estimated quarterly tax payments based on the best guess of your annual income for the tax year in question. It can be difficult for self employed people to predict their income. However, since taxes are required to be paid in full, you must estimate what your annual income for the year will be and pay taxes based on that. 

You're required to make estimated payments if you expect to owe at least $500 in taxes. Additional provisions are to be kept in mind if you expect withholding and credits to be the lower of these two amounts: 

  • 90% of the tax shown in your previous return 

  • 100% of the tax shown on your return for the year before that

Calculating California self employment tax 2022

The California self employment tax rate for 2022 is 15.3%. As previously discussed, this includes your Social Security and Medicare taxes. Those who are self employed need to cover the entire 15.3% of these taxes in addition to paying the normal income tax rates. 

How to calculate your freelance taxes in California

You don’t need a sophisticated California independent contractor tax calculator to figure out how much you owe. There’s a simple formula that you can use to make the proper calculations, regardless of whether you have a sole proprietorship or LLC.

  • Find your net earnings by subtracting business expenses from your gross income 

  • Multiply that number by 92.35%. This is the amount of your income that's subject to self employment tax 

  • Multiply this number with the 15.3% tax rate to get the exact amount of taxes that you owe

Example:

You worked as a freelance writer and earned a net income of $30,000 last year. Multiplying that by 92.35% gives you $27,705 as your income subject to self employment taxes. Now you multiply this taxable income by the prevailing 15.3% tax rate and you get $4,238. This is what you need to pay in self employment tax. 

Lower your tax bill by taking advantage of deductions

Taking advantage of tax deductions is a great way to reduce your tax bill. It can be difficult to figure out which deductions you can claim. Remember that improper claims will result in penalties, so be careful when taking the deductions. Generally, most self employed people can take education, home office, auto expenses, health insurance premiums, and other deductions.

Remember, there are strict conditions to be met for most of these deductions. For example, home office deductions require that you use part of your home regularly and exclusively for your business. This enables you to partly deduct utility bills, insurance, and other related costs against your self employment income. Misrepresenting facts when claiming tax deductions in your return will likely trigger a 1099 audit.

Paying self employment taxes in California

You need to adhere to the following schedule for making quarterly tax payments. It applies to both the IRS and the Franchise Tax Board.

  • 1st quarter payment due: April 18

  • 2nd quarter payment due: June 15

  • 3rd quarter payment due: September 15 

  • 4th quarter payment due: January 17

How to pay self employed taxes in California

Certain steps need to be followed to make your tax payments. The IRS Form 1040 Schedule C is what you'll use to report the earnings from your business. Next, you have to fill out the IRS Form 1040 Schedule SE to calculate your self employment taxes. Fill out the IRS Form 1040 to file taxes. 

Make payments using the IRS Form 1040-ES and FTB Form 540-ES. These forms come with payment vouchers for use by mail. The Electronic Federal Tax Payment System can also be used to make the payments. The Franchise Tax Board offers free online filing on Calfile. 

What happens if I don’t pay California self employment taxes on time?

You will be charged a penalty if you don't pay your self employment taxes on time. This will include state and federal penalties. Furthermore, interest will also accrue on every payment that's missed. In extreme cases, you could even end up with an IRS tax lien on your property.

Penalties

If you miss estimated tax payments and the amount withheld from other income is less than 90% of your total tax bill, a penalty will be given to you based on the percentage owed. 5% of the unpaid tax due on that date is charged by the Internal Revenue Service as a penalty in addition to 1/2 of 1% for each month or partial month the outstanding liability remains unpaid. 

This isn't charged beyond 40 months and the maximum penalty is 25% of the unpaid tax. Interest is charged on outstanding payments from the original due date to the date paid. The interest compounds daily. 

Penalties may also be handed down for:

  • Returned checks due to insufficient funds

  • Substantial underpayment of taxes

  • Fraud

  • Negligence of payment

  • Failure to pay the tax shown on the income tax return by the due date

Abatements

In certain circumstances, you may be able to get an abatement. This is a reduction or complete elimination of interest penalties in circumstances that may include 

  • Extreme financial hardship

  • Disaster loss

  • IRS or FTB delay or error

  • Military personnel posted outside the US

  • Reliance on formal written advice 

  • Erroneous refund 

There's also a First-Time Penalty Abatement Program that's applied to a first-time penalty charge based on the taxpayer's history.

Self employment tax California: Key takeaways

It’s quite easy to understand freelancer taxes in California. Calculating them is simple enough and there’s plenty of guidance available should you need assistance throughout the process. 

Deductions are a great way to reduce your overall tax bill but it’s important to be mindful of what you’re claiming. Only make deductions that you’re able to justify and can provide proof to back them up in the event of an IRS audit. 

If you feel that you have been incorrectly identified as a 1099 worker by your employer, you should get in touch with an independent contractor misclassification law firm to discuss all of the options available to you to win back lost wages and benefits.

"Sam is a wonderful, results-oriented and extremely knowledgeable and talented attorney, who really has 'heart' in working on behalf of his clients, and explains options in a straightforward, respectful manner. He has assisted us with great outcomes which have added to our quality of life. I would not hesitate to recommend Sam for his services as he is an ethical, personable and expert attorney in his field. You will likely not be disappointed with Sam's work ethic, approach and his efforts."

-Aileen Dwight, Licensed Clinical Social Worker & Psychotherapist

Last updated: October 6, 2022

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Sam Brotman, JD, LLM, MBA

Owner and Director of Legal
Brotman Law

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