Tax Deductions for Independent Contractors: A Guide for Self-Employed Business Owners

Published: June 12, 2023, Last Updated: February 2, 2024

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Writer: Martha Pierson
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Welcome, independent contractors and self-employed practitioners!

If you’ve chosen the path of self-employment, you know it comes with many freedoms and several unique challenges. One such challenge is managing your taxes.

As an independent contractor, you’re solely responsible for paying your taxes, which can seem daunting. But there’s good news! The tax code provides numerous opportunities for deductions that can significantly reduce your taxable income.

This comprehensive guide sheds light on some of the most beneficial tax write-offs for self-employed individuals like you, working as independent contractors. Whether you’re a seasoned contractor or just starting, understanding these deductions can significantly impact your bottom line.

Please note that this article is intended to serve as a general guide. Always consult with a professional tax advisor or CPA regarding your specific tax situation.

Eligible Tax Deductions for Independent Contractors

An independent contractor is a self-employed individual who offers services to companies or individuals, maintaining control over how they perform their work. Examples range from freelance writers and graphic designers to plumbers running their own businesses or consultants working with multiple clients.

As an independent contractor, you’re considered a business owner in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). As a result, you’re responsible for paying self-employment taxes. This includes both the employer and employee portions of Social Security and Medicare.

But on the flip side, it also opens up a world of potential independent contractor tax deductions that can lower your taxable income.

Independent contractor completing taxes

To be eligible for these deductions, the IRS requires the expenses to be ordinary and necessary. An ordinary expense is common and accepted in your trade or business, while a necessary expense is helpful and appropriate for your trade or business.

For example,  a freelance graphic designer might purchase a state-of-the-art computer to handle heavy design software. This would be an ordinary expense as it’s common for graphic designers to use advanced computers. However, it’s also a necessary expense because the computer is essential for the designer to do their job effectively.

The range of deductions is broad and can include expenses like:

  • Home office expenses: If you have a dedicated space in your home used exclusively for business, you can claim this deduction.
  • Travel expenses: If you travel for business, you may be able to deduct these costs.
  • Marketing costs: Money spent on advertising and marketing your business can be deducted.

Remember, each deduction has specific rules and requirements to be eligible. In the following sections, we’ll delve deeper into these deductions, explaining how to claim them and practical examples to illustrate these concepts. With this knowledge, you’ll be better equipped to maximize your tax savings and boost your earnings as an independent contractor.

What Taxes Can Self-Employed Contractors Write Off?

As a self-employed contractor, you have access to independent contractor tax deductions that can help reduce your taxable income. These deductions can be categorized into several key areas. Below, we’ll provide an overview of each category.

Self-Employment Tax Deduction

Simply put, self-employment tax is the money you owe the government when you work for yourself. Just as businesses pay taxes, so do independent contractors, freelancers, and sole proprietors. The difference? You handle the paperwork yourself.

The self-employment tax covers Social Security and Medicare. It’s a bit like the taxes that are automatically deducted from the paychecks of employees who work for a company but with an important twist. When a business employs you, your employer splits these taxes with you. As a self-employed person, you’re responsible for the whole amount.

The good news? You can claim a portion of these taxes as a deduction when you file your federal income tax return.

Now let’s talk about the process of claiming your self-employment tax deduction.

Step 1: Calculate your Self-Employment Tax

The first step is determining how much you owe in self-employment tax.

For 2023, the self-employment tax rate was 15.3%, comprising 12.4% for Social Security and 2.9% for Medicare. But don’t worry. You only pay this percentage on 92.35% of your net business income, not your total earnings. You can use the IRS Schedule SE (Form 1040) to calculate your self-employment tax.

For instance, let’s say you made $60,000 in net income. First, calculate the net earnings from self-employment, which is 92.35% of the net business income:

Net Earnings from Self-Employment = 92.35% of $60,000 = $55,410

Then, apply the self-employment tax rate (15.3%) to the net earnings from self-employment to find the total self-employment tax:

Self-Employment Tax = 15.3% of $55,410 = $8,477.73

Step 2: Report Your Income

Next, report your business income and expenses on Schedule C (Form 1040). Subtract the expenses from the income to find your net profit or loss. You report this on your 1040 form.

Step 3: Claim Your Deduction

Now comes the good part. You can deduct the employer-equivalent portion of your self-employment tax. The employer-equivalent portion is 50% of the self-employment tax: Employer-Equivalent Portion = 50% of $8,477.73 = $4,238.87

This deduction only affects your income tax. It does not affect your net earnings from self-employment or your self-employment tax.

So, in this example, the self-employed individual would owe $8,477.73 in self-employment tax, and they could deduct $4,238.87 from their adjusted gross income for income tax purposes.

Step 4: Complete Your Return

The last step is to finish your tax return. If you have any other deductions or credits to claim, make sure you do so.

Home Office Expenses

Working from home has its perks, including the home office deduction. You may be eligible for this deduction if you use part of your home exclusively and regularly for conducting business. This can include a portion of your rent or mortgage, property taxes, and utilities.

Overhead view of independent contractor working at home office desk

Step 1: Determine If You Qualify

First, you need to determine if you can deduct home office expenses. The IRS has two key rules:

  • Regular and Exclusive Use: You must regularly use part of your home exclusively for conducting business. For instance, if you use an extra room to run your business, you can take a home office deduction for the additional room expenses.
  • Principal Place of Business: Your home must be your central place of business or where you regularly meet with customers or clients.

Step 2: Measure Your Office Space

Your home office deduction is mainly based on the percentage of your home devoted to business use. So, you need to measure your work area and divide it by the total square footage of your home.

Step 3: Calculate Your Expenses

Home office expenses can be divided into two types: direct and indirect expenses.

  • Direct Expenses: These costs apply only to your home office, like painting the room. These are fully deductible.
  • Indirect Expenses: These are costs for your home, like rent, utilities, or insurance. You can only deduct a percentage of these costs based on the size of your home office.

Step 4: Choose Your Deduction Method

The IRS offers two ways to calculate your home office deduction: the Simplified Method and the Regular Method.

  • Simplified Method: With this method, you multiply your office area (up to 300 square feet) by a prescribed rate of $5 per square foot. This method is easier but might yield a smaller deduction.
  • Regular Method: With this method, you calculate the actual expenses of your home office expressed as a percentage of your whole house. This method is more complex but might give you a larger deduction.

Let’s say you work from a home office that is 300 square feet in size. You use this space exclusively and regularly for your business. Your home’s total area is 1,500 square feet. You pay $12,000 a year in rent, $2,000 in utilities, and $1,000 in home repairs and maintenance.
With the simplified method, the individual would save $1,500. Home office deduction (simplified): 300 square feet x $5 = $1,500

With the regular method, the individual would save $3,000. Percentage of home used for business: 300 square feet / 1,500 square feet = 20%

Total home expenses: $12,000 + $2,000 + $1,000 = $15,000

Home office deduction (regular): 20% x $15,000 = $3,000

Step 5: Fill Out the Appropriate Tax Form

If you use the simplified method, you can figure out your deduction directly on Schedule C (Form 1040). For the regular method, you’ll need to use Form 8829, Expenses for Business Use of Your Home.

Business Equipment and Supplies

As an independent contractor, deducting business equipment and supplies can significantly benefit your taxes. Here’s a straightforward, step-by-step process to guide you in claiming these vital deductions. No matter your experience level, this guide will help you navigate this essential tax-saving route.

Home office desk

Step 1: Identify Eligible Expenses

First, recognize what constitutes a business expense. For self-employed contractors, this could include anything from computers, printers, and software to tools, safety equipment, and even office supplies. Note that these items must be necessary and used solely for your business to be tax deductible.

Step 2: Keep Receipts

Whenever you purchase equipment and supplies for your business, keep the receipt. It’s proof of your expenditure in case of an audit and is necessary when calculating deductions. Also, consider storing digital copies of your receipts to prevent loss.

Step 3: Track Your Expenses

Regularly record your business-related purchases in an expense tracker, spreadsheet, or financial software like QuickBooks. Ensure to include the date of purchase, the amount, and a brief item description.

Step 4: Choose Your Deduction Method

For expensive items like computers or machinery, you have two options: you can either deduct the total cost in the year of purchase (Section 179 deduction) or depreciate the cost over several years.

There’s no specific limit on the amount of depreciation that can be claimed, but it can’t exceed the item’s original cost. Typically, the number of years you can depreciate an item varies based on its type and class life.

For instance, office furniture and equipment like computers typically have a depreciable life of five years.

Step 5: Fill Out the Appropriate Tax Forms

When tax time comes, you’ll need to report your business equipment and supply expenses on IRS Form 1040, Schedule C. If you choose to depreciate, you must also fill out Form 4562, Depreciation and Amortization.

Vehicle Expenses

As an independent contractor, one of the many advantages you can leverage is the ability to deduct vehicle expenses. Use the following step-by-step guide to help you navigate the process of deducting your vehicle expenses on your tax return

Business van with packages inside

Step 1: Determine If Your Vehicle Qualifies

First, ensure that your vehicle is used for business purposes. If it’s used for personal and business reasons, only the percentage of use related to business can be deducted.

Step 2: Choose Your Deduction Method

The IRS allows two methods for deducting vehicle expenses – the standard mileage rate and the actual expense method.

The standard mileage rate is the IRS’s fixed rate that covers all vehicle expenses. For 2023, the rate is 65.5 cents per mile.

The actual expense method involves tracking and deducting your business-related vehicle expenses. This includes gas, oil changes, repairs, maintenance, insurance, registration fees, and depreciation.

Step 3: Keep Accurate Records

For both methods, maintain accurate records. For example, keep a detailed log of your mileage for business trips, the date of the trips, your business purpose, and your destinations. For the actual expense method, you need to keep receipts for all your vehicle-related expenses.

Step 4: Calculate Your Deduction

For the standard mileage rate, multiply your business miles by the current rate. For example, if you drove 5,000 business miles in a year and the current standard mileage rate is 57.5 cents per mile, your deduction would be 5,000 x 57.5 = $2,875.

For the actual expense method, add up all your vehicle expenses for the year, and multiply by the percentage of miles driven for business. For example, suppose you spent $4,000 in total vehicle expenses in a year, and 75% of your total mileage was for business purposes. In this case, your deductible vehicle expense would be 4,000 x 75% = $3,000.

Step 5: Report on Your Tax Return

Include your vehicle expense deduction on Schedule C of your Form 1040. The IRS will require information on when you started using the vehicle for business, your total miles for the year, and your total business miles.

Travel and Entertainment Expenses

Being an independent contractor can often entail managing business travel and entertainment expenses. Luckily, these can be deducted from your taxes, helping reduce your overall tax burden. Let’s explore the step-by-step process of claiming these deductions, designed to make the process clearer and more manageable.

Independent contractor traveling by plane

Step 1: Understand What Qualifies

Not all travel and entertainment costs are deductible. The travel must be business-related, and the entertainment must be directly associated with your business activity. For example, overnight travel expenses, airfare, meals (up to 50%), car rentals, tips, and even dry cleaning can qualify. Entertainment costs may include expenses for client dinners or sporting events, like hosting a client at a golf outing where you discuss business matters.

Step 2: Keep Detailed Records

For every expense, keep a receipt and record the business purpose, the date, the location, and the people involved. For example, for meals and entertainment, the IRS requires you to note the business relationship of the people involved. Keep your records for at least three years in case of an audit. The IRS may deny deductions without proper documentation.

Step 3: Calculate Your Deductions

Add up all qualifying expenses. Remember, only 50% of meal and entertainment expenses are deductible.

Step 4: Fill Out Your Tax Form

Report these deductions on Form 2106 or Schedule C of your Form 1040. Be sure to report meals and entertainment separately due to the 50% limitation.

Advertising and Marketing Costs

Marketing is the lifeblood of your business as a self-employed contractor. It’s how you attract new clients and keep the current ones engaged. The good news is that the money you spend on advertising and marketing is tax-deductible. Let’s get you well-versed in the process of claiming these costs.

Step 1: Identify and Analyze Deductible Expenses

Start by identifying your advertising and marketing costs. This can include website maintenance, social media ads, print ads, brochures, business cards, email marketing services, and more. If it’s used to promote your business, it’s likely deductible.

As you go through this, ensure the expenses are ordinary and necessary for your line of work. An ordinary cost is common and accepted in your industry. A necessary expense is helpful and appropriate for your business.

Step 2: Keep Detailed Records

Keep track of all your advertising expenses throughout the year. This includes receipts, invoices, and any other proof of payment. Having these at your fingertips will make the process smoother come tax time.

Step 3: Fill Out Schedule C

When preparing your tax return, you’ll list your advertising expenses on Schedule C, Line 8. If your total expenses exceed your income, you may have a net loss, which can offset other income and reduce your overall tax liability.

As a self-employed contractor, you may occasionally require the services of legal and accounting professionals. These professionals are usually hired on a contractual basis to help you navigate complex legal and financial landscapes. Luckily, these necessary costs are typically tax-deductible. So let’s dive into how you can claim these deductions.

Lawyer advising independent contractor

Step 1: Identify and Review Deductible Expenses

Your first step is to identify what you can deduct. This might include fees paid to lawyers, accountants, bookkeepers, or online services that assist you in legal matters or financial record-keeping related to your business. As you compile these costs, verify that they are both ordinary and necessary.

Step 2: Keep Detailed Records

Maintain meticulous records of these expenses. Save your receipts, invoices, and contracts. Not only are these necessary for your tracking, but they’ll also be vital if the IRS requires proof of your deductions.

Step 3: Fill Out Schedule C

When tax season comes around, you’ll enter these costs on Schedule C, Line 17, of your tax return. Be aware that personal legal or accounting services are not deductible, so ensure these expenses are strictly business-related.

Phone and Internet Costs

Operating in today’s digital age, self-employed contractors rely heavily on phone and Internet services. These utilities are necessary when contacting clients, conducting online research, or maintaining your business website. The good news is a portion of these costs can be deducted from your taxable income. Here’s how to get this done:

Step 1: Identify Deductible Expenses

Start by identifying your business-related phone and Internet expenses. These can include monthly bills, equipment purchases, or even fees for maintaining a business website.

Step 2: Determine Business Use Percentage

Keep your personal usage separate from the business’s phone and Internet use. For personal Internet and phone, estimate the percentage of use that’s for business. For example, with phone costs, all expenses are deductible if you have a dedicated business line. However, only calls and data used specifically for business can be deducted if you use a personal line.

Step 3: Keep Detailed Records

Keep a detailed record of these expenses. Itemized bills, receipts, and even a log of business calls can be helpful. This not only helps you keep track of expenses but also serves as evidence in case of an IRS audit.

Step 4: Report Expenses on Schedule C

You’ll report these expenses on Schedule C of your tax return when filing your taxes. Phone costs go on Line 25 (Utilities) and Internet expenses on Line 48 (Other expenses).

Educational Expenses

Expanding your skills as a self-employed contractor often means investing in education. Thankfully, the IRS recognizes the value of this investment and allows you to deduct certain educational expenses. Use the following step-by-step guide to claim these deductions.

Independent contractor studying

Step 1: Identify Qualifying Educational Expenses

First things first, identify which of your educational expenses are deductible. Eligible costs include tuition, books, supplies, and transportation to and from class. Remember, the IRS requires that the education maintains or improves skills required in your business.

Step 2: Maintain Detailed Records

Organize all your receipts, bills, and other documents related to your educational expenses.

Step 3: Fill Out Schedule C

When tax time rolls around, report your educational expenses on Schedule C, Line 27a (Other expenses) of your tax return.

Professional Advice for Tax Deductions

Navigating the world of independent contractor tax deductions can be complex, even for the most business-savvy independent contractors. Here’s where professional advice can make a significant difference.

The proper guidance can maximize your tax deductions and ensure you stay compliant with the ever-changing tax laws. Here are a few key considerations:

  • Understanding Tax Relief Financing: Tax relief financing can be a valuable tool for independent contractors who owe back taxes. It involves negotiating with the IRS to lower the amount of taxes owed, set up a payment plan, or even temporarily delay the collection of taxes. Professionals who specialize in tax relief financing can guide you through this process, potentially saving you a significant amount of money.
  • Leveraging Contractor Financing for Customers: If you’re a contractor offering big-ticket services, providing financing options for your customers can increase your business appeal. Not only does this strategy enhance your sales potential, but it may indirectly influence your tax deductions. As your business grows, additional expenses related to equipment, marketing, administration, and potential fees for managing customer financing programs could be tax-deductible.
  • Staying Abreast of Changes: Tax laws are notoriously fluid, frequently changing yearly. A tax professional stays current with these changes and can advise how they may affect your situation. This year’s tax law change could lead to new deductions next year.
  • Avoiding Potential Pitfalls: Certain deductions may seem enticing but could trigger an audit if not correctly claimed. For example, claiming a large home office deduction when you only use a small corner of your bedroom for work could raise a red flag. A tax professional can guide you on what’s acceptable and what could get you into trouble.
  • Saving Time and Stress: The most significant benefit of seeking professional tax advice is the time and stress saved. As an independent contractor, your time is valuable. Instead of spending hours deciphering tax laws and filling out forms, you can focus on running your business.

Professional tax advice can be invaluable, whether it’s understanding tax relief financing, offering contractor financing for customers, or merely staying on top of changes in tax laws. While there’s a cost involved, the potential tax savings and peace of mind can far outweigh the expense.


Being an independent contractor comes with unique challenges, not the least of which is understanding and managing your taxes. By leveraging these independent contractor tax deductions, you can help offset some of your business expenses and lower your taxable income.

Keep in mind that tax planning isn’t a one-time event; it’s an ongoing process. Therefore, staying current with the latest tax laws paves the way for you to maximize your savings.

Martha Pierson

Content CreatorMartha Pierson is a marketing strategist and business development expert based in Glendale, California. As a content creator for the Finturf blog, Martha shares her vast knowledge and experience with readers to help them build and sustain successful businesses. Her articles offer practical tips and actionable advice that entrepreneurs can implement immediately to achieve their goals. Martha also provides insightful analysis of current trends across different industries and offers expert guidance on how businesses can adapt to changing market conditions.

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