One of the unexpected benefits of side hustling is that it helps you gain a better understanding of how your taxes work. It’s sometimes hard to understand what’s happening with your income when you’re only making money from your day job. Since your employer handles your taxes for you, all of the tax stuff just sort of happens in the background.
In contrast, when you’re side hustling and earning income on your own, you’re the one that’s responsible for understanding and paying your own taxes. It’s not happening in the background – it’s happening right in front of you. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll probably be surprised at just how expensive earning a side hustle income can be.
That’s because side hustle income has a lot of inherent disadvantages when it comes to taxes. First, since it’s money that you might otherwise not have earned, it’s fair to say that any side hustle income you earn will be taxed at your highest marginal tax rate. If you’re already a high-income professional, this can be problematic since it means you’ll be paying a large portion of your side hustle income to federal and state governments.
Second, in addition to paying federal and state income tax, when you’re side hustling, you’ll likely be earning your extra income in the form of 1099 income, which means that you’ll also be responsible for paying 15.3% of your side hustle income towards self-employment taxes. These are the taxes used to pay for social security and Medicare. As an employee, you only pay 7.65% of your income towards these taxes – your employer covers the other half. But when you’re working for yourself, you have to pay the whole thing.
When you add all of these taxes up, it’s not crazy to think that some people will pay 50% or more of their side hustle income in taxes. With such a high amount going out the door, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that a high-income earner probably shouldn’t waste their time doing side hustles – especially not ones like these simple side hustles that I do in my spare time.
The interesting thing though is that, when you look a little closer, high-income earners are actually in the perfect position to do a little gig work on the side.
Social Security Taxes Are Capped For High-Income Earners
The thing that really hurts with earning side hustle income is having to pay 15.3% of your earnings towards self-employment taxes (these are the taxes that cover social security and Medicare). SE taxes are largely unavoidable. Even putting money into tax-deferred retirement accounts doesn’t get you around them.
In your day job, the sting is a little less since you only pay half of the 15.3% – your employer covers the other 7.65%. In a normal employment setting, 6.2% of your income goes to social security and 1.45% of your income goes to Medicare. When you’re self-employed, you’ll pay double that: 12.4% of your earnings go to social security and 2.9% goes towards Medicare. This is a significant bite for a lot of people that can make side hustling seem unworthwhile.
The interesting thing about social security taxes, however, is that it’s capped. Once you’ve paid a certain amount of social security taxes in a year, you no longer have to pay social security taxes on any other income you earn that year. In 2018, once you make over $128,400 (or have paid $7,960.80 towards social security), any income that you earn over that amount is no longer assessed any social security taxes.
In other words, if you have a day job that earns you more than $128,400 in a year, you have a big advantage when it comes to earning side hustle income. Instead of paying 15.3% of your side hustle income in self-employment taxes, you’ll only pay 2.9% (the amount that covers Medicare taxes). That’s a huge difference that’s worth taking advantage of.
Reduce Your Tax Liability Further With Self-Employed Retirement Plans
Obviously, the next problem for the high-income side earner is the high marginal tax rate that you’ll pay on your side hustle income. Thankfully, we can take advantage of self-employed retirement plans like the Solo 401k to further reduce our tax liability.
If you’re a high-income earner, you’ll probably be maxing out your work retirement plan, which means that you’ll only be able to make an employer contribution. That’s not as good as being able to save all of our side hustle income, but it’s better than nothing. There’s a fairly complicated formula to figure out how much you can contribute, but in general, it’ll come out to around 20% of your earnings. Feel free to read this post if you’re trying to figure out how much you can contribute to your self-employed retirement plan.
By deferring as much of our side hustle income as we can into self-employed retirement plans, we’ve just earned all of this extra money, while only paying 2.9% in taxes on that income. That’s pretty unbeatable. And as a bonus, we’ve now created an extra retirement account for ourselves. While most people will only have a 401k, a Roth IRA, and maybe an HSA, you’ll now have four types of tax-advantaged retirement accounts working for you.
The benefits of this can be huge in the long run. Someone that is able to put away just $2,000 per year in a Solo 401k would have over $200,000 over the course of 30 years. Even someone that puts away $2,000 per year for 10 years, then added nothing more, would end up with $100,000 in their Solo 401k after another 20 years. That’s enough to have a portfolio generating you a small side hustle income, forever. Go ahead and take a fancy trip every year with your side hustle investments.
(Note: If you’re wondering how to set up a Solo 401k, be sure to check out this post where I walk through the process of how I set up my Solo 401k).
The More You Make, The Better It Is To Side Hustle
Common wisdom would tell you that earning extra money on the side isn’t as worthwhile if you’re already bringing in a significant income from your day job. When you consider all of the taxes you’re supposed to pay on that side income, it makes earning that extra income much less appealing.
But with the way taxes work, high-income earners (i.e. anyone earning over $128,400 in a year, as of 2018), have a huge incentive to earn a little extra money on their own terms. The government is incentivizing you to earn that extra income by making you pay less in taxes and giving you a bonus retirement account to put that money into. The great thing is, in today’s world, it’s pretty easy to figure out a way to make some extra money on the side. So go and take advantage of it.
I have learned a ton doing taxes for my side hustles. I feel as if doing the taxes themselves are part of the side hustle, and while I don’t get paid for filing my taxes, I do get the same rush as doing side hustles. I’m even considering doing taxes for others as a side hustle, or maybe volunteering somewhere to help people file their taxes. Not until next year, though.
Financial Panther says
It’s a nice thing to learn how to do – definitely a good advantage of side hustling on your own.
Ms ZiYou says
This is really interesting, as I’m in the UK as it is not actually that worthwhile for me personally to side hustle – I already max out tax advantage savings, and any additional income would be taxed at 40%.
Financial Panther says
Oof – I’m not familiar with the tax-advantaged accounts in the UK.It’s not like the US where you can shelter some of it in self-employed retirement plans?
Great point about already hitting that cap! I’ve been doing the Solo 401k thing, too. If you don’t need the side job money, it’s such a nice way to sock away money and pretend you never earned it. Especially if your employer doesn’t do a 401k, or doesn’t have a way for you to max out your contributions. 🙂
Financial Panther says
When I first thought about the taxes, it seemed like it would suck to side hustle if you’re a high-income earner. But when you consider that you could be in a situation where you pay only 2.9% in taxes, then defer the rest in a Solo 401k, it seems like a great move to help get a little more saved.
Millennial Peach says
Great post! Before I started side hustling, I wondered whether this was even worth my time since I’m a high-income earner. Now, I have much more incentive to keeping earning and putting it away in my Solo 401(k)!
The Physician Philosopher says
Great post! As this is my first year as an attending physician, it was the first time I finally went over the social security and medicare tax. Was great seeing my paycheck go up for the remaining four months of the year.
Starting my side gigs (making a website, expert witness work, an invention) has also been great. I won’t have to fill out a 1099 until next year because all of the income from these side gigs started this month.
Thanks for the post! Good food for thought.
You just sort of summed it up nicely how easy it is for the rich to get richer. 🙂
Good stuff, Kevin. I’m taking advantage of the system myself. My blogging pitance and Airbnb experiment are bound to be taxed much less as I’ll hit the caps with my day job each fall.
Mrs. Groovy says
I’ve never thought about side hustles as being even more beneficial when you’ve got a high paying regular job. This is great!
I recently learned about the solo 401-k when some freelance opportunities presented themselves. We’re keeping our MAGI low for 2018 to take advantage of the ACA subsidies. The I learned how easy it would be to pour freelance earnings into a solo, which is a huge benefit.
Wow, I consider myself an amateur tax nerd and hadn’t considered either the social security cap or the Solo 401k benefits. It’s so true that working a side hustle puts you more in touch with your tax situation. As a college student, I wrote a few publisher press releases for a couple hundred bucks a pop (great money back in the 90s). And then, upon doing my taxes, I was aghast to see how much of it went to self-employment tax. But I haven’t had a side hustle since making more than the social security cap, so I learned a lot from this post.
Financial Panther says
You’re in a perfect situation to take advantage of side hustles! Might as well create yourself an extra retirement account, especially since you’re probably already maxing out all of the others!
This was a great read and real informative! I was hoping you could do a post regarding taxes on side hustle jobs and you did—the solo 401k is the solution —from getting a bit cut from the hardworking money that is earned for high-paying individuals.
Hey financial panther! Fellow lawyer and big fan here. I’ve upped my side hustle game with some UpWork gigs (not law related) and Postmates. Because of you I got in to Job Spotter and it’s been a fun game!
How will you be doing your taxes this year? Does Postmates and your other sidehustles send you 1099s? Do you count your Job Spotter income (gift cards) as reportable, taxable income? And if I made only about $50-60 on a side gig, must I go through the trouble of reporting it (I know the honest answer to this but I want to get your take on it), and if so, must I prepare my own tax forms on this income if I don’t get a 1099 from UpWork/Postmates/etc?
Financial Panther says
Awesome! Glad to see another lawyer interested in this stuff!
So you know the honest answer, so we can leave it at that, haha. Technically, any income you earn is taxable, and of course, if you get a 1099, you better report that. Gift cards from Amazon pretty much create no record to the IRS, so you can take that for what it means.
If you don’t get a 1099, you’re technically supposed to fill out a Schedule C anyway, and essentially self-report it. I do report all of my delivery earnings, even when I don’t get a 1099. A few bucks you can probably ignore, but my thought it, once you make a few hundred bucks, probably just report it. One benefit of reporting it is that you can then put some of it away in a Solo 401k – the side hustler’s bonus retirement account!
Addy Brown says
I’ve never had a side hustle before due to work visa restrictions. Once those were lifted, I’ve picked up random small jobs for professors in my department, grading or doing coding work. I may end up being a site manager in the spring tax season, depending on how life goes. I’m really excited for that possibility as I’ve quite enjoyed volunteering doing tax preparation!
Nikkie Lee says
As a new sr. citizen with a truly pathetic pension I have started to think about side-hustling. to save for my future needs. However I am confused as to what I can do regarding the Solo IRA. My husband still makes a very substantial income.
can I claim my side hustle on both sides since we already make more than the top bracket for social security etc.
Any other ideas for sr. Citizens side hustles etc.?
Financial Panther says
Hey Nikkie, I’m not sure what you mean about claiming your side hustle from both sides.
Sr citizens can really take advantage of side hustling using sharing economy and gig economy apps. Airbnb if you’re comfortable with it. Rover for dogsitting. You can walk dogs on Wag and get some exercise. If you’re feeling like staying in shape, you could deliver food on a bike with Postmates, Doordash, Uber Eats, and the like. Charging up scooters with Bird and Lime is another thing sr citizens can easily do.
Remember, under the 4% rule, every $1,000 you earn in a year is $25,000 less you need in your nest-egg. So if you figure out how to make just a mere $5,000 per year, that’s $125,000 less you need saved to support your life.