Tax Guide for Independent Artists

August 12, 2022

Before we get started, keep in mind that we’re a digital art marketplace, not tax experts, and as such, we do not give tax advice.

This article is general in nature and is intended purely to provide a few resources you may find helpful when considering your taxes as an independent artist. Your tax situation is going to be unique to you, and we highly recommend you consult a tax professional to discuss your specific situation.

Additionally, this article is intended for readers in the United States (sorry, everyone else!)


With that out of the way – We know that independent contractors (artists or otherwise) often forget that it’s kinda always tax season for people like us, and we’ve all been in the undesirable position of scrambling to figure out, “how the hell do taxes work, again?” If you’re a veteran in the art scene, you’ve likely gotten it figured out – but realistically, taxes are complicated. This makes it crucial to stay on top of your planning, record-taking, and note-making; it’s never too early to start preparing.

It’s entirely reasonable to want (or need) a refresher, so today, we’ll take a look together at how independent artists should tackle their taxes. 

Below, you’ll find a collection of resources for your taxes, along with a short summary of what the source means, who it’s likely best for, and why.

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TECHNICAL ADVICE

from the professionals

What makes them a reputable source for tax information?

This is the IRS – there is no entity more qualified in the United States to discuss matters related to taxes.

This should be your number one stop when getting ready for tax season. The IRS offers everything you could possibly need, along with reputable tax professionals, resources, and countless answers to various questions you may have.

If you’re in the United States and have worked any kind of job, chances are that the boogeyman in your nightmares isn’t a serial killer or some cryptid – it’s the IRS. They’re the people in charge of ensuring every American pays their taxes, and they take their job very seriously (nerds). They’re about as “official” as things can get when it comes to taxes in the United States.

Who is this for?

Everyone in the US who makes money from contract work, including independent artists. 

What are the basics?

  • Who qualifies as self-employed
  • How to determine if you’re subject to self-employment tax
    • Do you make more than you lose to sustain your work?
      Then you owe self-employment tax.
    • Do you lose more than you make to support work (even on paper)?
      Then you do not owe self-employment tax.
  • How to make quarterly tax payments (and which forms you’ll need)
  • How to file an annual tax return (and the necessary documents)
  • Basic FAQ, tips, and resources

What makes them a reputable source for tax information?

SmartAsset is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Financial Insight Technology focused on guiding people through the maze of taxes. They are regulated under and registered with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

This is a more plain-language-friendly version of the information the IRS provides, and the author walks you through a few potential scenarios, including how to decide if you should have your taxes professionally prepared. They provide ample link backs to the official IRS documentation as well, so you can cross-reference your sources.

Who is this for?

Independent contractors, i.e., anyone who makes a living from work performed under their own name, rather than as an employee for a company. This includes independent artists, freelancers, and a surprisingly large swathe of other professionals.

What are the basics?

  • Who counts as an independent contractor (in less dense language than the IRS page)
  • The threshold for needing to file a tax return as an independent contractor (spoiler, it’s anything over $400 per year).
  • Additional taxes that will apply to you as an independent contractor or artist (Medicare, Social Security, etc.)
  • Viable tax deductions such as advertising, legal fees, rent/utilities, and more.
    • This is super important, so don’t skip it! Tax deductions can make the difference between a tax return and owing thousands on your annual tax return.
  • Various tax tips.

INDEPENDENT GUIDES

for artists

No matter how you cut it, taxes are complicated as hell. It can be super overwhelming when first entering the world as a freelance or independent artist, especially given how freaking dense tax documents are. 

So, we collected a few super handy extra resources that explain a bit about things the above sources should have covered and either didn’t, didn’t do it in-depth enough, or just used super-technical language. As mentioned above, we’re all about simple, straightforward answers.

Who is this for?

These guides are specifically tailored to independent/freelance artists. Do you make money selling art? If so, these guides are for you.

What makes them a reputable source for tax information?

Get Your Shit Together (GYST) is an artist-run company and art project explicitly designed to assist artists, educational institutions, and art organizations in understanding a swathe of otherwise-complicated financial tips and tricks.

What are the basics?

  • A clear breakdown of what qualifies as an independent business
  • Tax write-off explanation
  • Hobbyist vs. business artistry (in the eyes of tax law)
  • What specific things you need to track for taxes
    • This is super helpful; don’t skip it!

What makes them a reputable source for tax information?

PocketSense is a service dedicated to helping people understand their finances; specifically, they aim to support independent contractors to get the most out of their careers.

What are the basics?

  • Writeoff-worthy business expenses for artists
  • Deductions and other tax write-offs for artists
  • A brief explanation and guide to tax credits
  • Six (yes, six) forms that you might need come tax season.

This article is a treasure trove of information spelled out in easy-to-understand language; most importantly, it’s written by an independent artist. This means they’ve done the work and are far more well-positioned to talk on this than most others. Inside, you’ll find:

What are the basics?

  • Tax brackets 101
  • Tax deductions 101
  • Tax forms 101
  • How to qualify as a business (or independent contractor)
  • Everything that you’ll need to do your taxes in one easy-to-find table.

Artsy Editorial is a good resource if you’re looking for something that’s less of a textbook and more of a quick read. It breaks down a few (well, seven) of the most important things to keep in mind as a growing independent artist. This is an excellent resource if you’re planning to expand or grow your reach in the near future.

What are the basics?

  • Behave like a business
  • Learn about deductions
  • Use a separate bank account
  • Itemized deductions vs deducted expenses
  • How to handle crowdfunding
  • What makes a good choice of accountant