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When running a business, it’s important to understand the differences between W-2 employees and independent contractors. Understanding these distinctions can have an impact on your bottom line, as well as on how you protect your business and its workers.

Definition of W-2 Employees

W-2 employees are those who are hired by the business owner to work under their payroll and receive benefits such as insurance coverage and workers’ compensation. W-2 employees are typically classified as full-time or part-time depending on their job description and hours worked, and they are also subject to taxes withheld from their paychecks.

Definition of Independent Contractors

Independent contractors are those who are hired to work on specific projects for a business, rather than working under the payroll and receiving benefits. They may be self-employed, meaning they usually don’t have taxes withheld from their paychecks. Generally, independent contractors are paid a flat fee for their services and have more flexibility in terms of when and how much they work. 

Common Characteristics of Both Types of Workers

When it comes to workers, there are a few characteristics that both W2 employees and independent contractors share. For example, they both need to complete the necessary paperwork and provide information such as Social Security numbers or proof of citizenship in order to be hired. Additionally, both types of workers are responsible for keeping up with their own taxes—W2 employees have taxes withheld from their paycheck, while independent contractors typically pay estimated quarterly taxes. Finally, both W2 employees and independent contractors can negotiate their pay.

Requirements for Tax Withholding and Reporting

When it comes to taxes, both W2 employees and independent contractors have certain requirements. For W2 employees, taxes are usually withheld from their paychecks throughout the year. This means that you as an employer are required to submit a Form 941 (employer’s quarterly federal tax return) and issue W-2 forms at the end of the year for each employee. On the other hand, independent contractors are typically responsible for paying estimated quarterly taxes on their own income. Independent contractors get a Form 1099 at the end of the year to notate how much was earned from the employer.

Degree of Control Over Work Schedule and Tasks

W2 employees and independent contractors differ significantly regarding the degree of control over their work schedule and tasks. For W2 employees, the business owner typically has full control over their work schedule and tasks, meaning they decide when and how much they work. The business owner also usually sets up a job description for the employee that outlines the duties and expectations associated with the role.

On the other hand, independent contractors have more flexibility in terms of when and how much they work. The contractor determines when and how he completes the job. Employers tell contractors what the final product is and have the autonomy in doing the job. 

Payroll Taxes and Social Security Contributions

Payroll taxes and Social Security contributions can be a confusing topic, but it’s important for businesses to understand the differences between W2 employees and independent contractors when it comes to these areas.

When paying wages to W2 employees, employers are often responsible for withholding payroll taxes from their paychecks throughout the year. These payroll taxes include Social Security and Medicare contributions, as well as federal and state income taxes. Employers must make matching contributions in order to fund Social Security. 

Independent contractors don’t have these deductions withheld from their pay. They are responsible for paying taxes when they file their tax returns. 

Differences Between W-2 Employees and Independent Contractors

The difference between W-2 employees and independent contractors is quite clear – employers hire W-2 employees to work under the payroll of a business, while independent contractors work on specific projects.

Rights to Unemployment Insurance & Minimum Wage Laws

When it comes to unemployment insurance and minimum wage laws, W2 employees and independent contractors differ greatly. For W-2 employees, employers must pay into unemployment insurance funds in order to provide coverage for their workers if they should become unemployed. Additionally, employers must adhere to the federal and state minimum wage laws, meaning that hourly wages must meet or exceed the legal minimums.

Independent contractors don’t receive these benefits—they are responsible for paying their own taxes on income. They do not need to adhere to minimum wage laws or need to pay unemployment insurance. 

Retirement Plans & Health Insurance Benefits Eligibility

W-2 employees and independent contractors differ greatly regarding retirement plans and health insurance benefits. For W-2 employees, employers often offer some type of retirement plan – such as a 401(k) or IRA – and may also offer health insurance coverage. Employees who are part of the employer’s retirement plan can begin contributing from their paycheck throughout the year, often with the assistance of an employer match. Employers usually offer health insurance coverage through group plans. Independent contractors must provide their own retirement plans and health insurance benefits. 

Form 1099-Misc Filing Requirements for Income Tracking & Tax Return Preparation

Form 1099-Misc filing requirements for income tracking and tax return preparation are important for both W-2 employees and independent contractors. For W-2 employees, businesses must file Form W-2 with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) at the end of each year to report wages paid during that year. This keeps accurate records of income and ensures everyone pays taxes correctly.

For independent contractors, businesses must file Form 1099-MISC at the end of the year. This form tells the independent contractor how much he earned from that employer during the tax year. An independent contractor may have more than one 1099 representing different clients.

Self-Employment Tax Liability

Independent contractors may be responsible for paying more taxes than W-2 employees. This is because the latter have their Social Security and Medicare contributions withheld from their paycheck throughout the year, while the former must pay these taxes on their own. As a result, independent contractors must file estimated quarterly tax payments in order to avoid owing a large amount of money when they file their tax returns. 

Pros and Cons of Being a W-2 Employee Versus an Independent Contractor

Some people prefer to be a W-2 employee versus an independent contractor. There are pros and cons to each.

Advantages of Being a W-2 Employee

Being a W-2 employee comes with some great advantages. Advantages exist for full-time employees or part-time employees.

  • You’ll have access to unemployment insurance and minimum wage laws.
  • You also may be eligible for employer-sponsored retirement plans and health insurance benefits, such as 401(k)s and group health plans.
  • Your employer will typically pay taxes and benefits on your behalf.

Disadvantages of Being a W-2 Employee

There are some disadvantages to being a W-2 employee.

  • Employers limit income. Employers often have to adhere to minimum wage laws, meaning that employees may not be able to earn as much as they would if they were working for themselves. 
  • Employees are often subject to set work hours, which can limit their earning potential.
  • You may have less job security than an independent contractor. 

Advantages of Being an Independent Contractor

There are some key advantages to being an independent worker. 

  • A great way to have more control over your work life and maximize income potential. For example, you can choose the type of projects you want to take on and set your own rates for services.
  • You also get to decide when and where you work, giving you greater flexibility than working as a traditional W2 employee.
  • Entitled to some tax benefits that a W-2 worker doesn’t get such as deductions for business expenses. 

Disadvantages of Being an Independent Contractor

Being a contract worker can involve some challenges. There are some disadvantages to being a self-employed worker.

  • You don’t have access to benefits such as 401(k) plans, health insurance coverage, or unemployment insurance. You must provide these benefits for yourself and bear the financial burden of doing so.
  • You also may experience periods where there is no work, or the amount of work is inconsistent.