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The Difference Between a Sole Proprietor & an Independent Contractor

Small business owners must classify the employees they hire correctly; otherwise, it can lead to various tax and labor laws issues.



If you hire full-time employees, you will need to withhold taxes from their paychecks. Independent contractors, who handle their taxes, don’t require withholding. According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), non-exempt employees are entitled to overtime pay-something that isn’t the case for independent contractors.



Understanding the terms and classifications for different types of workers and when they apply is essential for small business owners. However, two terms get mixed up: sole proprietor and independent contractor. 



In other words, what exactly is the difference between an independent contractor and a sole proprietor? Are there any overlaps? Do business owners need to know the differences (and similarities) between the two?

What Is a Sole Proprietorship?

A sole proprietor is an individual who runs their own business without registering it with their state or under a specific business entity. Generally, sole proprietors carry on business under their name rather than through a legal entity like a limited liability company or an S-corporation. 



An individual, who starts a business but keeps their business and personal activity separate (for example, keeping separate bank accounts for personal and business income and tracking expenses for the two independently), is automatically categorized as a sole proprietor, unless/until they register their business with the state and as a specific type of business (for example, an LLC).



In many cases, sole proprietors fall under the definition of freelancers. According to the IRS, a sole proprietorship is a tax classification.

What Is an Independent Contractor?

Independent contractors are self-employed individuals hired by a company to perform specific tasks or services. Independent contractors are in control of how, where, and when they work. 



Imagine a company hiring an independent contractor for 15 hours a week. In law, the company cannot tell the contractor that he or she must work from 9 am to 12 pm Monday through Friday at the company’s office; the independent contractor can choose to work those contracted hours however and whenever they wish.



Due to the self-employed nature of independent contractors, they do not qualify for employee benefits (such as health insurance, paid vacation time, and workers’ compensation).



They must also manage and pay their taxes. As opposed to employees, independent contractors receive 1099-MISC forms from all businesses that paid them at least $600 in a tax year. The 1099-MISC reports an independent contractor’s earnings to the IRS; since payroll taxes are not deducted from those earnings, the independent contractor must pay self-employment taxes on that income as well as personal income taxes.



Independent contractors are workers who are classified as nonemployees for withholding and FICA/payroll tax purposes.

What Is the Difference Between a Sole Proprietor and an Independent Contractor?

Because of their substantial overlap, the terms “sole proprietor” and “independent contractor” are often confused.



Both sole proprietors and independent contractors are self-employed. They both run their businesses. And self-employed individuals can be both sole proprietors and independent contractors.



In other words, if someone can be a sole proprietor and an independent contractor, how are they different?



Classifications differ in what they mean and how they’re applied. According to the IRS, a sole proprietorship is a business structure that determines income taxes.



The IRS is notified by this form that you are an unincorporated, single-owner business, and should be taxed accordingly.



Independent contractors are classified as employees for payroll tax purposes. The independent contractor is the opposite of an employee; employers pay payroll taxes on their employees, but not on independent contractors.



A sole proprietor and an independent contractor are both self-employed. A sole proprietor does not have to be an independent contractor.

What's the Difference Between Being Self-Employed and Being a Sole Proprietor? What About Being an Independent Contractor?

Are there any differences between “sole proprietor” and “independent contractor” and “self-employed?”.



Here’s the quick answer. There are none. Whether an individual is a sole proprietor, an independent contractor, or both, they’re self-employed. Independent contractors and sole proprietors both fall under the category of “self-employed”.

Prevention is the key to avoiding accidents

Businesses and self-employed contractors might want to consider getting a policy that protects their business if they get hurt at work instead of skipping workers compensation protection. As a leading small business insurer, PEOPayGo is a great option.

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