The question comes up fairly often — some jobs are even offered as one or the other — the physician can choose to be a W-2 employee or a 1099 independent contractor.
Questions like this now often end up on the WCI forum. For example,
- 1099 vs. W2
- best option? W2 vs. 1099
- W2 vs 1099 in terms of saving
- 1099 vs W2 audits and anti-kickback
Read on for The White Coat Investor’s quick take, then read the posts above for crowdsourced answers to similar questions. This post originally appeared on The White Coat Investor.
Comparing Independent Contractor Jobs with Employee Jobs: 1099 vs. W2
Thanks for all the great sound advice. I am a MSK radiology fellow looking at two offers. One is an independent contractor and one as an employee. I am having a hard time comparing apples with oranges!
This is a common question and one which nearly every doctor wrestles with at some point during her career. For tax purposes, an independent contractor is self-employed and “paid on a 1099.” An employee is paid on a W-2, just like a resident or fellow.
Don’t Choose A Job Based On The Tax Structure
First of all, I would recommend that you don’t make this a huge factor in your job hunt. The after-tax, after-benefit difference between the two offers is unlikely to be very high.
An Independent Contractor Should Be Paid More
As a general rule, you should have a higher salary as an independent contractor than as an employee. How much higher? Enough to cover the loss of benefits and the additional payroll taxes.
So add up the monetary value of all the benefits available at the employee job and add it to the salary. Include any 401K match, dental insurance premiums, health insurance premiums, CME stipend, and moving allowance. Then add up the cost of the employer paid payroll taxes (7.65% of income up to $127,200 (updated for 2017) in salary and 1.45% on income above that limit) and add that to the salary.
Now you can compare them fairly directly. At a typical physician income, I’d expect an employee salary to be at least $20-30K less than an independent contractor salary.
Some Benefits For Independent Contractors
There are some additional benefits of being an independent contractor. Many employee retirement plans have limited contributions or high expenses. It’s pretty easy to do a Solo 401K or SEP-IRA as an independent contractor and have a $54K contribution limit and rock-bottom expenses.
You’ll also be able to deduct a few more items on your taxes. Some of these deductions can be quite significant, while others are nearly meaningless. For example, the employer portion of the payroll taxes is tax-deductible. On $300K of income, that would save you something like $4300 in taxes.
You could also deduct anything you can justify as a business expense, such as CME costs, scrubs, stethoscope, pager, cell phone, accountant fees etc. That might save you another $1,000 to $2,000 per year in taxes. Everyone will be a little different in this respect of course.
What do you think? Have you had to choose between an employee position and a contractor position? Were there any other factors you considered? Comment below!