Note: We are not legal experts or tax preparation professionals, so always consult an accountant, tax prep professional, or attorney if you have concerns. This information is aimed at copywriters in the United States. Copywriters in other locations may find this information useful for determining what questions they need to ask and answer based on their city, country, or region.
As a freelancer, if you’re invoicing a client for more than $600 worth of work, they’ll likely ask you to fill out a W-9 form. That’s a good thing!
Filling out a W-9 form is very common and, if anything, should make you feel good that the business you’re working with is following the rules.
It means they’re already thinking ahead so they are prepared to send you a 1099-MISC form come tax time (similar to the W-2 form you get from a full-time employer).
There’s not a ton of information needed on a W-9, but when filling it out for the first time, some freelancers panic that they have to provide their Social Security number.
The vast majority of clients want to stay in business and are not going to use your Social Security number in a malicious way. They’re simply using it to file their own taxes appropriately.
That said, if you’re uncomfortable there is an alternative. You can, regardless of business structure, apply for a free employer identification number, or EIN.
Yes, that applies to sole proprietors. You do not need to be an LLC.
Certain types of business structures will need to apply for an EIN. The IRS makes it easy to determine whether you need one (or if it’s optional) with a yes/no test, found here. If you change your business structure and already have an EIN, you’ll need to apply for a new number. Click here to see when sole proprietors (and other business structures) need to obtain a new EIN.
When filling out your W-9, you can opt to use your EIN instead of your Social Security number (but you can still opt to use your Social Security number even if you get an EIN—the IRS is good at finding the money you owe).
The rest of the W-9 is pretty straightforward, though you’ll want to pay attention to line 2 based on how you name your business. If you registered a business name, you will want to fill out line 2. If clients will pay you using your legal name (even if your URL is different), you can skip line 2.
Pro tip: if you know you’re billing more than $600 worth of work to your clients, then send them a W-9 with your invoice. It shows you’re being proactive and is a nice reminder to your client that they should be sending you a 1099 come tax season (they may not send one, but you should still report that income).
No information besides the date will likely change each time you give it to a client. You can download the form from the IRS website.
You may also find clients who have you fill out a W-4 (the form you fill out when you’re an employee of a company) instead of a W-9. This all depends on how they’re classifying you.
If you fill out a W-4, you’re considered an employee.
Even if you’re working on a three-month project, they may consider you an employee and have you fill out a W-4. Depending on federal, state, and local laws, they may also need to offer certain benefits because you are an employee.
Why is this? Well, if they’re telling you when to come into the office (or what hours to work remote), providing you a computer to work from, among other distinctions, you may fall into the employee versus freelancer or contractor bucket.
You can always ask your client why they are classifying you one way or another.
But no matter what, don’t panic when faced with a form. If you want additional understanding on tax forms, look to the IRS website or ask a tax professional or attorney for the non-legal-jargon version.
Your turn! Did you decide to get an EIN and did you find it easy? Share your experience in the comments below!