Business + Marketing

4 Crucial Tax Tips for Photographers Who Live and Work in Different States

March 15, 2019

By Aaron M. Arce Stark

Photo © Ethan Yang Photography

The most dreaded time of the year is fast approaching—tax season. Photographers pay taxes like anybody else, but because of the nature of the job, they may have questions that a typical employee doesn’t. For instance, what happens if you photographed events in ten different states last year? Do you have to pay income tax in all of those states? And what if your year was terrible and you made almost no money—do you still have to pay taxes? Here are a few tips and tricks to help you answer these questions and more while surviving the madness.

1. Do you have to pay taxes to every state you earned money in?

Unfortunately, you do. Some states, though, have an earned-dollar threshold that must be met; others have a time threshold. In Massachusetts, for example, non-residents are required to file state taxes if the income they earn in the state exceeds $8,000 or reaches a certain portion of their overall income. It is important to check the Department of Revenue for each state you’ve done work in to see if you meet the requirement for non-residency income.

Now, let’s say you live in Tennessee, but a Kentucky resident hires you to take some photos in your own studio at home. The money may be coming from Kentucky, but you didn’t earn it in Kentucky, so you don’t have to pay Kentucky tax.

Before you get too scared, there is some good news: The Supreme Court has ruled that you cannot be double taxed; in other words, if you earn $1,000 in Kentucky but live in Tennessee, you can’t be taxed on that grand by both states.

2. Do you have to withhold taxes or fulfill any other tax obligation when you hire an independent contractor?

You generally will not have to withhold federal taxes from independent contractors—which is part of their appeal, of course—but there are other obligations you must fulfill. First, whenever you hire an independent contractor you must give them a W-9 form and have them fill it out and return it to you. This form just gives you information about them, including name, company and taxpayer identification number. Second, at the end of the tax year, and only if you paid the independent contractor more than $600, you have to submit a form 1099-MISC to the IRS stating how much you paid them, as well as give your contractor a copy. The only time you will have to withhold tax from an independent contractor is if they did not give you a taxpayer identification number on their W-9 form, or if the IRS contacted you and informed you that the number was not on file. You will have to withhold 24 percent of the total payment to the contractor, and pay it to the IRS with a Form 945.

3. Should you have to even think about state sales tax?

Maybe. It depends on what exactly you are providing to your customers. If you are providing any sort of “tangible” product with your services—anything from hardcopy prints to USB drives containing digital albums—then yes, you must reserve and pay the state sales tax where that tangible product was sold. But if your products are purely digital (such as creating an online gallery from which clients can download their pictures), then you can sidestep this requirement. Whether or not you can wiggle around it by making your hardcopy albums or USB drives complimentary or free may depend on your state, and you should consult an attorney familiar with your state’s sales tax.

4. Even if you had a terrible, awful, no good, very bad year and made less than $10,000, do you still have to file a return and pay taxes?

In all likelihood the answer is yes. If you are an employee of a company and make less than ten grand, then you are not required to file a return and your entire income is most likely deductible. You are not an employee of a company but rather a freelancer running your own business, and the federal government taxes all self-employment income over $400. Even worse, typically an employee only has half of his FICA (Social Security and Medicare) taxes withheld from his paycheck, with his employer paying the other half on his behalf. But because you are self-employed, you are considered to be both employer and employee, and therefore have to pay the entire amount for yourself (although you are allowed to deduct the employer-paid portion of the FICA tax from your gross income for the year).

The bottom line: Taxes are complex, and you should always speak to a tax attorney or other tax professional when making decisions about how to allocate your income. (For more tax tips, tax changes you should know about and helpful insight from two accountants, click here.)

Aaron M. Arce Stark is a lawyer for artists and entrepreneurs. Learn more about his law firm, Arce Stark & Haskell LLP, at

This article is for informational purposes only. Contact a lawyer for legal advice.

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