Gross vs. net income: A guide to managing tax for digital content creators

Net income vs. gross income

“What is gross income?” “What is net income?” “How does the difference between net and gross income affect my business?” Do these questions sound familiar? We know that finance and tax can be complicated for digital content creators. Not only is there a lot of technical information, but the rules can vary depending on factors such as your location, the type of content you create, your business structure, and your level of income. Even worse, tax laws are also subject to change. That’s why we’re here to help!

We’ve compiled this guide to help you understand gross income, net income and various other factors. We hope you find this guide useful but you should also consult with a tax professional or accountant who can offer personalized advice based on your specific circumstances and jurisdiction. In the below, we’ll mainly be talking about tax legislation and its implications in the USA.

Important definitions

Let’s start at the start. Finance often tends to be shrouded in mystery and clouded with confusing jargon so here are some basic definitions and tax concepts that digital content creators should be aware of:

Income tax

Digital content creators are typically considered self-employed or independent contractors. As such, you are responsible for reporting and paying taxes on your income.

Income from all of your revenue channels, such as membership, advertising, sponsored content, affiliate marketing, freemium or gated content and direct sales of digital products or services should be reported as self-employment income.

Estimated taxes

Digital content creators are not subject to withholding taxes like traditional employees, where that tax is automatically deducted from their income, and directly paid to the government.

So creators and publishers may need to pay estimated taxes quarterly. Estimated tax payments are used to cover income taxes and self-employment taxes. It's important to calculate and remit estimated taxes to avoid penalties and interest.

Business expenses

Content creators can deduct legitimate business expenses related to your digital content creation. This may include expenses such as equipment including cameras and the rest of the hardware in your content creator kit, or software subscriptions, such as video editing software and website hosting, as part of the software in your content creator kit.

Other justifiable expenses might include marketing and advertising costs, professional services such as hiring a graphic designer, and home office expenses such as furniture if applicable. Keeping detailed records of these expenses is crucial for accurate deductions.

Net income gross income

Self-employment taxes

Self-employment taxes are separate from income taxes and cover social security contributions (in the USA). As self-employed individuals, digital content creators are responsible for paying both the employer and employee portions of these taxes. It's important to factor in these additional taxes when calculating your overall tax liability.

Sales tax

Depending on the location and nature of your digital products or services, content creators may be required to collect and remit sales tax. The rules and thresholds for sales tax can vary by jurisdiction, so it's important to research the specific requirements in your operating region. Online platforms that handle digital product sales may also assist with sales tax compliance.

Business structure

Choosing the right business structure, such as operating as a sole proprietorship, Limited Liability Company( LLC), or corporation, can have tax implications. Each structure has its own advantages and considerations in terms of taxation, liability, and reporting requirements.

Consulting with a tax professional can help determine the most suitable structure for your circumstances. Visit the IRS website to read more about tax for small businesses and LLCs.

Gross income vs. net income: What’s the difference?

The primary distinction between net income and gross income lies in the deductions and expenses that are subtracted from the latter to arrive at the former. Net income accounts for various expenses, including operational costs, employee salaries, taxes, and interest payments.


These deductions are essential for determining the true profitability and financial viability of an individual or business.

What is gross income?

Gross income, also known as total revenue, is the total amount of money earned by an individual, business, or organization before any deductions or expenses are taken into account. It includes all sources of income, such as sales revenue, rental income, interest income, and more.

Gross income provides a snapshot of the total earnings generated without considering the costs associated with running a business or personal finances.

What is net income?

Net income, often referred to as the bottom line, represents the total amount of money an individual or business earns after deducting all expenses and taxes from gross income. It is a key financial metric that provides insight into the profitability and financial health of an entity.

Net income is typically calculated over a specific period, such as a month, quarter, or year.

Differences between net income and gross income

Understanding net income and gross income are fundamental to effective financial planning for a membership business. By understanding these figures, creators can manage budgets, set realistic financial goals, and make informed decisions about their income allocation.

Whether it's managing personal finances, expanding your business, or investing in new opportunities, a clear understanding of net income and gross income is crucial.

Here are the main implications of the differences between net income and gross income for creators and people running membership businesses:

Tax considerations: When calculating net income, taxes play a significant role. The taxes owed by an individual or business are typically deducted from the gross income to arrive at the net income figure.

Taxes can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific tax laws applicable to the entity. Understanding tax implications is crucial for accurate financial planning and maintaining compliance.

tax statement for creators

Financial analysis: Net income is an essential component in financial analysis and decision-making processes. It allows individuals and businesses to evaluate their profitability, determine their ability to generate cash flow, and assess their financial performance over time.

Comparing net income across different periods helps identify trends, strengths, and areas that require improvement.

How to pay self-employment taxes

To pay self-employment taxes in the United States, you need to follow these steps:

  • Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN): If you don't already have an EIN, you can apply for one with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) online at their official website. Keep accurate records: Accurate record keeping is essential for tax purposes. Digital content creators should maintain detailed records of income, expenses, receipts, invoices, and any other relevant financial documents. This will facilitate tax preparation and ensure compliance with tax regulations.
  • Calculate your net earnings: Calculate your net earnings from self-employment by subtracting your business expenses from your total self-employment income.
  • Complete Schedule SE: Use Schedule SE (Self-Employment Tax) to calculate the amount of self-employment tax you owe. The form is available on the IRS website or can be filled out electronically using tax software.
  • File your tax return: Include Schedule SE with your annual individual tax return, which is usually Form 1040 or 1040-SR. You must report your self-employment income on Schedule C or Schedule C-EZ.
  • Pay your self-employment tax: Pay the self-employment tax owed along with any other taxes you may owe when you file your tax return. You can make a payment using various methods, including electronic funds withdrawal, credit/debit card, or check. The IRS offers an online payment portal called the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) for payment.
  • Consider estimated tax payments: If you expect to owe $1,000 or more in taxes, you may need to make estimated tax payments throughout the year. Estimated tax payments are typically due quarterly and can be made online through the IRS website or by mail using Form 1040-ES.

Conclusion: Gross income vs. net income – and how the difference affects you

In conclusion, understanding the difference between net income and gross income is essential for creators, publishers and businesses alike. While gross income represents the total earnings before deductions, net income provides a more accurate picture of profitability by accounting for expenses and taxes.

By comprehending these financial metrics, you can make informed decisions, plan effectively, and evaluate your financial performance with precision. Remember, financial success stems from a deep understanding of your income, expenses, and the interplay between them.

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