16 Apr - 8 min read
The freelance market in Malaysia has seen substantial growth over the past years, with many relying on technology and the boom of social media to help them earn income. Covid-19, too, has accelerated its growth as people sought out ways to cope with the salary cuts and retrenchment brought on by the pandemic.
In fact, a study in early 2020 by the Zurich Insurance Group and the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the university of Oxford properly illustrated this development. According to the study, 38% of its Malaysian respondents were looking to enter the gig economy over the next 12 months – a number that was significantly higher than the global average of 20%.
If you’ve been working as a freelancer over the past year – whether full-time or part-time – you may have some concerns about filing your taxes now that the tax season is here. For instance, do you need to file your taxes since you’re not employed by an employer? If yes, how different will the process be? What form should you use? Here’s a quick guide to help you through the process!
To begin, the World Bank defines self-employed individuals as someone whose income depends directly on the profits derived – which accurately describes freelancers and gig workers as well. This definition is also reflected in several government initiatives, where this group is accorded similar benefits as self-employed individuals (such as the Self-Employment Social Security Scheme). It includes gig economy workers, such as e-hailing drivers, delivery riders, and sellers on e-commerce platforms.
Yes. All individuals are required to file their taxes if they already have a registered tax file, or if their annual income exceeds RM34,000 after deducting their EPF contributions. This is regardless of the source of their income. In other words, it does not matter whether you are employed by a company or freelancing; as long as you have reached the specified income threshold that can be taxed, then it is necessary for you to file your taxes.
Overall, the tax filing process will not be tremendously different between an employed individual and freelancers. There are, however, certain extra steps that freelancers will need to take as they will be affected by the following:
The EA form is document that is provided by employers to their employees, summarising details such as their annual earnings, as well as EPF and SOCSO contributions for the year. This document is immensely useful in the filing of your taxes as everything is already properly calculated on your behalf; all that remains is for you to key in the right number in the right place within the income tax form.
Meanwhile, freelancers will need to go through the extra step of tabulating their own profits by checking their invoices and expenses. This process can be pretty tedious, especially if you’ve been busy throughout the year, so it would be good idea for you to do your bookkeeping accurately as you conduct your business.
Aside from that, the Monthly Tax Deduction (MTD, also known as PCB) programme also makes for a slightly different filing process between an employed individual and a freelancer. As an employee, you’ll notice that your employer will allocate a portion of your salary each month for this purpose.
Essentially, MTD payments are monthly deductions that serve as advanced tax payments. Introduced in 1995, it allows you to spread the financial heft of paying your annual tax across 12 months so that you do not need to struggle with a lump-sum tax payment at the end of the year. With the MTD in place, you will only need to pay a small amount (if your MTD amount is not enough to cover your actual tax amount), or may even receive a refund if you’ve overpaid for the year.
Freelancers, on the other hand, are not enrolled in the MTD programme. As such, they will need to pay the full sum at the end of every year, which can be quite a hefty amount, so be sure to allocate some money for this purpose throughout the year!
Depending on whether you’ve registered your freelance work as a business or not, you may be required to use different forms to file your taxes. If you’ve not registered your freelance work as a business, then you will still be using the BE form – which is intended for individuals who do not own a business. On the other hand, if you have registered your work as a business, then the right form to use is the B form instead.
Assuming that you are using the BE form for your tax filing, part-time freelancers (defined as those who are still employed but are doing freelancing jobs on the side) and full-time freelancers will encounter a slight difference in the way you declare your income. For part-time freelancers, you will need to fill in the income that you earn from your day job under “Statutory income from employment”, and the income from your freelance work under “Statutory income from interest, discounts, royalties, pensions, annuities, other periodical payments, and other gains and profits.”
Meanwhile, full-time freelancers will log all their earnings under “Statutory income from interest, discounts, royalties, pensions, annuities, other periodical payments, and other gains and profits.”
Most of the earnings from your freelancing jobs will be taxable. However, there are some exemptions that you can tap into, including specific types of royalties:
Full-time freelancers can also consider tapping into the Self-Employment Social Security Scheme (SESSS) and the EPF Voluntary Contribution (i-Saraan) programme to reduce the amount of taxable income. Essentially, the SESSS and i-Saraan contributions are the equivalent of the Social Security Organisation (SOCSO) and Employees Provident Fund (EPF) contributions, but for self-employed individuals (including freelancers).
With effect from 2005 (YA 2004), income earned from companies that are not based or registered in Malaysia is not subject to Malaysian income tax. As such, if you’ve been taking jobs from foreign companies, these earnings can be exempted. That said, be sure to keep proof that your income is attributed directly to business operations that are conducted outside of Malaysia, such as invoices and receipts. If you are unable to do so, your income will be deemed as Malaysian-derived income.
Make sure to also always check the taxation guidelines on e-commerce that is provided by the Inland Revenue Board (LHDN) to ensure that you are up to date with the latest standards adopted.
It may be a good idea to register your freelance work as a business with Suruhanjaya Syarikat Malaysia (SSM) – even if you are only freelancing as a side gig. This is because it opens up a number of tax deductions allocated specifically for businesses. For instance, you may be able to claim certain expenses as business operating costs – which you cannot do as a non-business taxpayer. To illustrate, freelance videographers can list the purchase of their camera gears and editing software as business cost.
If you’re interested, you can register as a sole proprietor business under a personal or trade name for your freelance work, between a period of one five years. Depending on whether you opt for a personal name or a trade name, the fee will come up to RM30 or RM60.
With this, we hope that freelancers will have a better idea as to how to file their taxes for the year. In some situations, though, it might be a good idea for you to hire a professional tax consultant for assistance – such as when you’ve earned a substantial income that could make the filing process complicated. They can also share pointers on how to prepare your taxes for your future reference.
If you need further step-by-step guidance on how to fill in your income tax form, do also check out our income tax guide for 2021 (YA2020) here. Alternatively, you can refer to our income tax content for other tax-related information, such as the new MyTax portal and how to file your taxes for the first time.