If affiliate marketing is simply a “side hustle” or something you do for fun in addition to a full time job, you most likely haven’t filed any paperwork to form a legal entity for your business. If so, you are deemed as operating a Sole Proprietorship for tax purposes, with all income from your affiliate marketing activities flowing through to your personal tax return on your Schedule C. This effectively means that any earnings from affiliate marketing are treated as earnings by you as an individual, and you’ll pay taxes on these earnings on your personal tax return.
If you filed paperwork and formed a Limited Liability Company (an “LLC”), there could be some additional tax ramifications to be aware of. If your LLC is a single member LLC (meaning, only one owner), then you are taxed the same as a Sole Proprietorship with all earnings from affiliate marketing flowing through to your personal tax returns. However, if there are multiple members (owners) of your LLC, you’ll be required to file an informational return (Form 1065) with the IRS to report all earnings from the LLC. In addition, you’ll be required to furnish a Schedule K-1 to all owners of the LLC, which they then use to report their earnings from the partnership on their personal tax returns. The final wrinkle is if the LLC has made an S-Corporation election, you’ll be required to file Form 1120S and furnish a Schedule K-1 to each owner, once again indicating their pro-rata share of the entity’s earnings. The S-Corp election can be a powerful tax savings strategy, and one that I recommend in many circumstances, but is one that you should consult a CPA
on before making the election.
The final tax treatment to consider is if you formed a C-Corporation for your affiliate marketing activities. If you did so, you’re required to file Form 1120 with the IRS to report earnings, and the entity pays taxes on those earnings. This is important for two main reasons. First, corporate tax rates are different than personal tax rates. Second, a C-Corporation can introduce the notion of “double taxation” by which the earnings of the company are effectively taxed at the entity level (corporate tax rates) and then again at the owner level (personal tax rates) in the event that dividends are distributed to owners. This is generally the least favorable entity type for affiliate marketers, but there are some instances where it could make sense.