Many self-employed individuals are considered “sole proprietors” or “independent contractors” for legal and tax purposes. This is true regardless of whether you are turning a hobby into a business, selling an indispensable widget or providing services to others. As a self-employed person, you report your business revenue results on your personal income tax return. The following are a few guidelines and issues you should keep in mind when pursuing your entrepreneurial spirit.
Schedule C – Form 1040
As a self-employed person, you are required to report your business profits or losses on Schedule C of Form 1040. The income earned through your business is taxable to you as an individual. This is true even if you do not withdraw any money from the business. While you are required to report your gross revenues, you are also allowed to deduct business expenses incurred in generating that revenue. If your business efforts result in a loss, the loss will generally be deductible against your total income from all sources, subject to special rules relating to whether your business is considered a hobby and whether you have anything “at risk.” If it generates a profit, then you will have to pay taxes on it.
Many self-employed individuals work out of their home and are entitled to deduct a percentage of certain home costs that are applicable to the portion of the home that is used as your office. This can include payments for utilities, telephone services, etc. You may also be eligible to claim these deductions if you perform administrative tasks from your home or store inventory there. If you work out of your home and have an additional office at another location, you also may be able to convert your commuting expenses between the two locations into deductible transportation expenses. Since most self-employed individuals find themselves working more than the traditional 40-hour week, there are a significant number of advantageous deductions that can be claimed. Unfortunately, we find that most self-employed individuals miss these deductions because they are unaware of them.
The Bad News – Self-Employment Taxes
A negative aspect to being self-employed is the self-employment tax. All salaried individuals are subject to automatic deductions from their paycheck including FICA, etc. In that many self-employed individuals often do not run a formal payroll for themselves, the government must recapture these taxes through the self-employment tax. Simply put, you are required to pay self-employment taxes at a rate of 15.3% on your net earnings, up to an annual income cap. Beyond the annual cap, the rate is reduced to just the Medicare tax rate of 2.9%.
In an interesting twist that reveals the confusing nature of the tax code, you are allowed a partial deduction for the self-employment tax. Simply put, you are allowed to deduct one-half of your self-employment taxes from your gross income. For example, if you have to pay $10,000 in self-employment taxes, you are allowed a deduction on your 1040 return of $5,000. Many self-employed individuals miss this deduction and pay more money to taxes than needed.
No Withholding Tax
Unlike a salaried employee sitting in a cubicle, the taxes above are not withheld from your paycheck. While this sounds great, you are required to make quarterly estimated tax payments. If you fail to make the payments, you are subject to a penalty, but the penalty is not the biggest concern. A potentially dangerous pitfall of being self-employed is failing to pay quarterly estimated taxes AND then getting caught at the end of the year without sufficient funds to pay your taxes. The IRS is not going to be happy if you fail to pay your taxes and you will suffer the consequences in the form of penalties and interest. Making sure you pay quarterly estimated taxes helps avoid this situation and it is highly recommended that you follow this course of action. If you have encountered this situation for yourself, be sure to contact us immediately to help you remedy this particular circumstance.
You must maintain complete records of all business income and expenses. Simply put, document everything. Create a filing system for each month and file every receipt, etc. All business travel expenses must be documented, including auto mileage you incur when performing business tasks. Office supply stores sell business mileage books that you can keep in your car and use whenever you travel. There are even some apps for your phone that will allow you to push a button at the beginning and end of your trip and it will calculate the mileage for you. If you have any doubt about documenting something, just do it!
As a self-employed individual, your focus and time is spent on making your business successful. Your focus is not on the complexities of the tax code and how to limit the amount of taxes you owe. If any of the information in this article is new to you, then it is highly likely you have paid far more in taxes than required.