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Last minute tax tips for small businesses

As the April 18th deadline for filing taxes looms on the horizon, you may be in the enviable position of having already filed your tax return. If you haven’t already filed, however, as a small business owner or entrepreneur you are probably working overtime to get it done. Depending on the kind and size of business you run, you might have a tax preparation professional do your taxes for you. But you may be just starting out and want to save the expense; if that’s the case – and even if it’s not – there are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Know what you owe

As a small business, you should probably be paying your taxes quarterly. These payments can be easy to forget, though, especially if you are a sole proprietor working in the creative economy or the gig economy.

If you did make your final quarterly payment on January 15th, make sure you take that into account when you file. Take the time to deduct any levies or account for any late fees and penalties the IRS may impose if you happened to miss a payment.

2. Accelerate or defer.

Many sole proprietors use cash basis accounting – which means they report income when payments are received. Depending on the kind of business you have, you might consider scheduling your billing so clients can pay early in the new year for work you completed late in the previous year.

The advantage to this is that you’re getting income early in the year.

However, if you had a successful year you could accelerate your deductible expenses. There are a few things you can do to help relieve your tax burden if you plan ahead, such as:

  1. making extra charitable donations,
  2. renewing professional journals and licenses before the year ends, or
  3. replacing old business equipment.

If you are in the position to, you might also consider

  1. prepaying your state income tax,
  2. selling an investment property at a loss, or
  3. selling securities at a loss.

If you’re a small business owner or entrepreneur, there’s nothing you can do about taxes. They are as much a part of your business as your customers or client base. The trick to making it all less odious, though, is to be proactive. Think ahead early in the year so the end of the year doesn’t hit you any harder than it needs to.

  |  Filed under:   Tax Organization, Taxes

Timely Tax Tips for Freelance Workers

There is a cost to the freedom you get being a freelance worker. While you can probably fudge on office-appropriate attire and set your own start time (Sleeping late can be a viable option!), there is one thing you can’t avoid if you hope to be successful.

Taxes.

When able to, a lot of freelancers prefer to hire an accountant. There are a lot of things to keep track of; and while tax law for freelancers really is a lot of common sense if you think about it, the problem is that there is really a lot to keep in mind. As a freelancer, you are your own employer. In addition to the usual responsibilities of a working adult — the electric bill, the water bill, the gas bill, and your rent or mortgage – you are also responsible for your obligations as your own employer. This means paying into Social Security and Medicare, and perhaps setting up a retirement account.

We’ve already talked about the self-employment tax . It’s important to keep in mind that because you are both and employer and an employee, that you are responsible for the Employer and Employee portions of Social Security and Medicare, 15.3% of earnings. It’s true that you can offset earnings with deductions; but you need to be as careful about what you pay as you are about what you don’t pay.

Here are a few things to keep in mind that will help you stay organized.

  1. Don’t trust your 1099.

If you earn $600 or more from a client, that client should send you a 1099-MISC. It’s very important that you compare. Look at Box 7 on your 1099-MISC and compare that number to the number you have in your records. If your client claims they paid you more than your records state, go through the steps to verify and get a new 1099.  Remember: the tax burden is on you, not your clients. The IRS won’t annoy them with phone calls and letters. They will annoy you.

  1. Get a separate bank account.

Yes, you work for yourself. It’s your money and if you’re making less than $600 total, you may not need a separate business account. If freelancing is your primary source of income, however, you really should consider getting a separate account. This will save you headaches when looking up transactions. If you use accounting software like QuickBooks, having a separate account will make it easier to download information to plug into your books. It also makes it easier to track business expenses for deductions.

  1. Pay attention to Estimated Tax.

As a freelancer, you will probably have to pay taxes quarterly instead of just once a year. You’re also an employer, remember?

If you’ve been freelancing for more than a year, you can get a good idea of what you should plan on paying by using one of several easy to use calculators on line such as:

http://www.bankrate.com/calculators/tax-planning/self-employed-business-tax-calculator.aspx

or

http://quickbooks.intuit.com/r/free-self-employment-tax-calculator-quickbooks/

It’s not always easy being your own boss. But it’s not impossible. And if you are the kind of person who enjoys the autonomy, then the additional responsibility is part and parcel. The trick is to be as careful with your books as you are with the work you do, and to be smart about it.

  |  Filed under:   bookkeeping, Budget, Business Resources, Tax Organization, Taxes

Protect yourself from identity theft

As if you don’t have enough to worry about as an entrepreneur this tax season, there is one more thing you need to be very aware of: identify theft.

If you are a sole proprietor, everything about your business is tied back to you. Your livelihood not only depends on your good work habits, but on safeguarding your information — your clients’ information and your own. And as we slide into the middle of FY2016 tax season, you should also do what you can do to ensure your private information isn’t stolen and used to steal your tax return right out from underneath you.

The first thing to consider, if you haven’t already, is getting an Employee Identification Number (EIN). As a sole proprietor, you’re not legally required to get an EIN. But in addition to protecting your personal assets in the event your business hits a few bumps, having an EIN can also help protect your identity. With an EIN, you will not have to use your social security number for any business-related tax forms or credit or loan applications.

The best part about it is this: it doesn’t cost you anything.

Here are a few other tips to keep in mind:

Watch what you throw away.

The easiest and most common method thieves use to steal someone’s identity is simply going through their garbage. Be very careful about what you throw away. Just because you tie up your garbage bag and have a secure lid on your can or dumpster doesn’t mean you are being as careful as you could be. It wouldn’t hurt to invest in a paper shredder to ensure that any documents with potentially useful information for identity thieves are unusable.

(Here’s a little side tip if you also garden: depending on how much paper you shred and what kind of paper it is you can add shredded paper to compost.)

Watch where you handle financial matters

One of the big draws about being a freelancer or owning your own business is that, depending on what you do, you can literally take your business anywhere. We’ve all seen the gig economy articles with pictures of satisfied looking semi-professionally dressed people sipping a latte in some generic coffee shop while working on a laptop.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. But when it comes to doing your taxes, it’s a good idea to avoid public Wi-Fi hotspots for filing digitally. You should also avoid publicly accessible hotspots at hotels and fast food restaurants, even if it’s a secure spot that requires a password. Your best bet for filing digitally is to file from home or your business office, using a hardline connection or a secured connection where you control access.

Also, if you’re using a tax app on your smart phone that requires you to take a picture of your W-2, be sure to delete the photo after you’ve sent it.

Beware phone and email scams.

The IRS always sends documentation if there is an issue with your tax return. If you haven’t received any documentation, but are receiving phone calls and emails claiming you owe the IRS an excess of back taxes, be extremely cautious. They will sometimes give you fictitious but very real sounding badge or employee numbers. Sometimes they even know the last four digits of your social security number. If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to represent the IRS, immediately hang up and contact the IRS. If you receive an email, you can forward the IRS the email, but if possible, you should not open it as it may be part of a different phishing scam to install malware on your computer.

If you don’t prepare your own taxes, make sure you find someone trustworthy.

If your tax preparer asks you to sign a blank return, run – don’t walk – the other direction.

There are other ways to protect yourself

If you decide that protecting your identity is also a worthwhile financial investment, there are several programs available.

  • LegalShield © has a service called IDShield ©. They offer this in addition to other legal services for small businesses.
  • AAA also has two identity theft services they provide for members: ProtectMyID Essential and ProtectMyID Deluxe.
  |  Filed under:   bookkeeping, Business Resources, Tax Organization, Taxes

Self Care: The Self-Employment Tax

If you work for yourself, it doesn’t take you long to figure out that the American Dream has a few strings attached. One aspect of self-employment that people hardly ever talk about is the self-employment tax. Yes, you already pay income taxes, and depending on how you structure your business, you may be paying them quarterly.

But what about FICA? It’s not the government’s job to make sure that you, as a self-employed individual, are paying the proper amount into Social Security and Medicare.

That’s part of your job.

This is what we mean by the self-employment tax. According to the IRS , the self-employment tax “is a tax consisting of Social Security and Medicare taxes primarily who work for themselves.”

The first thing to remember that unless you make more than $400 in a year, you’re not required to pay the any self-employment taxes.  You’ll notice that the threshold for requiring to pay is lower than the amount required for a client to provide you a 1099.


You’ll also notice that there are two options for figuring your earnings to base your tax payment on: one for farmers and one for other kinds of self-employed individuals (the nonfarm optional method). The nonfarm optional method can be used if net profits are less than $5,457 and also less than 72.189% of gross nonfarm income, but you had net earnings from self-employment of at least $400 in two of the prior three years.

Please keep in mind, however, that the nonfarm income optional method can only be used five times by a self-employed individual.

When determining your income, make sure to clearly delineate between what you’re paid as a self-employed individual and any money you earn as the result of investing in something else – especially if the business you end up investing in is in a similar line to what you do. You also need to be aware of the IRS and court rulings regarding monies paid out as retirement. Retirement is just taxable income (depending if from a tax-deferred vehicle) not self-employment, and no FICA or medicare is taken out, just income tax based on your tax bracket.

Even if you’re not bringing in a lot of money yet as a self-employed trailblazer, you may want to consider going ahead and paying some self-employment tax voluntarily. Although you may not be legally required to pay, there is an advantage. You will be able to earn Social Security credits, which translate into higher benefit when you retire.

  |  Filed under:   Business Resources, Taxes

To LLC or not to LLC: that is the question

Being an artist or working in a creative industry as a freelancer isn’t always easy. Unless you’re fortunate enough to find steady clients and gigs, you feel like your professional life is forever going in a circle of feast and famine.  And, if you have worked as an artist of a creative freelancer, you know that being talented at what you do isn’t enough. That myth of the carefree artist with his head in the clouds and no notion of how the business world works is simply that – a myth. Being a great artist goes hand-in-hand with being a savvy businessperson, because as much as you love your art, you need to eat and keep the lights on, too.

One thing every entrepreneur thinks about eventually is whether to operate as a Sole Proprietorship or to form a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC).

In most cases, you’re probably going to start with and stay with a Sole Proprietorship. This is the easiest business to start because there isn’t much set up required. Although you may be required to get a business license, there isn’t any paperwork you need file unless you choose to “Do Business As” (DBA) a name besides your own. You may also want to consider going ahead and applying for an EIN (Employer Identification Number. While it’s not necessary for a Sole Proprietorship, it will help protect your social security number. It also legitimizes that what you are doing is more than a hobby. You report your earnings annually and you are responsible for paying self-employment taxes as well as covering contributions to Social Security and Medicare.

If you’re fine with all of that, and you’re careful with your accounting practices, then you will probably want to form a Sole Proprietorship.

Keep in mind though, that if your business should ever be sued, then you are personally liable for everything. And if you should lose, your house, your property, and other assets will be at risk.

Forming an LLC takes some legwork, preparation, and money. After you chose a name and make sure it’s not already being used, it’s time to file articles of corporation. Depending on the state you live in, expect to pay between $100 and $800. In Kentucky if you forgo the ease of having someone else do the heavy lifting for you, it will only cost you a $49 fee paid to the State Treasurer to file your articles of corporation.

Some states also require an operating agreement that outlines how your business is run; Kentucky, however, does not. You’ll then need to get an EIN (Employer Identification Number), which is free and can be obtained online at the IRS website. Keep in mind though, that you can only register for one EIN at a time. At this point, you can separate your personal and business assets. This is the main advantage for forming an LLC as an artist or freelancer.

Finally, you’ll need to register for state tax and unemployment insurance. Even if you happen to be your only “employee” you will still need to do these things in order to be in compliance of state law.

Depending on the nature of your work, forming an LLC might be overkill. Many artists and members in what is termed the “creative class” keep it simple. And, unless the kind of work you do expands to the point that you need to bring in extra help, you will want to seriously consider keeping your work life as least complicated as possible.

If you’re reading this and your business or business concept doesn’t fall under the umbrella of the “gig economy” or you don’t identify as part of “the creative class,” keep in mind that every entrepreneur has to make the decision at some point whether to operate as a Sole Proprietorship or as an LLC.

  |  Filed under:   Budget, Business Resources, Tax Organization, Taxes

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