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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
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.