Tag Archives: Sole Proprietorship

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.

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.