5 Tax Tips for The Self-Employed

learn about taxes

Tax time can be extra taxing for the self-employed. What really do you count as income? What can you deduct as expenses? And why do you have to pay self-employment tax? Here are a few tax tips to help you prepare your self-employed tax return.

1. What is Self-Employment Income?

Self employment income can be any income that you earn as an independent contractor, a freelancer, or even money that comes in from a hobby. You don’t need to make much to be considered self-employed by the IRS.

2. What Business Expenses Can You Deduct?

The good news is that you can deduct any expenses that you incur to create income. Many people have expenses for items that are used for both business and personal, such as computers and internet costs. In those cases the IRS allows you to take a prorated amount as a deduction. Keep a log showing how much is business use, and how much is personal use to come up with your prorated deduction amount.

3. What is Self-Employment Tax?

When you work for someone else as an employee you have social security taxes deducted from your paycheck. Your employer pays an additional amount. When you are self-employed you pay both parts yourself as self-employment tax.

4. How Do You Report Self-Employment Income?

If you are not a corporation or a partnership you will report your self employment income and expenses on Schedule C. It is filed at the end of the year with your Form 1040. However, taxes are due through out the year. Estimated taxes are paid with form 1040-ES.

5. Where Can I Find More Information on Taxes and Self-Employment?

The IRS has many great resources to help self-employed people with their taxes. Start with these links from the IRS.

How To Pay Estimated Taxes When You Run Your Own Business

Congratulations! You have your own business! Now the bad news. Uncle Sam wants a big portion of your income.
When you start your own business, one of the first things you must plan for is paying your taxes.

How Often Do You Pay Estimated Taxes?

As an employee, your employer takes taxes out of each and every paycheck. When you are your own boss, you need to pay the IRS, not just on April 15, but three other times during the year.
Estimated tax payments are due on:

  1. April 15 for income earned from January through March
  2. June 15 for income earned April through May
  3. September 15 for income earned June through August
  4. January 15 for income earned September through December of the previous year

Income Taxes, Self-Employment Taxes, Quarterly Taxes? Which is it?

The taxes you pay as a self-employed business owner go by many different names, one of which is quarterly estimated tax payments. I find this kind of funny, because as you can see from the list above, the taxes are not paid every three months, rather they are paid four times a year on a rather random schedule. I have yet to find out why this is.
When you are self employed, your estimated tax payments are actually for two different taxes, income taxes and social security taxes. Social security taxes are often called self-employment taxes when talking about self-employed individuals. This is because as an employee, you pay 1/2 your social security and medicare taxes and your employer pays the other 1/2. When you are your own boss, you get to pay the full amount! Lucky you.

So, to answer the question, the answer is all of the above. Your quarterly estimated taxes are made up of income taxes and social security taxes. They are paid four times a year, but are not equally space out.

How Much Should You Pay

Ideally, four times a year you would calculate your income for the previous time period, estimate your income and social security taxes, and pay that amount. A quick estimate of the amount you should pay would be your federal income tax rate, plus 15% for self-employment taxes, times your net income. For example, if you are in the 15% federal income tax bracket, your estimated tax payment will be about 30% of your net income. Net income is all the money that came in, minus the expenses that you paid to earn that money. As a very rough guide, I find that most of my clients do OK when they pay 15 to 20% of their gross income. Gross income, simply stated, is all the money that your earned. If you want to be more exact, you can use this IRS Estimated Tax Worksheet to calculate how much you should pay each year.

This video has some good information on easy ways to track and save for your estimated tax payments.

How Do I Pay My Estimated Taxes

There are two ways to pay your estimated tax payments. One way is to use paper coupons provided by the IRS, and mail your payments to the IRS. Be sure to write your social security number on your check. The IRS Estimated Tax Worksheet has payment coupons and the addresses for where to mail your payment.

The IRS would prefer it if you would use their Electronic Federal Tax Payment System. At this website, once you register, you can easily make your tax payments from your computer. You can even schedule your tax payments to happen automatically.

Can I Pay My Taxes More Often?

It might seem like a silly question, but you would be surprised by how many people would like to pay their taxes more often. By paying your estimated taxes monthly, or even weekly, the payment amount is smaller, and many people find it easier on their budgets if they pay their taxes more often than quarterly.
Yes it is OK to pay your taxe more often, just print additional tax payment coupons, or use EFPTS, the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System to make a payment whenever you want.

What If I Miss A Payment, or Can’t Make A Payment?

Don’t worry about it too much. If you miss a payment the IRS is not going to come looking for you. Just make the payment as soon as you can. You may be penalized for paying late, or for not paying enough, but if you pay as much as you can as soon as you can, the penalty will be minimized.
If the reason you can’t make a payment is that you don’t have any income, then you really don’t need to worry about it. (At least not the taxes. ) No income means that no taxes are due.

I’ve Paid My Estimated Taxes, Now What?

When it is time to file your tax return, your estimated taxes will work much like withholding taxes on your tax return. On the tax payments section of the tax return, there will be a place for you to record exactly how much you have paid in estimated taxes. If you paid too much, you will get a refund, if you didn’t pay enough, you will owe additional taxes, and maybe some penalties.

Get into the habit of paying your estimated taxes, and tax time should not be too much of a problem.
Do you have any questions about paying estimated taxes, or any other tax questions? Ask in the comment section and I will be happy to answer!

The Home Buyer’s Tax Credits, Now The IRS Will Help You Buy A Home

Ranch style home in North Salinas, California
Image via Wikipedia

Once again the IRS has extended the First Time Home Buyer credit and now is a great time to buy a house!

What I find really exciting is now you don’t have to be a first time home buyer to get a modified version of the credit.

Here is the scoop. If you are a long time homeowner, defined as someone who has lived in their current home for at least 5 consecutive years, you can now qualify for the long time resident credit and get a tax credit of up to $6,500.

Here is how it works. For both the first time home buyer tax credit and the long time resident tax credit you must enter into a binding contract by April 30, 2010 and have closed escrow by June 30, 2010. Miss the deadlines by even a day, and you miss the credit.

You can claim the credit when you file your 2009 or 2010 tax return, or if you don’t want to wait, for homes purchased in 2009 you can amend your 2008 tax return.

The credit is 10% of the purchase price of the home, up to $8,000 for the first time homebuyers credit and $6,500 for the long term resident credit. The new home must be your principal residence for 3 years, or you have to pay back the entire credit.

There are some limits, the purchase price of the home must be less than $800,000 and a taxpayers modified adjusted gross income must be under certain limits. Just how much depends on when you purchase the home. For homes purchased before November 7, the credit starts to phase out at $75,000 MAGI, $150,000 for joint filers, and no credit is allowed for persons with Magi of over $95,000 or $170,000 for joint.
For homes purchased after November 6 the full credit is available for persons with MAGI of up to $125,000 ($225,000 for joint) and no credit is allowed for taxpayers with MAGI of over $145,000 ($245,000).
Find out all the details on the Home Buyers Tax Credits at the IRS site.

Now here is where I think it gets really interesting.

Make Tax Free Income From Your Personal Residence

Rich Dad, Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money–That the Poor and the Middle Class Do Not!
Robert Kiyosaki, of the Rich Dad, Poor Dad fame, said in his books that your home is not an asset. However, that was before the IRS made owning a home so attractive. Using a combination of the Home Buyers Tax Credits, Mortgage and Real Estate Tax Deductions, and the Tax Free capital gains from selling your home, it is possible to make large sums of tax free income from your home. Here is an example of how it might work.

You, as a first time homebuyer, buy a home for $80,000 on January 1, of 2010. You put 10% down ($8,000) and take out a 30 year fixed rate mortgage for $72,000 at 5%. Your monthly mortgage payments will be $386.51.

The first year, when you file your tax return, you get the $8,000 tax credit, in other words, the IRS just paid your down payment. You will have paid around $3,300 in interest, and maybe another $1,000 in taxes, giving you a tax savings of about $1,000. ( I am using round numbers here just to make it easy.) That is a total of $9,000 you didn’t need to earn, and $9,000 you don’t need to pay taxes on.

Years two and three are not very exciting, you still get the tax deductions and save around $1,000 per year.

After 3 years you decide to sell your home. Let’s assume the market has made a recovery (which is not an unreasonable assumption for 3 years out) and your home has increased in value 25%, to $105,000. Let’s play with the numbers.

First lets see how much cash it took to live in your home. (I don’t include insurance here, because even if you are renting your should be paying for insurance, and renter’s insurance and homeowner’s insurance cost about the same.)

Cash Out

If we add up the down payment ($8,000), the total monthly mortgage payments ($14,000) and the estimated property taxes ($2,400) we come to a total of $24,400 cash out of pocket to live in our home. But then we get to subtract the tax credit ($8,000) and tax savings ($3,000) to come up with a net out of pocket cost of $13,000. Not bad for three years of housing!

Now let’s see how the cash flows when you sell the home.

We sell the home for $105,000, but we have to pay the costs of selling the home ($8,400) and we have to pay off the mortgage ($68,000). That leaves us with cash in pocket of $28,600. Nice! Subtract from that the $13,000 cash out and you are left with $15,600 your don’t have to pay taxes on. Working a job and paying income taxes and social security taxes you would have to earn almost $20,000 to have the same amount of cash.

So by using the tax laws to your advantage you have lived in your house for free for 3 years and gained over $5,000 per year in cash flow.

In my book, that makes my home an asset!

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Taxes are Illegal?

The man sitting across my desk had been a client for years. He had come in to tell me that he would not be using my services ever again.

“Why?”, I asked.

He had found a lawyer who had told him that income and social security taxes were illegal. All my former client needed to do was file some forms with the government and he would effectively “untax” himself.
“Anyone can do it,” my client told me. “It is just that the government has everyone believing that taxes are required. All you need to do is file the proper forms, and you won’t ever have to pay taxes again. And it is perfectly legal.”

Unfortunately I never saw him again so I have no idea how the whole scheme worked. But every year I have people tell me that taxes are illegal, or unconstitutional, or only for corporations. And every year I tell them that the IRS has said over and over again that taxes are legal, and constitutional, and for everyone with income.

I was looking at a website today, that will sell you a package to “untax” yourself for the small sum of $700. The package will include all the forms you need to send to the government so you will never have to pay income taxes or social security taxes again.

Judging from the page and pages of double speak, the main argument of this website, is that paying taxes is voluntary. They also state that the 16th amendment was never properly ratified, and that wages are not taxable because they are not defined as “income” in the IRS tax code.

Before you fall for this type of scam, please take a moment to read what the IRS has to say about these frivolous tax arguments(pdf file).

If you don’t like reading IRS documents I’ll sum it up for you here. Taxes are legal, the 16th amendment was properly ratified, and wages are income under the law. You can’t avoid taxes by declaring you are not a citizen, by filing any type of “untaxing” paperwork, or by submitting a zero income tax return.

If you choose to use any of these arguments on your tax return the IRS can impose a $5,000 penalty for preparing a frivolous tax return in addition to any other fines or penalties that may be due for underpayment of tax and failing to file a tax return.

The Top Tax Protester, Where Is He Now?

Irwin Schiff is arguably the most prominent tax protester in the United States. He is the author of two books, has presented seminars and appeared on national television promoting his ideas about the legality of the income tax. Most if not all of the tax protester arguments you will hear today originated with Irwin Schiff.

Today Irwin Schiff is a guest of the United States government, serving over 12 years for his 2005 conviction for filing false tax returns, assisting in the preparation of false tax returns filed by other taxpayers, conspiring to defraud the United States, and income tax evasion. He has also been ordered to pay over $4 million in back taxes, fines and penalties.

If You Told People The Truth About Income Taxes You Would Be Out Of A Job

I can’t tell you how many times I have had people tell me that I must know that paying taxes is illegal, and the only reason I don’t tell people is that I would be out of a job. If only it were true. The truth is, if I knew a way that people could legally earn income without paying taxes, I would be more than happy to share it with all my customers, and I am sure they would be more than happy to pay for that information. In fact, I would be the most popular tax adviser in my state.

Buy a New Car With Help From The IRS

Now is a great time to buy a new car. The recession has hit the major car dealers hard and they are offering great deals on new cars. And to make the deal even getter, the IRS is allowing a deduction on your 2009 income taxes for state and local sales and excise taxes you pay when buying a new passenger car.

There are a few qualifications.
The deduction is only good for purchasing a new car, light truck, motor home or motorcycle. Taxes paid on the purchase of a used car will not be deductible.
You must purchase the new car after February 16, 2009 and before January 1, 2010.
You can only deduct the taxes paid on purchase prices up to $49,500. This doesn’t mean that you can’t deduct the taxes if you buy a more expensive vehicle, the deduction is just limited to the taxes on the first $49,500 that you pay.
The deduction will start to phase out if your income is over $125,000 and you are a single filer, $250,000 for joint filers.
The deduction is only good for your 2009 income tax return.
You don’t need to itemize to be able to take the deductions.

How will this work for you? Well, lets say you purchase a $30,000 vehicle and you pay 10% in state, local and excise taxes, or $3,000. You will get to deduct $3,000 from your taxable income for 2009. That will save you $450 if you are in the 15% bracket and $750 if you are in the 25% tax bracket.

Not enough to make me run out and buy a new car, but not a bad deal if you are going to buy one anyway!

What To Do When You Can’t Pay Your Taxes

April 15th has arrived, and you don’t have enough money to pay your taxes.  What are you going to do?

First of all, don’t panic. You are not alone. Every year thousands of people come up short when it comes time to pay the IRS.   Here is what you can do when you can’t pay your taxes.

First of all, file your tax return on time.  Pay whatever you can with your tax return.   This way you won’t be subject to the failure to file penalty, which can be as high as 25% of the tax due.  If you won’t have your tax return completed by Apirl 15th, you can file an extension.  But the extension is just and extension of time to file, not an extension of time to pay.

If you know you will be able to pay your taxes within the next few months, you can file and extension with a payment, and then file your tax return and pay the rest of your tax bill at that time. You will still be subject to interest and penalties, but you may be able to avoid the  convenience fees that come with paying your taxes by credit card, or the set up fee the IRS charges for an installment agreement.

But if you have a  really large tax bill, one that might take years to pay off, you are going to have to accept the fees and either  pay your taxes with your credit card, or you can request a payment plan (also known as an installment agreement) from the IRS.

To pay your taxes by credit card you need to go through an authorized payment company.  They will charge you a convinience fee, which is around 3% of the amount that you are paying.  You can find out more about paying by credit card here.

If you can’t or don’t want to pay your taxes by credit card, you can request a payment plan from the IRS. If you owe less than $25,000 and expect to be able to pay your taxes within 3 years your payment plan will usually be accepted. The IRS will charge you a user fee of $105.  You can get the fee lowered to $52 if you have your payments automatically debited from your bank account.  Low income taxpayers may qualify for an even lower fee. You can apply for an installment agreement online here.

Once you have your current taxes taken care of you need to make sure that you are not in the same boat next April 15.  If you are self-employed you will need to pay more with your quarterly estimated tax payments. If you are an employee, you need to ask your employer to withhold more taxes from your paycheck. I know it hurts, but that is the only way to avoid owing next year.

Over $1 Billion in Refunds Available

Have you filed your 2005 Income tax return yet? That is not a typo, I am asking about your 2005 tax return, not your 2008. The reason I am asking, is because I don’t want the IRS to be able to keep over a billion dollars in uncollected refunds. (Of course, used right that might make a small dent in the national debt.)

According to the Internal Revenue Service over 1 million people who may be due refunds did not file a 2005 tax return. The average estimated refund is over $500. If all of those people do not file a 2005 tax return by April 15, 2009, the IRS gets to keep the money. That would be a shame. I am sure you can put the money to better use than the IRS can.

Many of these refunds are due to people that had tax withheld from their paychecks, but didn’t make enough money to require a tax return. Lower income tax payers may also qualify for the Earned Income Credit which could make their refunds even larger.

So if you didn’t file a 2005 tax return because you didn’t think you needed to, you might want to look into it. What is really nice is that the IRS can give you information on how much was reported to them in income and withholding, so you don’t have to dig through all your old papers trying to find your 2005 W-2’s. But you do need to hurry. Your 2005 tax return must be filed by April 15, 2009, or the IRS gets to keep the money.

You can get current and prior year tax forms and instructions on the Forms and Publications web page of IRS.gov or by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676). Information about the Earned Income Tax Credit and how to claim it is also available on IRS.gov. Taxpayers who need help also can call the toll-free IRS help line at 1-800-829-1040.