2019 Tax Prep + Deductions

The Holidays are upon us and there is so much to do! Shopping (remember to buy gifts for special clients), holiday cards (everyone you’ve worked with over the past 5 years will receive one), parties and catching up with dear friends and colleagues. You may also find it advantageous to change your health insurance plan before open enrollment ends in your state, or make a retirement account contribution before January 1. It also makes sense to review the years’ invoices to calculate gross revenues and decide how to handle December billings.

Especially for invoices that are due on or after the 15th, should you keep those earnings in this year and invoice at the usual time, or invoice on January 2 and push earnings into next year? If you earned more than expected this year, consider pushing earnings forward, to limit taxable income. You could also make a retirement plan contribution, if you haven’t reached the year’s maximum amount (whether you bill clients in this year or the next). Here are a few more tax season preparation tactics to consider:

Find all invoices and confirm that they’ve been paid. Send a reminder to those clients who have not paid up. As noted above, calculate your revenues (i.e., income before deductions) and determine whether to invoice on time or later. Of course you can do other good things with your windfall, if you have one, such as registering for a class that will be held in the new year and paying for it now (and taking the deduction in this tax year).

Calculate your self-employment tax. In addition to our regular income tax, Freelancers are responsible for paying the 15.3 % self-employment tax levied on the first $132,900 of net income and 2.9% of net income beyond that amount. This tax represents the Social Security and Medicare taxes that traditional employees have taken out of their paychecks automatically. The amount includes as well the employer portion of those taxes, since Freelancers are considered both employer and employee.

Freelancers are able to write off business expenses for these categories:

Business-related travel, meals and lodging

Membership in business and professional associations

Office required equipment or materials

Home office. Most Freelancers work from home and are therefore eligible to take this deduction. The Internal Revenue Service allows independent workers to write off a corresponding percentage of rent/mortgage and utilities when our home is also our office. Get out your measuring tape and determine the dimensions of your workspace as a percentage of the square footage of your home to calculate the amount of your deduction. Be advised that office space must be used exclusively for self-employment work. One cannot, for example, “borrow” a child’s bedroom from 9:00 to 5:00 and consider that your home office.

Office equipment and supplies. One of the downsides of being a Freelancer is that we are unable to use an employer’s computer, scanner, printer, staples, or paper clips. We pay for that stuff out of our own budgets. But since we need certain resources to do client work, the IRS allows us to deduct their cost from gross sales revenues. To avoid IRS problems, keep your business and personal expenses separate. For example, check in with a smart accountant before you decide to deduct your cell phone or Internet service while using them only partly for work.

A real benefit for those who will buy office equipment is the Section 179 Deduction, which allows the business owner (or Freelancer) to write off the entire purchase price of qualifying equipment for the current tax year, up to $1,000,000. Qualifying items include office furniture, computers and software programs such as QuickBooks and InDesign.

Travel, meals, lodging. This category of deductions is the most confusing for Freelancers and business owners. We are allowed to deduct the costs of traveling to our work assignments, client meetings and conferences, including gasoline, tolls, parking, trains, planes, buses, or Uber/ Lyft. One cannot deduct costs associated with commuting to your separately leased or owned office space. Hotel/ airbnb/ B&B rooms are 100% deductible, except for personal expenses such as movie rentals or the mini-bar.

The cost of taking clients and prospects out for a meal are deductible at a 50% rate, while costs associated with company-wide parties, picnics and restaurant meals when at least half of your employees attend are 100% deductible. Keep all receipts —take a picture with your phone as back-up.

As with all Freelancing expenses, deductions must directly relate to one’s business. We cannot write off the tuition for a workshop on baking or flower arranging if one is a website developer, nor can we write off education that trains us for a new occupation. But if we take classes to earn certifications in our field or to enhance business knowledge, then we can typically write off all associated costs. The same is true for any licensing, registration, or certification costs that we incur.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Illustration: Henry Holiday The Tax Collector at Work, created for the Lewis Carroll poem The Hunting of the Snark (1876)

LLC vs. S Corp: Which One for Your Company?

At any point in the life of your business venture, you may choose to create for it a separate legal entity.  Creating a separate entity is essential for those businesses where the potential for liabilities associated with normal operations is an issue.  There are also potential tax advantages that derive from the establishment of a separate business entity.

There are two categories of business legal entities: corporations, Chapter S and C, and Limited Liability Company (LLC). Corporations are tax structures and are regulated by the federal government through the IRS.  LLCs are created and governed by the states.

Founded in the state of Wyoming in 1977 and now available in all 50 states plus Washington, D.C., the LLC is a comparatively more lenient structure than either the S or C Corporation and for this reason, it is the preferred entity for the majority of small businesses and Solopreneurs.  Unlike the S Corp, LLC members, as they are called, are unrestricted in number and are not required to be U.S. citizens nor must they reside here, with the exception of the Registered Agent, who receives official correspondence such as tax and legal documents on behalf of the entity and must reside in the state where the LLC was formed and operates.

Multi-owned LLCs are advised to develop an operating agreement (not required in all states) that along with the percentages of member ownership also specifies member titles and responsibilities, such as Managing Partner and Registered Agent.

In the LLC, whether single or multi-owned, all business income and expenses “pass through,” meaning they are reported on the members’ tax forms.  There is no double taxation of business and personal income for single-owner LLCs, but multi-owner LLCs must file U.S. Form 1065 Return of Partnership Income to report profits and losses.  All LLC owners must pay the self-employment tax, due quarterly (multi-owners pay on their share of entity ownership).

Real estate investors will find that the LLC is the only available legal entity option that allows passive income (rents) to exceed 25% of gross annual revenues.  A big added bonus of real estate LLCs is the ability to create a separate LLC for each property owned, thereby shielding the owner(s) and other properties held from cross-liabilities.

A drawback for owners who plan to attract investment partners (as opposed to those partners who operate the business) is the lack of stock, preferred or otherwise, and this represents a deal-breaker for venture capitalists, who do not invest in businesses structured as LLCs.  Even smaller investors prefer stock certificates to LLC member shares.  A positive for this structure is that it’s much less expensive to set up than are corporations, costing just a few hundred dollars for the filing (plus the initial set-up fee charged by your accountant or attorney).

If you are considering establishing a legal structure for your business, consider your plans for business growth and also your exit strategy as you do.  Growth may cause you to seek money partners, which could point you in the direction of the S Corp.  If you see venture capital or an IPO in your future, then only a C Corp will do.  If you might want to sell your company to employees as your exit strategy, or if attracting key C Suite level talent to your team would also point you toward the corporate structure, so that stock can be offered as an incentive.  If some of your business partners live outside of the U.S., or if acquiring real estate holdings is your business model, then only the LLC will be allowed.

It is strongly recommended that you consult with a business attorney or accountant before you file legal entity paperwork at the Secretary of State’s office.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Business Structure Face Off: S Corp vs. LLC

Whether you are preparing to launching a new venture or you’ve been operating as a Sole Proprietor (Sole Trader in the U.K.) for a few years, you may decide to establish a business legal entity for the enterprise. The benefits of creating a business legal entity, whether you operate as a Solopreneur or participate in a partnership that consists of independent professionals who occasionally collaborate (like dentists or physicians) or co-owners who run a business together, are:

1.) protection of business assets from (certain) financial liabilities

2.) reduced tax liability

Entrepreneurs and Solopreneurs who have no worries about legal actions that might arise from bankruptcy or other business debts (or client litigation) may comfortably operate as Sole Proprietors.  Business owners of any kind, plus the self-employed, may at some point decide to organize their venture as a corporation (either the original C Corporation or subchapter S Corporation) or a Limited Liability Company (LLC).

FYI in the U.S., corporations are tax structures that are overseen by the IRS (a federal entity) and LLCs are created and governed at the state level.  Application to form either entity is made at your state’s Secretary of State office or in Washington, D.C. at the D.C. Corporations Division.  In the U.K., business legal structures are obtained through and governed by your regional Companies House.

Regarding protection from financial liabilities derived from a business legal entity, actions that can be construed as negligence are considered to “pierce the corporate veil” and neither a C or S Corporation, nor an LLC, will shield negligent business owners.  But if the business goes into bankruptcy or serious debt, only business assets can be applied to cover those debts and if that amount is insufficient, the owner(s) will not be forced to use personal assets to pay what is owed.  Furthermore, the entity will not be liable for debts that exceed the value of the owner’s investment in that entity.  In other words, if an owner’s investment was $20K, that’s all the owner will be liable for, even if $30K is owed.

Now for a look at potential tax savings.  Unlike the older U.S. corporate structure, the C Corporation, there is no simultaneous tax of business and personal income in the S Corporation (i.e., no double taxation) and all the usual business deductions that you’ll find on IRS Schedule C  may be taken.  The S Corp allows owner(s) to pay themselves and all employees with W2 salaries, meaning that owners avoid the self-employment tax if it’s decided that you work for the corporation (instead of yourself).

A portion of what can be reasonably considered excess net profits can be paid to the owner(s) as a dividend distribution, in addition to the W2 salary, and the distribution is taxed at a much lower rate (from zero- 15%, depending on circumstances) than the W2 earnings.  This is one way that the rich get richer, Baby!

The owner’s salary must be considered reasonable for the industry, because the IRS will be looking.  Contact a savvy tax accountant so you’ll refrain from paying yourself $20K annually when $80K would be closer to the minimum for your industry and business Income Statement.  Shenanigans like that can cause the business to lose the S Corp status and land you in double-taxation-ville.

If business income is not so flush, your accountant may recommend that like a Sole Proprietor, S Corp owner(s) should choose the “pass through” tax format, where all income and expenses appear on the personal tax form(s) of the owner(s).  Be advised that partnership S Corps are taxed like a partnership and S Corps that elect the pass-through tax option will pay the quarterly self-employment tax on reported income.  Corporate taxes are filed no later than March 15, earlier than the rest of us.

In both the C and S Corp structure, the owner(s) is a stockholder, and multiple owners are assigned shares of company stock and receive a portion of business profits and losses according to their percentage of ownership. The S Corp allows only one class of stock.

On the downside, the rules for maintaining a corporate entity of either form are somewhat strict. S Corp owners must be citizens or residents of the U.S. and their number is capped at 100.  Every corporation is required to have a board of directors or officers (the owner and a Recording Secretary to take the annual meeting minutes, at least) and even solo corporation owners must hold an annual stockholder’s meeting.  Financial documents must be in good order. Minutes must be taken and kept on file.

Because there is only one class of stock allowed, those who plan to seek venture capital or take their company public must form a C  Corporation, so that the preferred stock that investors demand will be available.  Finally, the legal and accounting fees, as well as special state taxes where they apply, make the choice of either a C or S Corporation a four-figure annual commitment, so consider your choice of this option prudently.

Next week, we can resume the discussion with a look at the Limited Liability Company structure.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Exit Strategy: The Retirement Plan

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 15 million Americans were self-employed in 2015. That’s 15 million talented, ambitious, disciplined and self-confident citizens of our nation who’ve taken charge of their professional and financial future and they (we!) are to be congratulated.  According to the Bureau, self-employed business owners and Freelancers represent 10.1% of the population and they are surely the Talented Tenth.

Now for the bad news—self-employed professionals are not eligible for employer-sponsored benefits of any kind, unless they employ full-time workers and are therefore compelled to provide certain benefits that they would also receive.   Otherwise, the 15 million self-employed do not receive paid sick time, holiday time, vacation time, or employer cosponsored health insurance or retirement benefits.  In addition to the self-employed, there are many more millions who work in traditional employment on a part-time basis only, making them unable to receive employer-sponsored worker’s benefits.  Income inequality, anyone?

Let us consider the retirement fund matter, one of the two benefits issues that workers are able to self-fund (health insurance is the other).  If your finances allow you to set aside money that will be used to support you when you’re too old to work,  you will be wise to do so ASAP.

Examine your spending patterns.  How much are you spending on items that you want, but don’t need?  I don’t recommend that you deny yourself all gratification—we all deserve little luxuries every now and again—but some activities and purchases might perhaps be scaled back, allowing those funds to be redirected to prudent investments.

Budgeting a limited income is stress-producing.  Even those who work full-time may be forced to under-fund their retirement accounts, despite the employer matching contributions.  Wages have stagnated for 30 years and living expenses have done nothing but increase.  As a result, many of us are unable to save enough money.  Many elect to utilize money they’ve managed to save for a down payment on a house, rather than saving for retirement.  Financing one’s life 20 or more years from now must take a back seat.

According to the Government Accountability Office,  in 2015, approximately 50% of Americans had no retirement account whatsoever and 29% of those age 55 and older had neither retirement savings nor a pension.  Social Security is not a good fall-back option. The average monthly pay-out to retirees is only about $1294.  For the overwhelming majority, that’s not enough to carry one through more than half a month.

I consider the retirement picture in the U.S. as both a looming national emergency and a national embarrassment.  Corporate governance laws enacted during the administrations of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George Bush (son) that brought us globalization and the transfer of good paying jobs to other countries, in the process destroying for all time the ability of so many American citizens to earn a comfortable living employed in benefits paying full-time jobs, is the primary reason for this crisis.

The computer age has done the world no favors, either.  So now you can play with Snapchat on your Android while on break at your $12/hour job.  Yes, there have been magnificent technological advances that have helped in many fields, medicine comes to mind.  But are those benefits worth the livelihood of millions?  That’s a good question for the ethicists.

If at all possible, please start a retirement account.  Here are two options for Freelancers and those who work part-time at one or more locations:

myRA is a starter retirement account created by the Department of the Treasury. There are no fees associated with opening a myRA account and you can decide how much you’d like to contribute each month, according to your budget. Automatic withdrawal contributions can be set up through your bank account or paycheck.

If you change jobs, the myRA account is not affected. If you must take money from the account, there is no financial penalty to pay and no additional taxes are taken out. Like a Roth IRA account, myRA is funded with after-tax income. The maximum annual myRA contribution is $5500 and $6500 for those age 50 or older. The maximum amount that can be held in a myRA is $15,000.  Once the $15,000 limit has been reached (or before, for that matter),  the balance can be rolled over into a traditional retirement account.  https://myra.gov

Self-employed 401(k) profit sharing-plan (Solo 401 [k]) is funded with pre-tax dollars.  You can make contributions as both an employer (because you employ yourself) and as an employee (because you are employed by your sole proprietorship or single person LLC entity). Wearing your employer hat,  one contribution can be up to 25% of annual net profit, or $33,000 ($39,000 if 50 years or older) per year .  A second contribution of maximum $18,000 annually ($24,000 annually for those 50 years and older) can be made while wearing your employee hat.

Better still,  it’s possible to hire your spouse as an employee under this plan and s/he can contribute in the same way as you do,  meaning that your spouse can also contribute up to $53,000 ($59,000 if age 50 years or older) per year .  Open your Solo 401(k) account before December 31 if you’d like to make a tax-deductible contribution this year.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

 

2015 Year-End Tax Planning Thoughts

It’s mid-November and time for Freelancers to think about how much money we will hand over to the tax man this year. Tax planning is usually at top of mind as the year ends, but be advised that obsessing over taxes is not always useful. New York City CPA and small business tax specialist Michael Hanley recommends that you take a breath and consider the impact that aggressive tax strategies would have on your financial circumstances.

Hanley cautions small business owners and Freelancers against inflated spending on business expenses just to give themselves a lower tax bill, because tax deductions are not a dollar-for-dollar benefit. Every dollar written off as a deduction yields on average only 30 cents in tax savings (depending on your tax bracket and legal structure of the business). If you have a big-ticket item to buy and you anticipate that this year’s income and next year’s will be about the same, then buy when you can get the best price on the item, be it in this year or next. Your savings could be worth more than the tax deduction.

Hanley also addresses the apparently common tactic of zeroing out one’s business bank account by December 31. Paying for business expenses, adding to your retirement account, or purchasing business equipment or supplies will likely make the zero balance bank account tactic work. Paying yourself a bonus, taking a shareholder distribution if your business is a corporate entity, paying down your credit line at the bank, or paying off business credit cards will not give you legitimate tax deductions.

Professional development education is tax-deductible, so if you’re holding money and there is a potentially useful workshop or symposium offered late in the year, do register and attend. You might also consider throwing a Christmas party for clients, prospective clients, referral sources and selected business colleagues (meaning, no one who might steal a client!). Your Christmas party could turn out to be a networking bonanza that creates billable hours for you in the coming year (and beyond).

Clients and referral sources could come away with more business as well and that will make their relationship with you more valuable to them. If you can grab a big table or a private room in a restaurant that needn’t be fancy, but has a good reputation, then plan your party with Evite, even if a Monday night is all you can reserve.  Allow 7-14 days for the RSVP—last minute invitations can be just fine. Spontaneity has its charms, especially at this time of year.

To make sure that the social swirl and networking will be effective, invite 30 and expect 12 to show. Set out five or six finger foods and arrange for a signature cocktail. If someone asks for beer or wine, let them have it. Your party can run 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM. Most people will have two drinks, the restaurant will tell you how much food to set out. You will probably spend $60/pp, meaning that a table of 12 will cost less than $750.

You might also consider inviting your Linked-In connections to a party. It would be a wonderful way to introduce your colleagues to one another and billable hours could be created as a result. You may want to make this a pizza, salad, beer and wine affair, but so what? It’s a great idea, regardless. If you have 100 connections, plan on 25 showing up.

If it’s too late to host a party this year, the cards and stamps used for the December greetings that you’ll send to clients and referral sources are tax-deductible. If you act now,  there will be time to order specially printed cards for your business (you will still add a personal message).

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Year-End Tax Planning: Freelancer Options

It’s never too early to start a retirement plan and Freelance consultants are encouraged to set aside money whenever possible.  Be advised that contributions to a self-funded retirement plan are guided by your net earnings from self-employment.  If you net $80,000 this year,  then you may contribute 20%  of that amount,  or $16,000,  to a SEP IRA or Solo 401K plan.  If you are age 50 +,  a  “catch-up”  contribution of maximum $5,500  (in 2014)  can raise your total allowed retirement fund contribution  (and tax deduction)  to $21, 500.  The maximum amount that one can contribute in tax year 2014 is $52,000 and $57,500 for those age 50 +.  However,  if you are a high earner and you consult with a savvy tax specialist,  it may be possible to divert lots more tax-deductible dollars to a Solo 401K than is allowed with a SEP IRA.

 

SIMPLE IRA

The Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees Individual Retirement Account is a type of traditional IRA that is tailored for small business owners and self-employed Freelance consultants.  As with a traditional IRA,  contributions are tax-deductible and savings held in the account are tax-deferred until retirement withdrawals are made  (age 59 1/2 the youngest and age 70 1/2 the oldest).  If you have employees,  they may contribute to the SIMPLE IRA themselves and you the employer are required to make annual contributions as well,  whether or not the employee chooses to contribute.  You may make a 100%  match of the employee’s contribution,  but the maximum is 3% of your  net earnings,  or you may limit your employer contribution to 2%  of your  net earnings.

Any business entity that employs 100 or fewer workers may establish a SIMPLE IRA for employees and the owners,  too.  If you anticipate growth in your business that will likely cause you to hire even one full-time employee,  then consider a SIMPLE IRA,  because adding employees to the plan is relatively easy,  unlike other retirement plans.  The big downsides to SIMPLE IRA are 1).  the $12,000 annual contribution limit is considerably lower than that of SEP IRA and Solo 401K and 2). the  $2,5000  “catch-up contribution”  for Freelancers and business owners who are age 50 + is paltry by comparison as well.

However,  as a business owner or self-employed Freelance consultant,  you are your own employer and you may contribute to your SIMPLE IRA as both employer and employee.  You may add in up to 3% of net earnings,  in this example up to $2,400,  to contribute $14,4000 in 2014 and $2,500 extra if you are age 50 +.  Finally,  if you don’t make much money but you still want to set aside a little something for retirement,  if your net earnings from self-employment are $12,000 or less,  you may contribute 100% of the amount of your net earnings to your SIMPLE IRA.

ROTH 401K

A designated Roth Retirement Account is an individual retirement account that exists under the umbrella of your 401K,  solo or traditional  (if the 401K is set up to allow it).  Unlike SEP and Solo 401K,  Roth 401K contributions are made with after-tax income and when you are ready to access the account,  you will draw down tax-free money.   The 2014 maximum Roth 401K contribution is $5,500  ($6,500 for those age 50 +).

Your selection of a Roth designation within your 401K will depend upon your financial circumstances and you should meet with a reliable financial adviser in advance.  An individual or couple might choose a Roth when there are insufficient deductions to itemize at tax time,  thus negating the tax deduction benefit of the other retirement accounts .  The Roth,  paid with after-tax dollars,  gives account holders the benefit of tax-free income during retirement.   Wealthy Freelance consultants who are concerned about minimizing taxes during retirement may also benefit from the Roth.

You may have both a  (pre-tax)  Solo 401K and an  (after tax)  Roth 401K and it is permissible to use the salary-deferred portion of your Solo 401K to make a Roth 401K contribution.  Profit sharing Solo 401K contributions are not eligible to be made as a Roth 401K contribution,  since they are made pre-tax and are tax deductible and you cannot commingle the two.

While Roth 401K income-deferred contributions are NOT tax-deductible,  withdrawals made after age 59 1/2 are tax-free IF five years have passed since your first contribution to the Roth  (known as the 5 year rule).  One is NOT required to take distributions at least by age 70 1/2 and that feature may be useful for retirement cash flow planning.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Year-End Tax Planning: Funding Your Retirement

Happy November.  The year will soon end and it is time to put together a tax planning strategy while there is still time to plan and execute.  There may be business equipment to purchase,  upgrades to make to your website or a seminar to attend,  but we self-employed workers must also fund our retirement.  Traditionally employed workers must also fund their retirement,  but they get help from their employers.  Freelancers are our own employers and we must step up and do all that we can to stash a few tax-deductible dollars in the cookie jar,  so that we can eat when we’re 75.

Whether you’ll squeeze a few thousand dollars out of modest billable hours or you’re looking for a place to roll the overflow from a lucrative year,  saving for retirement is a superb tax planning strategy.  It is also a superb life planning strategy.  Under no circumstances do we want to be old and broke in America.  If one is single,  that is a real possibility.  This is not Europe and the government will not give us any financial assistance in a time of need,  even though we have been tax paying citizens our entire lives.

The good news is that there are good retirement plan options available to Freelancers with a few thousand dollars to spare and the discipline to save.  Also,  the retirement money can be invested in stocks,  bonds,  mutual funds or even real estate.  You might get lucky and see your investment really grow.  Taxes will not be paid until it’s time to draw down on the account  (age 59 1/2 the youngest and age 70 1/2 the oldest).

SEP IRA

The Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Account is modeled after the IRAs that every employer offers.  They are evidently the easiest type of retirement account to set up and there are minimal IRS reporting requirements involved.  Your job will be to find a brokerage firm that will set up the plan,  process your deposits,  maybe give you some investment advice and not kill you with administration fees.

Contributions are limited to 20% of your net earnings  (before the self-employment tax).  Contributions are capped at $52,000/year for tax year 2014 and the limit will increase every year or two,  to adjust for inflation.  A married couple who run a business together,  or are each Freelancers,  may open a joint account and save an annual maximum of $98,000 tax-deductible retirement dollars in 2014.  One cannot borrow against a SEP IRA.

SOLO 401K

The Individual 401K is modeled after a traditional 401K and once again,  the IRS filing requirements are uncomplicated and your job is to find a brokerage firm that will set up the plan,  process your deposits and not kill you with administration fees.  One may contribute money a little differently to a Solo 401K,  in that you may give yourself a  “salary deferral”  in a good year and stash up to 20% of your net earnings into the Solo 401K,  but the annual maximum contribution remains $52,000 in 2014  (the limit will rise modestly to adjust for inflation).  However,  Freelancers aged 50 +  can take advantage of the  $5,500 (max)  “catch-up contribution”  feature,  which allows those who are able to set aside more retirement dollars to do so and contribute up to $57,500/year in tax-deductible dollars.  Another big advantage of the Solo 401 K is that one may borrow against maximum one-half of the assets  (you must repay the loan with interest, to yourself).  Additionally,  a married couple who run a business together can start a Solo 401K retirement plan for the two and contribute up to $98,000 annually as of 2014 and $10,000 more with the catch-up contribution if both are age 50 +.

Next week,   we’ll look at the SIMPLE IRA and more retirement plan options.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Year End Tax Planning 2013

Lo and behold it is the first week of November and time for you to begin your year-end tax planning.  If you have an accountant or bookkeeper,  pick up the phone and make an appointment.   If you perform these functions yourself,  then take action now,  before Thanksgiving and Christmas ambush you.  Your mission is to minimize the tax bill payable in April 2014.

Let’s start with your place of business.  Do you work from home?  Then consider taking the home office deduction.

Next,  take a look at revenue generated in 2013.  If this was a lucrative year,  you are advised to push income into 2014,  especially if you expect next year to be less flush.   Study the matter before you invoice late 4th quarter projects.  Call clients to confirm that it will be OK to invoice in January.  Many are not on a January – December fiscal year,  so deferring payment until January may not be a problem.

If you expect no substantive change in revenue generated from 2013 to 2014,  consider investing in your business and creating additional tax write-offs this year,  rather than next.  Remember also  to make a contribution to your Solo 401K,  IRA or Roth retirement account.  Freelancers who have already celebrated their 50th birthday are eligible to make a maximum $22,000 tax-deferred catch-up contribution to their Solo 401K each year,  on money generated from self-employment only.

Further,  those who’ve had a good year and hold a Solo 401K may deposit up to 25% of their income into the account.  The tax-deductible and tax-deferred income limit is $49,000 for those under 50 years and $54,500 for those aged 50 years and older.  See my post https://freelancetheconsultantsdiary.wordpress.com/2010/11/09/the-self-employed-401k-plan/  for more information.

The Affordable Healthcare Act must now be factored into your year-end tax strategy.  Freelance soloprenuers who qualify for a health insurance subsidy (approximate income maximums of $45,000 for a single person household and $94,000 for a family of four)  need not worry about the subsidy being treated as taxable income.  However,  if your insurer refunds to you a portion of premiums paid,  that refund will be taxable and a 1099 will be sent.

Healthcare Act subsidies function to limit out-of-pocket  monthly insurance premium costs for those who generate revenues below a certain threshold.  The subsidy may be requested as follows:

1. Premium assistance credits, to reduce the monthly cost of health insurance

2. Up-front lump-sum payment

3. Tax credit on Form 1040, to reduce any taxes owed and perhaps create a refund

A statement that documents any subsidy will be issued and there will be an annual reconciliation.  If you underestimated your 2014 income,  you will be required to pay back a portion of your subsidy.  If 2014 income was overestimated,  then a refund will be somehow issued.  Visit the website of either your state or federal health insurance exchange to obtain information about how to estimate your 2014 income.

YOU will be responsible for monitoring your annual income and ensuring that you receive the correct subsidy.  Ben Tallman of Tallman Tax Service in Atlanta recommends that Freelancers monitor revenues and expenses at least quarterly and contact their health exchange and get themselves re-certified in the event of a large increase in income generated,  to reduce the chance of facing a subsidy claw-back at tax time.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Taxes: The Home Office Deduction

Are you about to do your taxes,  Freelancer friend?  Read this post first and find out if you are able to deduct expenses for your home office.  The IRS sets a high bar for this deduction,  but if you pass the qualifiers,  it’s all yours.  Tele-commuters and outside sales reps might also deduct home office expenses.

1.   The space must be used exclusively and regularly for business purposes only and not for your personal life.  The space must be used regularly for business  and not just a few times a year.   Those who live in small apartments are at a disadvantage because no room can be consigned to business only.   However  if you use the space regularly for business,   it is not necessary to partition it off to demonstrate that you have established a separate workstation.   A desk in a corner of a room qualifies as a workstation,  along with a  “border”  of a few square feet.  Outside sales reps who must store product samples and marketing collateral at home can also include storage space square footage in the home office deduction.

2.   Does your home office exist primarily for your convenience,  or for the convenience of your employer or clients?  If your employer or clients have provided a location at which you may regularly conduct business,  then you are not allowed to deduct home office expenses.  To take the deduction,  you must have no other work space available  (you and your computer at Starbucks is not a disqualification).  Employees and independent contractors may have to give documentation to the IRS.  A letter from the employer stating that there is no office space provided for you and/or receipts for un-reimbursed business expenses and supplies will suffice.

3.  If you have more than one home-based business,  all businesses must meet the first two tests:  you cannot have any office space made available to you by a client or employer and you must devote that space  exclusively and regularly to business.  If any entity for whom you work provides regular office space for you,  then you are not allowed to claim the home office deduction and it’s an all or nothing proposition.   However,  disqualification from the home office deduction does not mean you cannot deduct other business expenses.  You are still eligible to file Schedule C  (Freelancers/Independent contractors)  or Form 2106  (outside sales reps and other employees)  to deduct other un-reimbursed expenses incurred while doing business.

Are you ready to complete Form 8829 Expenses for Business Use of Your Home?  To get started,  measure the number of square feet used at home exclusively for business purposes  (maybe measuring storage closets and the area of your desk,  plus a  “reasonable”  border,  instead of an entire room)  and divide that number by the total square feet in your home.  If your office is 12′ x 12′,  you have 144 square feet of office space.  Let’s say your apartment has 750 square feet of space.  Divide the area of your office by the area of your apartment: 144/750 equals 0.192,  or 19.2%.

That figure represents the percentage of your home that is devoted to business,  the percentage of the year’s home expenses you may charge off to the business and deduct.  There are direct expenses and indirect expenses to calculate.  The fraction applies to indirect expenses,  i.e. the total year’s utilities,  rent/mortgage,  taxes,  home insurance,  etc.  For example,  if you spent $800.00 on last year’s electricity,  you may deduct 19.2 %  x  $800.00 or $153.60 for that category.  Expenses incurred solely for the benefit of your workstation are the direct expenses.  Office supplies,  postage and office furniture are direct expenses.  Add your direct and indirect expenses.

The final test is,  does your home office deduction exceed the revenue generated/income?  Your home office deduction cannot exceed the money generated.  So if your business earned $1000.00 and your home office deduction adds up to $1200.00,  you may only claim $1000.00 for your home office deduction.  But that extra expense does not get wasted.  You may carry it forward to add to a future home office deduction in a year when revenue exceeds expenses.

The bottom line Form 8829 number is recorded on Schedule C  (Freelancers /Independent contractors)  or Form 2106 and Schedule A  (outside sales reps and other employees).  Employees must itemize deductions  (hence Schedule A),  to which the home office deduction is added to other un-reimbursed business expenses and all other Schedule A deductions.  Those deductions must exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income.  For more detailed information specific to your situation,  speak with an accountant or tax attorney.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

2012 Year End Tax Planning

OK folks,  it’s time to think about what  to do before December 31,  so that you can reduce your tax burden.  If you retain an accountant or a business and tax attorney,  make an appointment to discuss year-end tax planning.  You will have a few of the following issues in mind:

Full deduction vs. Depreciation

Depending on how much money you’re on track to make this year and your ability to reasonably project earnings for next year,  you will either make purchases before December 31,  or wait until after January 1.   Further,  you will either take the full up-front deduction on business equipment,  or depreciate business-related purchases and spread the deductions out over several years,  to soften the tax bite on future earnings.

If you did well financially this year,  you’ll probably take the full deduction on business equipment such as your new computer,  printer,  scanner and/or smart phone this year,  to add more expenses to charge off against gross earnings.   But if subsequent years appear more financially rosy,  then use the depreciation method and spread those deductions forward.

Remember all selling expenses

With the passage of time,  it is easy to allow a few expenses associated with generating revenue to get lost in the shuffle.  Did you attend a professional development conference this year,  or take a course?  Did you buy business books?  Pay to attend networking meetings?  Pay dues to join the chamber of commerce or Rotary club? 

You may deduct these expenses.  Proper labeling and immediate filing of receipts and posting of expenses into QuickBooks,  Excel or even an old-school ledger ensures that you will take all legal deductions in the quarter where they should be documented.  Make it easy for yourself to take advantage of every allowable deduction.  If you have not been on top of this stuff,  start looking for receipts now,  before you get tied up with Chanukkah and Christmas,  and record the transactions,  so you’ll be all set for the January 15 quarterly tax filing.

Retirement plan contribution

Especially if you had a good year,  make the maximum retirement fund contribution.  If you are 50+ years old,  or will celebrate your fiftieth birthday on or before December 31,   you are eligible to make the catch-up contribution of $5, 500.00 maximum.  If revenues generated were not stellar,  try to make the largest retirement fund contribution you can manage  (if you can manage). 

It’s not always possible to set money aside for retirement,  unfortunately.  Making money is often difficult,  slow paying clients ruin cash flow and living  expenses are rising.  It’s been reported that 40%  of the self-employed have no retirement funds available.   Many drew down to stay afloat while re-engineering  professionally,  following a lay-off.  Others used retirement money to launch their business enterprise.   As a result,  the retirement fund deduction is much underutilized,  according to the IRS.

Home office expenses

If your fancy smart phone or land line with bells and whistles are dedicated to business,  then you may fully deduct their purchase and monthly billing charges.  Ditto for your office supplies,  internet connection and other office expenses.  You may also deduct a portion of your heating and electricity expenses  (based on the square footage of your office space as a percentage of your living space).

Create boundaries

The fail-safe way to keep track of business expenses is to open up a separate business checking account and maintain a business-only credit card and thus separate your business and personal spending.  Automatically,  there will be a record of all business expenses.  Most business credit cards will provide a year-end summary of charges,  to help you along  (AmEx does this regardless).

Before the year ends,  get your arms around your business expenses,   allowable deductions and the impact on your tax burden.  As millionaires know,  it’s not just what you make,  but also what you keep.

Thanks for reading,

Kim