The state of unemployment in our nation has been unprecedented. Currently, over 4 million Americans have been out of work for six months or more. Though the overall unemployment rate is down from its peak last spring, the percent of the unemployed who are long-term unemployed (LTU) keeps increasing and is currently at over 40%, a level of LTU comparable to the Great Recession but otherwise unseen in the U.S. in over 60 years.
Information on the CARES Act and the Payroll Protection Program(PPP) loans are all over the news. The Act made it possible for the self-employed to qualify for unemployment compensation for the first time.
After hearing the term self-employed used so much, I bet you may be wondering what being self-employed means and if it could be right for you.
Self-employment is when you work for yourself instead of an employer. You don’t have an employer who pays you a regular salary or wage, and you don’t receive a W-2 at the end of the year.
With 16.3 million people currently unemployed, many people with an entrepreneurial spirit are brainstorming ways to work for themselves.
- How do I know if I am self-employed?
- What is the definition of self-employment income?
- What are the different kinds of business entities?
- What are some allowable expenses when self-employed?
- What tax forms do the self-employed use?
- What tax do you pay when you are self-employed, and how do you calculate it?
- What percentage of the self-employment tax is deductible?
- What other tax deductions can I claim?
- Is health insurance a write off when self-employed?
- What type of retirement plans are available to self-employed taxpayers?
- What are some advantages and disadvantages of self-employment?
- What are estimated tax payments, and how do I make them?
- Is self-employment right for you?
What does it mean to be self-employed?
When you are self-employed, you find your work, rather than having it provided by your employer. Many occupations suit self-employment.
Self-employed individuals are usually highly skilled at a particular kind of work, such as writers, home improvement contractors, childcare providers, business consultants, wedding planners, and web designers.
What’s great about self-employment is you are your own boss!
The modern workforce is changing.
You are probably familiar with the gig economy as jobs available through apps like Uber, Lyft, and Etsy.
But the gig economy is more complex than you think. Gallup estimates that 36% of workers in the US are gig workers.
That means nearly 57 million Americans are working for themselves as freelancers, marketplace sellers, rideshare providers, as well as the traditional self-employed tradesmen and small business owners.
What business structure should I choose?
When you start working for yourself, you have a few choices in how you structure your business, which in turn determines whether or not you will have to pay self-employment tax.
I will explain self-employment tax after I quickly go over your choices of business entities.
There are generally four main choices: sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, Limited Liability Company(LLC).
I am going to go over the entity choices that generate self-employment tax.
You can learn more about these and the others here: https://www.sba.gov/business-guide/launch-your-business/choose-business-structure.
Let’s say you are out mowing your lawn one day, and from the look of all the overgrown yards on your street, you decide to start your own lawn care business. You finish your lawn, then knock on neighbors’ doors offering to cut their grass for $40. Three agree, and you made $120. You are now a sole proprietor.
If you continue your new lawn care business and don’t establish a formal business organization, any income or loss is yours. You will report this income on your personal tax return. You will pay self-employment tax on your profit.
The biggest concern with being a sole proprietor is that any legal liability is 100% yours.
However, sole proprietorships can be a good option for low-risk businesses. Owners can test their business idea before forming a more formal company.
LLC and Partnerships
A partnership is the simplest structure for two or more people who own a business and share its profits and liabilities. There are a few different kinds of partnerships, but in general, the partners will pay self-employment tax.
An LLC (Limited Liability Company) combines elements of a partnership, sole proprietorship, and a corporation.
If you establish an LLC, you are no longer personally liable for any debts or legal liabilities.
You can form a single-member LLC without a partner, and report the income on your personal tax return, paying taxes on your self-employment income.
Both of these entities are considered pass-through entities. At the business level, there is no tax for the pass-through entity. It is passed through to the owners and taxed at the individual level.
In the lawn care service scenario above, you would have had to file formal documents with your state and pay any necessary fees before charging for lawn care.
What is self-employment income?
You may have a few questions, such as “How do I claim self-employment income?” or “How is self-employment income calculated”?
You may also want to know how to file taxes if you’re self-employed, or if there are any special tax filings or specific self-employment forms.
When you work for an employer, your income is reported on your W-2.
If you are self-employed, you must report your income on Schedule C, filed along with your individual tax return, Form 1040.
On Schedule C, you calculate your net profit by recording all of the income and subtracting all of your business expenses.
If your net earnings(income less expenses) for the year are greater than $400, you must also file Schedule SE, which calculates and reports your self-employment tax.
If net earnings from self-employment are less than $400, no self-employment tax is due.
Income and Expenses
Some of your clients may report the income they paid you on Form 1099-Misc. However, even if you don’t receive a 1099, you are still responsible for keeping track of and reporting all income.
On Schedule C, you must report the income shown on all 1099s and any other monies earned, including any payments you received in cash. This is also where you will report your expenses.
Business expenses are costs you incur while operating your business.
Expenses may vary by industry, but some common examples are:
- Office equipment and supplies
- Advertising and marketing
- Small business insurance
- Permits and Licenses
- Dues and Subscriptions
- Legal, Accounting, and Professional Fees
The first step in becoming self-employed is to get organized. You should have a dedicated place to keep all of your business-related receipts and other paperwork.
Another good idea is to create a folder on your computer for any digital documents you may have.
It is essential to separate your personal and business finances.
You need to keep a separate bank account and credit card for your business. You should pay for anything related to your business out of these accounts.
Make sure all of your business income goes into this account as well.
You may want to consider using a product such as QuickBooks to keep track of the income and expenses related to your business.
If doing so, think about reaching out to a QuickBooks ProAdvisor who can help you get set up and start you out on the right track.
You should set aside time each week to work on your bookkeeping. As your business grows, you may want to hire an accounting and bookkeeping firm.
Self-employment tax is the same Social Security and Medicare(FICA) tax you would pay if you had an employer.
The difference is that when you have an employer, they share the expense with you. You each pay 7.65% of your wages.
So, how much tax do you pay when self-employed?
You pay 15.3 % on the first $137,700 of earnings.
Why is self-employment tax so high?
If you are self-employed, you pay both the employer and employee portion of Social Security and Medicare taxes.
What are some examples of tax deductions I can take?
Self-employment taxes may seem like a burden. However, there are a few significant deductions that can reduce your tax bill when you are self-employed.
Self-employment tax deduction
So, is self-employment tax an expense, and are self-employment taxes deductible?
Self-employment tax is not considered an expense and recorded on Schedule C. Nevertheless, you get to take a percentage of the tax as a deduction on your 1040.
How do you calculate the self-employment tax deduction?
The deduction is half of your self-employment tax or 50%.
In addition to this deduction, self-employment makes several other valuable deductions available as well.
Qualified Business Income Deduction
The Qualified Business Income Deduction (QBI) is a deduction that the self-employed and owners of pass-through entities can claim on their personal returns.
The deduction is up to 20% of qualified business income. You can take this deduction, whether you claim the standard deduction or if you itemize.
Want to know the difference between the standard and itemized deductions? Check this out: Standard? Itemized? What exactly do they mean?
There are limitations and special rules, so I suggest looking to a professional, such as an accountant or tax preparer for assistance.
Keep in mind; the QBI deduction does not reduce your business income or your self-employment tax.
Home Office Deduction
If you work from home or use part of it for your business, you may be able to deduct a portion of your home-related expenses.
Your deduction could include costs such as your mortgage or rent, property taxes, utilities, and repairs and maintenance from your primary residence.
There are two methods of calculating the home office deduction: The Simplified Method, which caps at $1500, and the Regular Method.
This method requires some calculations and considerations, so again, talk to your tax professional. You can also learn more here: Home Office Deduction.
Self-Employed Health Insurance
Is health insurance tax deductible for self-employed business owners?
This deduction is an adjustment to income rather than an itemized deduction. You can take advantage of this self-employed medical insurance deduction, even if you take the standard deduction on Form 1040.
You may be able to deduct the premiums paid for medical, dental, and qualifying long-term care insurance coverage for yourself, your spouse, and your dependents.
Being self-employed can lead to wear and tear on your car. Deducting mileage expenses using the standard mileage rate can offset some of that use. In 2020, the rate for business use of your vehicle is 57.5 cents per mile.
To take this deduction, you must track your business miles. There are many mileage tracking apps available.
QuickBooks Online has also integrated a mileage tracking system that is available in all versions, at no additional charge.
What counts as business mileage?
- Driving to meet a client or to a worksite
- Driving to a business meeting
- Driving to perform business errands, such a going to the post office.
- Driving to and from the airport if traveling for business.
What doesn’t count?
- Driving from your home to your office if your home isn’t your principal place of business.
Instead of using the standard mileage rate, you could also choose to deduct actual expenses. You would keep track of all payments for:
- Licenses and registrations
- Parking fees
- Lease payments or loan interest payments
- Repairs and maintenance
You should ask your tax preparer which method will get you a more significant deduction.
Self-Employed Retirement Savings
So, what kind of self-employed retirement plan are available?
The most common type of retirement plans available to the self-employed are as follows:
Simplified Employee Pension (SEP)
– You can contribute up to 25% of your net earnings from self-employment.
– You are allowed to contribute up to $19,500 ($6500 additional if you are over 50) as the employee. You can also contribute up to 25% of your net profit as the employer, not to exceed $57,000 in total.
Simple IRA Plan
– You can put all of your net earnings from self-employment, up to $13,500 ($3000 additional if you are over 50) into the plan. You can also make a 3% matching contribution as the employer.
Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs is crucial when starting a retirement plan.
Self-Employment Advantages and Disadvantages
Do you want to weigh the pros and cons of working for yourself?
Because if I’m honest, it’s not always easy.
- Savings on expenses such as work clothes, lunches, and commuting by working from home
- A flexible schedule
- No more rush hour
- Choosing your work assignments
- No boss to answer to
- Potential to earn more money
- Freedom to travel
- More time with your family
- Unstable income
- Difficulty finding clients
- Dealing with the loss of clients
- More responsibilities
- No paid vacations or sick days
- Possibility of paying more taxes
- Working 24/7
Is being self-employed worth it?
In addition to the pros and cons, I’ve discussed many tax breaks for the self-employed. But, even with these breaks, the taxes you have to pay can be rough.
Also, you have to provide your own benefits, such as insurance and retirement. Paying for health insurance yourself can be very costly.
In addition, major moves like buying a house can be more difficult when you are self-employed.
Banks prefer a steady paycheck when approving mortgage loans. You will have to have organized financial records because the bank will want proof of a reliable income.
Other areas of concern are dealing with unexpected expenses and clients who don’t pay timely.
For example, If your laptop gets fried, it’s up to you to replace it.
And if your clients don’t pay, you are the accounts receivable department that has to chase them down.
Estimated Tax Payments
Since self-employed workers don’t get paychecks with tax withheld, you are responsible for making estimated payment quarterly.
You can’t forget to set aside a percentage of your income each time you get paid so that you will be ready to pay that lump sum each quarter.
You may even want a separate bank account for this purpose.
Self-employment is very different from paying in a little with each paycheck.
Taxes are considered a “pay as you go” system. In general, if you expect to owe $1000 or more when file your taxes, you must estimate the amount of tax you will owe for the year and send that amount to the IRS as you owe it.
The calculations can quickly get complicated, so you will want to consult with your accountant. He or she will assess your situation and provide you with the amounts to remit each quarter.
The quarters are as follows:
- Q1- For the period January 1st- March 31st- Due date: July 15th, 2020
- Q2- For the period April 1st- May 31st- Due Date: July 15th, 2020
- Q3- For the period June 1st- August 31st- Due Date: September 15th, 2020
- Q4- For the period September 1st- December 31st- Due Date: January 15th, 2021
Note: The 1st and 2nd quarter due dates in 2020 were pushed to July 15th, due to the pandemic.
You can send in your estimated payments by mail using Form 1040-ES, or make them online by going to https://www.irs.gov/payments.
Keep in mind, changes in your life, such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, getting a second job, can all add up to a heftier tax bill than expected.
The last thing you want is an unexpected tax bill when you file your return.
You can read this article on how getting married can affect your taxes: 9 Things The IRS Doesn’t Want You To Know About Getting Married.
One of the best things to do before jumping into self-employment is to educate yourself on the tax laws and develop an organized record-keeping system from the start. Contact us to schedule your free consultation.
Ready to be your own boss?
Start here: 6 Easy Steps to Get Your New Business Started.
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