Now that we are getting down to the wire for filing individual taxes and those for freelance businesses structured as LLCs and corporations, it’s key to know the answers to these freelance tax FAQs so you can tackle your taxes in a timely manner. The following list of freelance tax FAQs can help you tame the most common points of confusion:
Like full-time employees, freelancers have to pay income, Social Security, and Medicare taxes. Unfortunately, if you make more than $400 a year from freelancing, you’re also required to pay self-employment tax.
As a freelancer, the general rule of thumb is that you can deduct any expense that is used in the service of your business. This includes, but is not limited to:
• Office supplies
• Rental expense of an office space
• Travel expenses (airfare, hotel, taxis, parking, public transportation)
• Marketing materials (business cards, brochures, online ads)
• Computer software (i.e. Microsoft Office, Adobe Suite)
• Professional fees (lawyer, accountant, bookkeeper)
• Health insurance premiums (Use page 1 on your 1040 or Schedule A, not Schedule C)
• Meals (You can claim 50% of the expense for meals you eat when away from home for work purposes or when entertaining a client as long as a substantive business discussion is involved)
To claim these deductions, you must both allocate the expenses accordingly and have the documentation/receipts to substantiate them. For example, if you work at home and use an internet service for business and personal use, you need to determine the percentage you use for each. You can then deduct the percentage of the total cost used for your business.
Most freelancers use cash basis accounting, meaning that income is reported in the year it was paid, not the year it was earned. So if you finished a project for a client in December, 2016, but weren’t paid until January, 2017. You would report the income as 2017 income.
Yes! Since you conducted business in this space with a potential new client, you can claim the coffee. Just make sure you document it and keep the receipt.
As of 2017, you’re eligible to deduct up to 53.5 cents per mile for business-related trips. The most efficient way to deduct this mileage is to keep a log of your total mileage, annotating each trip with the date, destination, and trip purpose. You can also deduct the cost of gas.
The cost of education that adds value to your business or improves your business skills is fully deductible. Education that isn’t related to your business is not a legitimate business expense.
To the extent that your laptop is used for business you can write it off. Most freelancers get to depreciate their equipment over five years (computers, camera equipment, fax machines, etc.) or seven years, depending on the life of the item. Some qualifying businesses can also take an exception that allows them to write off the entire cost of the product in the first year.
Depreciation is a reduction in the value of a tangible asset (i.e. a computer) with the passage of time, due in particular to wear and tear. The IRS requires you to allocate cost of this equipment over a certain number of years; it can’t be expensed immediately. Small businesses can accelerate this writeoff, with some IRS-stipulated caveats.
Amortization is the paying off of debt for intangible assets (i.e. housing or auto loans, research and development) with a fixed repayment schedule in regular installments over a period of time.
The IRS requires you to self-report all income on Schedule C, regardless of payment the method. This includes cash payments from clients or a payments from a friend that you received via PayPal if it was in exchange for your professional services.
These freelance FAQs should have you well on your way to being able to file your taxes without getting tripped up by common areas of confusion. Keep in mind, if you do need to reach out to a tax professional for help on your return, many will already be at their capacity with high volumes of returns during the last few weeks of tax season.
Jonathan Medows is a certified public accountant licensed in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. He is also a recognized expert in taxation for freelancers and the self-employed—often tapped for his expert knowledge and perspective on self-employment taxation by national and regional publications such as The New York Post, BusinessWeek, Forbes taxation blog, WebCPA, CPA Practice Advisor, and others. You can read some of Jonathan’s press coverage here.
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