7 things to do when starting a business to avoid nasty surprises

When you decide to start a business, taxes may be the last thing you think about. However, not realizing that you owe the self-employment tax as well as income taxes can lead to a nasty surprise when you file your taxes. This post is aimed at avoiding that costly surprise.

But, before we discuss the self-employment tax, there are other important steps to take when you become self-employed. Here are the 7 things to do after you start your own business to avoid nasty surprises:

1. Set up bookkeeping right away

Even before you think about income taxes, be sure to set up bookkeeping using software like QuickBooks (either online or on your laptop). You don’t want to be scrambling to find receipts at tax time or not be able to tell somebody if you are making money or not.

You can save time by downloading from your bank and credit card companies. If you become wildly successful, you can hire a bookkeeper to take over managing the input, downloading and reconciling.

If you set up things well, all income and every expense will be properly categorized for your profit and loss statement, or P&L, and for your balance sheet. The P&L is essential for preparing your tax returns. The P&L and balance sheet helps you monitor your business to see how well you are doing. The balance sheet will also come in handy if you need to apply for financing.

To ensure that your bookkeeping is set up well, you may want to consult with an accountant.

2. Form an entity

For many small businesses, being a sole proprietor is appropriate. You avoid paying corporate excise taxes and filing annual reports. For income taxes, you just file on Schedule C of the federal form 1040.

However, if you have partners, you may want to form a partnership, corporation or LLC. Details on choosing are beyond the scope of this post.

If your business involves risks that could lead to law suits, form a corporation or LLC to shelter your personal assets from liabilities of the business that insurance may not cover. Make sure that any actions you take for the business are in your capacity as an officer or manager – i.e., never sign personally.

To ensure that you make the proper choice of entity, you may want to consult with an attorney.

3. Get licenses, file annual reports and pay local taxes

Certain businesses require a license to operate. If you hire an attorney to form your LLC or corporation, she can check this out for you.

Most entities are required to file annual reports. If you are not a single member LLC, you also have to file income tax returns for the entity. The entity in turn provides you with the information for your personal tax return, which would be in the form of a K-1 for an LLC, partnership or S corporation.

Your city may impose taxes on the personal property in your business. Be sure to find out so you don’t owe penalties for failing to file and pay.

4. Buy health and other insurance

In addition to liability insurance, you will want to obtain health insurance if you are no longer working for another employer. You may get favorable treatment for this expense on your income taxes – the IRS allows the self-employed to deduct health insurance on the front of your form 1040 – an “above the line” deduction. In this case, the “self-employed” includes over 2% shareholders of private corporations and members of LLCs. You can also purchase insurance to cover damage to equipment, loss of data, identity theft and so on. You may want to ask your accountant or attorney if she can recommend anyone for your insurance needs.  

5. File payroll taxes

If you hire people to work for you and pay them over $600 per quarter in any year, you need to report the compensation. If they are independent contractors, you file a form 1099 with the IRS. If they are employees, you file a W-2 with the Social Security Administration. You also provide these forms to your people for the income tax filings.

If you have employees, you need to withhold and remit FICA and Medicare taxes. You have to remit what you withheld and make equal contributions to FICA and Medicare taxes for each employee. You will file and pay at least as often as every quarter.

Your employees may also request that you withhold and remit federal and state income taxes (unless you live in a state that does not impose income taxes). Failure to withhold and pay to the IRS and state can lead to serious penalties.

Check with your accountant or attorney to see which filings apply to your business and when they are due.

6. Pay your income tax

One big shock for many who start a business is how much they owe in taxes.

When you received a paycheck, you probably did not focus much on the fact that your employer withholds federal and state income taxes and FICA and Medicare taxes.

More importantly, you never had a chance to spend what was withheld. However, when you run your own business, you have full access to the pre-tax income, so you have to diligently allocate funds ahead of time so that you don’t come up short at text time.

To avoid owing interest on the taxes due, you make estimated tax payments each quarter to the IRS and state. Check with your accountant or attorney for payment vouchers and due dates.

7. Pay the self-employment tax

When you were an employee, your employer withheld FICA and Medicare taxes from your paychecks. The employer also contributed FICA and Medicare taxes on your behalf.

When you become self-employed, you are responsible for both the employee and employer amounts. This tax is based on your net self-employment income from Schedule C or the K-1 from your S corporation or LLC, and is calculated and reported on your federal form 1040.

A lot to remember, right? Maybe, but knowing and planning ahead is far better than trying to scrape together money in April to cover taxes you did not expect. Good luck with your new business!


Steven A. Branson, Esq., is the founder of wokemoney.com, a website devoted to empowering people as their own money manager launching later this year.  For nearly 30 years, Branson has been creating financial plans for individuals and families of all ages, coaching them on a personalized path to achieve their financial goals.  Branson has a law degree from Harvard Law School and is known for his financial articles geared toward young people.  In his spare time, he is a musician, a graduate of Berklee College of Music who leads his own jazz band, playing tenor sax, and a photographer, who contributes to 500PX.  Branson’s writing and financial tips can be seen at our blog at www.millennials-money.com and IRIS.xyz.

 

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