15 Tax Deductions & Benefits for the Self-Employed

Being self-employed has it’s perks— make sure you’re taking advantage of them all!

If you are your own boss, it feels great— but you know that there is more weight on your shoulders compared to when you were working for someone else. You’re responsible for generating your own income and keeping your business thriving and growing. You’re also responsible for all the bills and expenses that come with owning your own business. 

There’s good news for those who are self-employed: lawmakers have recognized these extra burdens on your shoulders and have written specific tax code to soften the blow of the extra costs you incur. It’s important that you claim every business tax deduction you qualify for in order to maximize your profits! Below you’ll find explanations of some common tax deductions available to the self-employed.

By Amy Fontinelle

1. Self-Employment Tax
The self-employment tax refers to the employer portion of Medicare and Social Security taxes that self-employed people must pay. Everyone who works must pay these taxes, which for 2018 are 7.65% for employees and 15.30% for the self-employed. Here’s how the rates break down:

  • 6.2% Social Security tax each for employee and employer on the first $128,700 in wages
  • 1.45% Medicare tax each for employee and employer with no wage limit

You will owe an additional Medicare tax of 0.9% in the following situations:

The income thresholds for additional Medicare tax apply not just to self-employment income, but to your combined wages, compensation and self-employment income. So if you have $100,000 in self-employment income and your spouse has $160,000 in wage income, you’ll have to pay the additional Medicare tax of 0.9% on the $10,000 by which your joint income exceeds the $250,000 threshold.

Paying extra taxes to be your own boss is no fun. The good news is that the self-employment tax will cost you less than you might think because you get to deduct half of your self-employment tax from your net income. The IRS treats the “employer” portion of the self-employment tax as a business expense and allows you to deduct it accordingly. What’s more, you only pay self-employment tax on 92.35% of your net, not gross, business income.

Remember, you’re paying the first 7.65% no matter whom you work for. And when you work for someone else, you’re indirectly paying the employer portion because that’s money your employer can’t afford to add to your salary.

2. Home Office
The home office deduction is one of the more complex deductions. In short, the cost of any workspace that you use regularly and exclusively for your business, regardless of whether you rent or own it, can be deducted as a home office expense. You are basically on the honor system, but you should be prepared to defend your deduction in the event of an IRS audit. One way to do this is to prepare a diagram of your workspace, with accurate measurements, in case you are required to submit this information to substantiate your deduction, which uses the square feet of your workspace in its calculation.

In addition to the office space itself, the expenses you can deduct for your home office include the business percentage of deductible mortgage interest, home depreciation, property taxes, utilities, homeowners insurance and home maintenance that you pay during the year. If your home office occupies 15% of your home, for example, then 15% of your annual electricity bill becomes tax deductible. Some of these deductions, such as mortgage interest and home depreciation, apply only to those who own rather than rent their home office space.

You have two choices for calculating your home office deduction: the standard method and the simplified option, and you don’t have to use the same method every year. The standard method requires you to calculate your actual home office expenses. The simplified option lets you multiply an IRS-determined rate by your home office square footage. To use the simplified option, your home office must not be larger than 300 square feet, and you cannot deduct depreciation or home-related itemized deductions.

The simplified option might be a clear choice if you’re pressed for time or can’t pull together good records of your deductible home office expenses. However, because the simplified option is calculated as $5 per square foot, with a maximum of 300 square feet, the most you’ll be able to deduct is $1,500. If you want to make sure you’re claiming the largest home office deduction you’re entitled to, you’ll want to calculate the deduction using both the regular and simplified methods. If you choose the standard method, calculate the deduction using IRS form 8829, Expenses for Business Use of Your Home.

3. Internet and Phone Bills
Regardless of whether you claim the home office deduction, you can deduct your business phone, fax and internet expenses. The key is to deduct only the expenses directly related to your business. If you have just one phone, you shouldn’t deduct your entire monthly bill, which includes both personal and business use. You should only deduct costs that specifically relate to your business. If you have a second phone line that you use exclusively for business, however, you can deduct 100% of that cost. By the same token, you would only deduct your monthly internet expenses in proportion to how much of your time online is related to business – perhaps 25% to 50%.

4. Health Insurance Premiums
If you are self-employed, pay for your own health insurance premiums and were not eligible to participate in a plan through your spouse’s employer, you can deduct all of your health, dental and qualified long-term care insurance premiums. You can also deduct premiums that you paid to provide coverage for your spouse, your dependents and your children who were younger than 27 at year-end, even if they aren’t dependents. Calculate the deduction using the Self-Employed Health Insurance Deduction Worksheet in IRS publication 535.

5. Meals
A meal is a tax-deductible business expense when you are traveling for business or entertaining a client. The meal cannot be lavish or extravagant under the circumstances, and you can only deduct 50% of the meal’s actual cost if you keep your receipts, or 50% of the standard meal allowance if you keep records of the time, place and business purpose of your travel but not your actual meal receipts. The lunch you eat alone at your desk is not tax deductible.

6. Travel
To qualify as a tax deduction, business travel must last longer than an ordinary workday, require you to get sleep or rest and take place away from the general area of your tax home (usually, outside the city where your business is located).

Further, to be considered a business trip, you should have a specific business purpose planned before you leave home, and you must actually engage in business activity – such as finding new customers, meeting with clients or learning new skills directly related to your business – while you are on the road. Handing out business cards at a bar during your friend’s bachelor party won’t make your trip to Vegas tax deductible. Keep complete and accurate records and receipts for your business travel expenses and activities, as this deduction often draws scrutiny from the IRS.

Deductible travel expenses include the cost of transportation to and from your destination (such as plane fare), the cost of transportation at your destination (such as a car rental, Uber fare or subway tickets), lodging and meals. You can’t deduct lavish or extravagant expenses, but you don’t have to choose the cheapest options available, either. You, not your fellow taxpayers, will be paying the bulk of your travel costs, so it’s in your interest to keep them reasonable.

Your travel expenses for business are 100% deductible, except for meals, which are limited to 50%. If your trip combines business with pleasure, things get a lot more complicated; in a nutshell, you can only deduct the expenses related to the business portion of your trip – and don’t forget that the business part needs to be planned ahead.

7. Vehicle Use
When you use your car for business, your expenses for those drives are tax deductible. Make sure to keep excellent records of the date, mileage and purpose for each trip, and don’t try to claim personal car trips as business car trips. You can calculate your deduction using either the standard mileage rate (determined annually by the IRS; it’s 54.5 cents per mile in 2018) or your actual expenses.

The standard mileage rate is the easiest because it requires minimal record keeping and calculation. Just write down the business miles you drive and the dates you drive them. Then, multiply your total annual business miles by the standard mileage rate. This amount is your deductible expense.

To use the actual expense method, you must calculate the percentage of driving you did for business all year as well as the total cost of operating your car, including gas, oil changes, registration fees, repairs and car insurance. If you spent $3,000 on car operating expenses and used your car for business 10% of the time, your deduction would be $300. As with the home office deduction, it may be worth calculating the deduction both ways so you can claim the larger amount.

8. Interest
Interest on a business loan from a bank is a tax-deductible business expense. Credit card interest is not tax deductible when you incur the interest for personal purchases, but when the interest applies to business purchases, it is tax deductible. That said, it’s always cheaper to spend only the money you already have and not incur any interest expenses at all. A tax deduction only gives you some of your money back, not all of it, so try to avoid borrowing money. For some businesses, though, borrowing may be the only way to get up and running, to sustain the business through slow periods, or to ramp up for busy periods.

9. Publications and Subscriptions
The cost of specialized magazines, journals and books directly related to your business is tax deductible. A daily newspaper, for example, would not be specific enough to be considered a business expense, but a subscription to “Nation’s Restaurant News” would be tax deductible if you are a restaurant owner, and Nathan Myhrvold’s several-hundred-dollar “Modernist Cuisine” box set is a legitimate book purchase for a self-employed, high-end personal chef.

10. Education
Any education expenses you want to deduct must be related to maintaining or improving your skills for your existing business; the cost of classes to prepare for a new line of work isn’t deductible. If you’re a real estate consultant, taking a course called “Real Estate Investment Analysis” to brush up on your skills would be tax deductible, but a class on how to teach yoga would not be.

11. Business Insurance
Do you pay premiums for any type of insurance to protect your business, such as fire insurance, credit insurance, car insurance on a business vehicle or business liability insurance? If so, you can deduct your premiums. Some people don’t like paying insurance premiums because they perceive them as a waste of money if they never have to file a claim. The business insurance tax deduction can help ease that dislike.

12. Rent
If you rent out an office space, you can deduct the amount you pay for rent. You can also deduct amounts paid for equipment you rent. And if you have to pay a fee to cancel a business lease, that expense is deductible, too. But you can’t deduct rent expenses on any property that you own even partially.

13. Start-Up Costs
The IRS usually requires you to deduct major expenses over time as capital expenses rather than all at once. However, you can deduct up to $5,000 in business start-up costs. Examples of tax-deductible start-up costs include market research and travel related to starting your business, scoping out potential business locations, advertising, attorney fees and accountant fees. If you set up a corporation or LLC for your business, you can deduct up to $5,000 more in organizational costs such as state filing fees and legal fees. Professional fees to consultants, attorneys, accountants and the like are also deductible any time, even if they aren’t start-up costs. Business expenses such as buying equipment or vehicles aren’t considered start-up costs, but they can be depreciated or amortized as capital expenditures.

14. Advertising
Do you pay for Facebook ads, Google ads, a website, a billboard, a TV commercial, or mailed flyers? The costs you incur to advertise your business are tax deductible. You can even deduct the cost of advertising that encourages people to donate to charity while also putting your business’s name before the public in the hope of gaining customers. A sign advertising “Holiday Toy Drive sponsored by Robert’s Hotdogs,” for example, would be tax deductible.

15. Self-Employed Retirement Plan Contributions
One deduction you can take going into business for yourself that is especially worthwhile: the deduction for self-employed retirement plan contributions. Contributions to SEP-IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs and solo 401(k)s reduce your tax bill now and help you rack up tax-deferred investment gains for later.

For the 2018 tax year, for example, you could feasibly contribute as much as $18,500 in deferred salary ($24,500 if you’re 50 or older) plus another 25% of your net self-employment earnings after deducting one-half of self-employment tax and contributions for yourself, up to a maximum of $55,000 (not counting catch-up contributions) for both contribution categories, with a self-employed 401(k). Contribution limits vary by plan type, and the IRS adjusts the maximums annually. Of course, you can’t contribute more than you earn, and this benefit will only help you if you have enough profits to take advantage of it.

The Bottom Line
Most small business tax deductions are more complicated than this brief overview describes – we are talking about the tax code, after all – but now you have a good introduction to the basics. There are also more deductions available than those listed here, but these are some of the biggest ones. Office supplies, credit card processing fees, tax preparation fees and repairs and maintenance for business property and equipment are also deductible, and still other business expenses can be depreciated or amortized, meaning you can deduct a small amount of the cost each year for several years.

Remember, any time you’re not sure whether a cost is a legitimate business expense, ask yourself, “Is this an ordinary and necessary expense in my line of work?” This is the same question the IRS will ask when examining your deductions if you get audited. If the answer is no, don’t take the deduction. And if you’re not sure, seek professional help with your business tax return from a certified public accountant.

If you’re self-employed, do you have any tips or tricks for maximizing your tax deductions and benefits? Let us know in the comments, and visit our Services page to see how we can help you!

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Do you really know what your business is worth?

Knowing the real value of your business is essential to your future plans.

As a business owner, you’ve put in many long hours, days and nights to make your company as successful as possible. You’ve probably handled or managed every single aspect of the business, from finances to admin tasks and even manual labor. But how do you know how much all that hard work will pay off when you go to sell or transfer ownership of your business down the road, when you’re ready to retire?

The article below describes the many reasons why it is so important to have an accurate valuation of your business. At Flagship Financial, we want to help you understand that value so you can retire worry-free. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

By Kent Bernhard

When you sell a car, you’re not selling what it did for its owner in the past. You’re selling what it can do for its new owner in the future. The prospective owner will look under the hood, maybe get a mechanic to check it out. They will make sure everything is in order.

The same goes for a business. Problem is, when most business owners think of the value of their company, they’re stuck in the past, says Chuck Richards, CEO of CoreValue Software, a business consulting system. Many owners only look backward at past financial performance or estimate value based on rule of thumb.

The 2018 Business Owner Perspectives Study by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual) shows 70% of business owners think frequently or often about their business value. But they don’t always have an accurate sense of what that value is, or use the most effective methods to arrive at valuation. They rely on extrapolations from revenue or rule-of-thumb estimates based on competitors in their industry instead of consulting with professionals who can give them more accurate measurements.

That lack of accuracy can cause problems when it comes to selling their businesses, or otherwise extract value through a loan, buy-sell agreement, or transfer of the business to a management team or an owner’s heirs.

For example, Richards says, a manufacturing company generating $1 million in revenue may be considered to be worth $5 million under a model that only takes into account the company’s finances or the marketplace rule of thumb. But buyers are making the purchase based on the expectation of revenue they can generate once they own the business.

“The issue with that model is the assumption the person who acquires that business can also generate that $1 million,” Richards says. “People are buying it for its future income generating potential.”

Inaccurate valuations cause multiple problems

It’s not just a sale that can suffer if a business owner’s take on valuation is faulty. Many aspects of managing a business and living a business-owner lifestyle rely on a proper valuation, including:

Funding retirement: For most business owners, the most valuable thing they own is their business. Their retirement is built upon either a successful sale, or the continued success of business operations, which flow from the value of the business.

Funding a buy-sell agreement: Accurate valuation is crucial to making sure all parties in a buy-sell agreement are treated fairly.

Estimating estate tax obligations: An inaccurate valuation can leave you flat-footed when it comes to estate taxes.

Obtaining credit: While lenders look at such numbers as revenue and years in business, they also want an accurate sense of the value of your business.

Crafting a division of the estate: An inaccurate valuation of a business owner’s greatest asset can lead to ill-designed distribution of his or her estate among heirs.

John Warrillow, author of Built To Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You and founder of The Value Builder System, says the trouble with using a rule of thumb, or a straight comparison with other companies in a given industry, is that it can wildly over- or undervalue a business.

“They are a blunt instrument,” he says. “They are not sophisticated enough.”

Warrillow says you can easily see the flaw in using rule-of-thumb comparable valuations when you look at specific companies. For example, Warrillow says, typically a company in the payroll industry can expect to trade at five to six times EBITDA. But a firm he works with had defined its niche so well – providing payroll services for nannies – that it sold for $54 million, 500 percent more than could have been expected using rule of thumb.

“She built out a highly-differentiated, niche product,” he says, noting a proper valuation put the owner in position to secure so much more in the sale of her company.

Faulty valuations can also put business owners in difficult later-life situations. For instance, an owner who overvalues his or her business could wind up taking a hit when it comes time to sell that business to fund retirement. An owner who undervalues their business could also leave heirs with unexpected estate tax bills.

Richards recalls a couple who wanted to sell their business. The business had assets of $1.3 million and revenue of $700,000 and the couple decided to value the business at what seemed like a low price, $1. 5 million. Trouble arose when they didn’t have any way to show that revenue would continue on its current path. Thirty-two prospects looked at the business, and none were willing to pay the asking price.

“It comes back to the ability to prove to a buyer that they can generate the same kind of income,” Richards says. Ultimately, that business sold for $2.4 million, but only after establishing the measurements and processes to put it on a solid revenue path for operating without the original owners.

Warrillow and Richards both advocate taking a more holistic look at a business than just rule of thumb or even revenue to determine valuation. Factors such as niche, whether the business can remain on track without its current owner, and potential market growth all play roles in valuation.

At the very least, hiring a business appraiser who will look at the major value drivers of a business can be money well spent. As a business owner, even if you’re not planning an immediate sale or other liquidity event, an accurate idea of valuation can give a sense of how your most important asset is doing in the marketplace.

“What’s the measure of a public company? Market cap. The same is true of a private business,” says Richards. “Your job as a CEO is to make it more valuable.”

Let us know what you think about this topic in the comments below. If you’re ready to schedule a consultation with us to find out what your business is worth, please click here!

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7 Tips to Growing Your Business

by A.C. Brian

As a business owner, one of the main challenges I face is growing my business. You know the drill. You come up with an idea that’s “the next big thing”. You develop your product (or service), fill out all the state required LLC paperwork, build a website, and begin marketing. Soon customers start rolling in, and you start getting some traction. Excitement starts to build. Maybe you can actually do this thing…

But fast forward 2 years and your business seems to be in the same spot. You produce a quality product and have great relationships with your customers, but you are barely making ends meet. Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Many a business owner/entrepreneur have found themselves in your spot.

In order to bring in the profit you desire, you need to scale your business.

scale your business

I ran into an article on Facebook a while back called 7 Tips for Growing Your Business Quickly and Sustainably. I’ll summarize my takeaways below:

  1. It’s All About the Data – “The more you know, the more you grow”. Get the data that revolves around customers and potential clients. Data such as: how long it takes customers to move through your sales funnel, how long they remain customers, why they leave or stay, how they engage with you, what attracts their attention, what are the biggest issues with your product/service, what they love about you, etc.

business growth strategies
Source: best consult

  1. Keep Things As Simple As Possible – Complexity kills in business. It’s the key dynamic that slows or hinders progress. Keep your processes simple to make it easy to stay engaged with your clients and drive efficiency.
  2. Ask For Help When You Need It – It’s not a sign of weakness to need help as a business owner, it’s actually a sign of strength to admit that you need it. Don’t struggle alone. You’ll be surprised at how willing people are to help you.
  3. Time Is Your Most Precious Commodity – The one thing you cannot create more of, no matter how much you make, is time. You only have 24 hours in a day, so be ruthless with your time. The more efficient you are with your time, the more you will have control over scaling your business.
  4. Just say NO! – Seriously, just say NO to anything that isn’t directly aligned with your goals. Say NO to mediocrity. Growing your business requires you to make the tough choices and say NO, because you need to function at the highest level.

growing a small business
Source: jsib

  1. Be Adaptable – Be firm in the goals you have set, but be flexible and adaptable with how they are met. Develop the ability to switch directions quickly in response to the market. Don’t be afraid to change course to go where your ideal customers are.
  2. Continually Invest In Yourself – Your business growth mirrors your own personal growth. Be coachable. Seek out mentoring. Join a mastermind group. If you don’t grow as a person, neither will your business. An investment in yourself is an investment in your business. Never stop learning.

This article first appeared on Inc.com and was written by Gordon Tredgold. You can find the original here