What You Need to Know About Hiring Contract Labor

Construction experts

Photo by Julien Harneis on Flickr.com

I’ve done a lot of blog posts about what to do if you’re the contract labor, but the other day I had a client ask me about hiring contract labor. Here’s what you need to know if you’re doing the hiring.

First, you don’t need a “contract” with them.  Contract labor is a term that’s used to mean they are working for you, but they are not on the payroll. For some things, it’s good to have a contract, but often it’s not necessary.

Second, never pay in cash—always pay by check.  A check shows where you paid the money to – it’s a paper trail of how your business spent it’s money.  That’s a good thing.  The number one mortal sin in business accounting is making cash payments.  Never take cash out of the ATM for your business; never pay bills in cash.  You can use a “petty cash” account for really minor things, but there should be receipts for everything and a check should be written for “petty cash”.  Cash gets you into trouble so you have to be doubly careful with it. If you remember nothing else, remember:real businesses do not pay bills with cash!

Third, although you don’t need a contract for the people who do work for you, you do need to have them fill out a form called a W-9.  Here’s a link to get the form: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw9.pdf

Say for example that John Doe was doing some construction work for your business and over the course of the year you thought you might pay him over $600.  You would have him complete the W-9 form for your records.  (I even had my own kid do a W-9 and I didn’t expect her to make over $600.  It’s just a good business habit.) I recommend having your contract labor give you the completed W-9 before you make the first payment. This keeps your behind covered in case the IRS or one of the other taxing jurisdictions decides to audit your books.

Anyway, on the form, John Doe would list his name under “name”.

For business name, he would leave it blank unless he had a business with a different name like “John’s Construction Business.”

Under the business type, he’d be an individual/sole proprietor (once again, unless he owned a regular business that was a corporation or something.)

He’d put down his address, zip code etc.  He probably wouldn’t have an account number for you, but if he did, he could put it in the box. It’s not necessary.

Requester’s name is “Your Business Name.”  You don’t really need to fill that out, you know who you are. If he’s completing the form right in your office, it’s okay to leave blank. If you’re mailing it to him, then you should put your business information in that box.

The TIN is John Doe’s social security number, unless he has a business EIN number.   A regular business will know the EIN number and use it. If the person doesn’t know what an EIN is, then he should put his social security number. This W-9 form gives you good records and will protect you in an audit.

Make sure your contract laborer understands that if he receives over $600 from you, then you will be reporting his pay to the IRS as non-employee compensation. You need to do this or else the IRS will not allow you a deduction for the money you paid him.

You will need to prepare 1099 MISC forms in January (they’re easy to do.) Your contract laborer will receive his form by January 31st. You’ll also be sending copies to the IRS which are due at the end of February.

Hiring contract labor is much easier than putting someone on the payroll, but you do have to remember the rules: pay by check, get a W-9, and issue a 1099 MISC. These three things will help audit-proof your contract labor.

Two State Tax Returns: Live in One State, Work in Another

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I get a lot of questions from people about working in one state and living in another. That’s pretty common here in Saint Louis where we have lots of folks living in Illinois that come over the river to work here and vice versa. Today I’m going to talk about doing your tax return when you have two states to deal with.

First, the technical words you need to know:

The state you live in is called your resident state. There will probably be a check box or something like that in your computer program. If you live in Illinois, then your resident state is Illinois.

The state you work in (but don’t live in) is called the non-resident state. In this example, Missouri is the non-resident state.

Tax liability: This is not your refund or the amount of money that was withheld on your W2. Tax liability is a number computed when you prepare the state tax return. It will say “tax liability” on your state income tax form. This is the dollar amount the state says that you owe them for taxes before they take into account what you’ve already paid through your withholding or estimated payments.

That’s not so hard, right? Next, you need to make sure you do your tax returns in the right order:

Always do the federal return first. Make sure that it’s done and that it’s right before you start your state returns. If you finish, and then go back in to make changes to the federal, you’ll have to go back and double check everything on the state returns and that can be a pain in the back, so finish the federal first.

Next, do the non-resident state—that’s the state you work in. That one’s easiest. You only pay tax in that state for the wages you earn in that state. Usually, when preparing a non-resident state return, there will be a check box that says “non-resident” somewhere in your software. Be sure to check it. You’ll want to make note of your “tax liability” for the non-resident state. You’ll need that number for your resident state return.

After you’ve finished the non-resident state, then you can prepare your resident state return. You resident state is going to tax all of your income (including the wages you earned in the other state.) The resident state will include your wages, interest, dividends, stock trades, retirement income, and basically everything else that’s taxable.

Things to know about the resident state return:

Even though you pay tax on all of the income you earn to your resident state, you will get a credit for taxes paid to another state. For example: using our Illinois/Missouri return again—since you paid income tax to Missouri for the wages you earned while working there, Illinois will give you a credit for those taxes paid so you won’t end up having to pay twice for working in another state.

The form you need to complete will have different names depending on the state, but it will basically be called a Credit for Taxes Paid to Another State. Sometimes it will be listed as an NR Credit. Depending on which software you use, you might have to dig for it. Some software programs are really easy and it will just pop up automatically when it recognizes that you have multiple states.

Remember the tax liability number I told you to remember? Well that’s going to go on your NR Credit form. Some software is really good at automatically plugging it in for you. In some other programs, you’ll have to manually enter it. The important thing is that you know that number needs to be there and that you know to look for it.

I’m getting a really big refund from my resident state, can that be right? Most likely not. When you see an unusually large state refund, it’s always a good idea to take a closer look. Check to make sure that the income numbers match up to the federal return and that the Credit for Taxes paid to another state was computed properly. It’s rare to get a big refund to your resident state unless you’ve had some other income that had withholding. The credit for taxes paid to another state usually will almost never be more than what you would have paid for taxes in your own state.

I’m showing that I owe a whole lot of money to my home state, can that be right? Maybe yes, but maybe no. The first thing you want to check is that you’ve taken your credit for taxes paid to another state. That’s the most common problem when you owe a lot. Other factors could be working in a no-tax state while you’re living in a taxing state. For example, let’s say you live in Louisianna but work across the border in Texas. You won’t pay taxes in Texas so there’ll be no credit for taxes paid there. In a case like that, you’ll definitely owe. Also, you could have a big difference because the states have different tax rates. For example: Missouri’s tax rate used to be twice as much as Illinois. If you lived in Missouri and worked in Illinois (opposite of our example earlier), you’d still owe Missouri about as much again as what you paid Illinois. (Now the rates are much closer, but people who live in Missouri and work in Illinois will still wind up owing extra for their Missouri taxes.)

What if I live in a reciprocal state? Some states have arrangements with their neighboring states to share tax information and tax revenues. In a situation like that, you’ll just pay taxes in your home state. The states will actually sort out who gets how much of your tax money. Usually, it’s simply a matter of checking the “reciprocal state” button in the software.
For most people, if your federal return is fairly simple, preparing two states is not that difficult. Use a good software program, follow these directions, and you should be fine.


Filing a Tax Return For Your LLC

Rosebud business solutions is a boost for businesses

Photo by Lancashire County Council on Flickr.com

If you’ve started a new business and you filed the Articles of Organization in your state to become an LLC, then here are some things you need to know about filing taxes for your new company.

First, there is no such thing as an LLC tax return.  I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true.  Every year, thousands of people walk into their accountants’ offices and say, “I want to file an LLC tax return!”   This is what accountants joke about at their conventions and at the water cooler.  We even post silly You Tube videos about it.  This post is to help you not be the butt of some dumb accounting joke.

An LLC is a Limited Liability Company.  One of the most common mistakes people make is that they think LLC means “Corporation”, it doesn’t.  If you have an LLC, you probably are not going to file a corporation return (although you might, I’ll discuss that later).

The IRS considers an LLC to be something they call a “disregarded entity.”  That means that it doesn’t have a specific tax document that goes with it.  If your LLC only has one “member” (member is LLC-speak for owner) then the default tax return for your LLC is a Schedule C which is part of your 1040 income tax return.  It’s due on April 15th just like any other individual tax return.

If your LLC has two or more members, then by default you are considered to be a partnership and you must file a partnership return, form 1065.  Form 1065 is due on April 15th also, but it’s a good idea to get it done sooner because the information on the 1065 needs to go onto your personal tax return before you file it.   When your accountant prepares the 1065, she’ll also prepare a K-1 form that will be used to prepare your personal income tax return.

So, if you have an LLC, the default tax return you might file would be a Schedule C as part of your individual income tax return, or a 1065 partnership return (and you’d receive a K1 form so you could put your partnership income on your personal tax return).

Instead of using the default filing options, you can choose to have your LLC treated as an S corporation or a C corporation for income tax purposes.  It’s very rare to choose to have your LLC treated as a C corporation.  Usually, if a person wanted to pay corporation tax rates, she would file articles of incorporation to begin with.  But one advantage to filing as an LLC and then electing to be taxed as a C corporation would be to avoid some of the stringent reporting and meeting requirements that C corporations have.  Usually, it’s not advantageous tax-wise to be treated as a C-Corporation, but there are always some exceptions.  If you do go this route, you will need to file an election to be taxed as a corporation: form 8832.  The tax return for a C-Corporation is called an 1120.  You must file the 1120 or the extension by March 15th or you will be assessed a late filing penalty even if you owe no tax.  A C-Corporation pays taxes on its income and pays wages and/or dividends to the owner.

The more common corporate tax treatment for LLCs is to be taxed as an S Corporation.   A Sub-chapter S corporation passes its profits through to the owner.  If you elect to be a Sub S Corporation, you must pay yourself a wage.  For most businesses, the purpose behind a Sub-chapter S corporation is to avoid paying self-employment taxes.  There are two things you must know:

1. A Sub S Corporation isn’t always the best way to avoid paying self-employment taxes and,

2. You’re not allowed to say that you’re trying to avoid paying self-employment taxes, even though that’s pretty much the reason anybody ever makes the Sub S election.

To make the election to be taxed as a Sub S Corporation, you will need to file form 2553.  A Sub S Corporation tax return is called an 1120S form and it is due by March 15th.  The S corp does not pay income tax; the income from the S corp will be reported on a K1 and will flow through to your personal tax return.

If you make an election to be taxed as a C or an S Corp, you will have to keep that designation for at least five years unless you get special permission from the IRS to change.  You want to make sure you really want to make the election for corporate tax treatment before filing those forms.

Here’s my really important tax advice:  Assume that you’re filing your LLC return either as a Schedule C (sole proprietor) if you’re a solo owner, or a 1065 partnership return if you have more than one owner, at least for the first year.  But then, sit down with your preparer and run the numbers all three ways, (Schedule C, S-Corp, C-Corp) to see what makes the most sense for your business.  Make some projections about your future income and expenses and take into account the deductions that you may have missed last year but won’t miss again.  Smart planning can save you thousands of dollars in taxes over the years to come.  Saving on taxes helps your business grow and puts money in your pocket.

Five Tax Issues for these Crazy Financial Times

Wall Street

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Wow! The market’s up, the market’s down. It’s crazy! Now I don’t give advice about stocks—it’s actually against the law for me to give advice about stocks—but I do give advice about taxes. Here are some things you need to know about your taxes during all this market craziness.

1. On your tax return, you only acknowledge a gain or a loss if you actually sell the stock. Let’s say you own 100 shares of Billy Beer stock that you bought at $100 per share, that’s $10,000 worth of stock. If the price of the Billy Beer drops to $90 a share, then you have $9000 worth of stock right? So technically you’ve lost $1,000. But, the loss only counts if you actually sell the stock for the $90 a share. If you keep the stock, nothing about Billy Beer goes on your tax return.

2. Stocks that are held within a 401(k) plan or an IRA can be sold at a gain or a loss and it never gets reported on your tax return. The whole point of your retirement plans is that you can have tax free gains. Most of the time, your money is growing inside these vehicles and you’re not getting taxed on it. When you do have a loss inside your 401(k), you don’t get to claim a deduction for it.

3. The maximum loss from a sale of stock that you can use to offset your ordinary income (like wages) is $3,000. Let’s say you sold off some stock and had a loss of $10,000. Sales of stock are considered to be passive income or passive losses. (To be blunt—it’s called passive income because it’s possible to sit on your butt and make money.) The maximum amount of passive income loss you can have on your tax return for any given year is $3,000. Any extra loss you have can carry forward to the next year. You can use the passive loss from the sale of your stock to offset other types of passive income also, such as income from a partnership or rental real estate. The important thing to know though is that if you have a loss of $100,000 in the stock market, you’re not going to get to write it all off at once.

4. Just because the market has taken a nosedive, it doesn’t mean that you really have a loss on your stock. Remember, your gain or loss is based upon what you bought the stock for and what you sold it for. This is especially important for senior citizens to remember. Back in 2008, we had some serious stock market drops. When tax time came around, I had several clients tell me how much money they lost in the market, but when I did the paperwork they really had large gains because they had held the stocks for so long. They were very surprised to be paying so much money in capital gains tax.

5. You must report the sale of stock on a Schedule D form. One of the most common IRS letters is to people who sold stock and forgot to report in on a Schedule D form on their tax return. Stock sales are reported to the IRS. Using the Billy Beer example, let’s say you bought it for $100,000 back in 2007 and sold it for $90,000 this year but you forgot to report it on your tax return. You’ll get a letter from the IRS saying that you owe them $22,500 (if you’re in the 25% tax bracket) in income tax plus penalties and interest. (And the penalties will be huge because you “forgot” $90,000 in income!) The reality is that you should show a loss on your Schedule D and you’re probably due a refund ($750 if you’re in the 25% tax bracket.) Always remember to report your stock sales on your tax return.

Filing and Paying Taxes in the United States: Resident or Non-resident?


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If you plan on working in the United States, here are some things you need to know about the US federal income tax system.

The United States taxes residents differently from non-residents, so the first thing you need to do is determine if you’re considered to be a resident or not. Generally, if you’re in the US temporarily because you’re a student, teacher, trainee, foreign government employee or a relative of one of those, then you’re considered to be a non-resident. These Visas are usually F, J, M, or Q. If you fall into this category, you’re considered to be a “non-resident”. You will file a tax form called 1040NR. I’ll be doing another post about 1040NR soon.

If you are in the US on a regular working Visa (such as an H1) there are two ways to be considered a resident for income tax purposes. One is to have a green card—this form shows that you are a lawful, permanent resident of the United States. The other way to be considered a resident is to meet what’s known as the substantial presence test.  The quick and dirty way to figure that out is to ask yourself if you were here for over 183 days this year.  If the answer is, “yes” then you can be considered a resident.  I’ve attached a substantial presence test questionnaire at the bottom of this post for anyone who needs a more accurate determination, especially if your time here crosses over two or more calendar years.

Qualifying as a US resident usually reduces your American income taxes. The biggest benefit is being able to claim the same “standard deduction” that US citizens claim. The standard deduction is a portion of your income that the government doesn’t tax. Also, as a resident, if you are married, you can file your tax return as “married filing jointly” which gives you a larger standard deduction and a lower general tax rate. For many people, being able to claim “resident” will reduce your taxes.

The downside of being a “resident”: The United States taxes the world wide income of its citizens and residents. Let’s say you move to America from France where you earned an income equal to $50,000 USD. You move to the US in June and work for 7 months, easily qualifying you to be a US resident. While in the US you earn an additional $50,000. You do not want to pay US taxes on the $50,000 USD that you earned in France.

You have two options in this situation: One, you could file a “dual status alien” return— this would make you a US resident for the 7 months that you were here and a non-resident for the 5 months that you were in France. You would not get the full benefit of the resident deductions, but it would save you from being taxed on your French income. The other option would be to claim a credit for foreign taxes paid. If you come from a country where your taxes are equal to or higher than in the US, this is a good option for you. If you come from a country with lower taxes, you might be better off claiming the dual status alien. You do not have to decide this now, you can have your tax preparer work out the numbers for you both ways.

A note about hiring a tax preparer: In the US, there are many companies that have shops where you can pay someone to prepare your income tax return for you. These are for profit companies, not government agencies, and they expect you to pay them for the service. Most of them do not prepare 1040NR returns at all. If they see that you qualify to be treated as a resident, they will want to proceed with filing your return. If you had no income in your home country, this is not a problem, and you can feel comfortable filing a US resident return. If you had income in your home country, make sure that the person you are dealing with understands “dual status alien” and “foreign tax credits”. Many tax preparers have not been trained in these areas, and it’s essential to you that you hire someone knowledgeable about tax issues for foreign persons.

A common question is: what if I just don’t report my foreign income? How will the IRS know? The IRS has treaties with several countries and there is a great deal of information sharing. Although it seems impossible that the IRS could find out about someone’s foreign wages, when they do have that information, the fines and penalties for not reporting your income are severe. I recommend filing an honest and accurate return, then you’ll never lose sleep worrying about it.

Substantial Presence Test (You can also find this on the IRS website)
You must pass both the 31-day and 183-day tests.

31 day test: Were you present in United States 31 days during current year?

183 day test: [If you weren’t here for the full 183 days during the current year, the time you spent here in prior years counts towards your being deemed a resident.]

Current year days in United States x 1 =_____days [the days you spent here during this year count as full days]

B. First preceding year days in United States x 1/3 =_____days  [the days you spent here last year only count as 1/3 days.  So if you were here last year for one month (30 days) then it only counts as 10 days]

C. Second preceding year days in United States x 1/6 =_____days    [the farther back the time, the less it counts.  Two years ago only count as 1/6 of the days, so a month then counts for 5 days.]

D. Total Days in United States =_____days (add lines A, B, and C)

If line D equals or exceeds 183 days, you have passed the183-day test.

Exceptions: Do not count days of presence in the U.S. during which:
you are a commuter from a residence in Canada or Mexico;
you are in the U.S. less than 24 hours in transit;
you are unable to leave the U.S. due to a medical condition that developed in the U.S.;
you are an exempt individual; [basically that’s an F, J, M, or Q visa]
you are a regular member of the crew of a foreign vessel traveling between the U.S. and a foreign country or a possession of the U.S. (unless you are otherwise engaged in conducting a trade or business in the U.S.)

Things To Do If the IRS Threatens to Levy Your Bank Account

Tax Concept

If you’ve received an IRS notice saying that they intend to levy your bank accounts if you don’t pay up in 30 days, then it’s time to pay attention. Before the IRS actually issues a levy notice, they’ve usually made a few attempts at contacting you and trying to get a payment. If you’ve received an IRS levy notice, it means that the IRS hasn’t heard from you—they think you’ve been blowing them off (which in many cases is true). If you ignore the levy notice, they’ll just take your money and the law is on their side so you need to act now.

First, the responsible thing is to call them, or hire someone to deal with them for you. (I personally think that if you’ve reached this point, it’s best to hire someone—but remember, I do this for a living, so note that I’m biased.)

There are things you can do to prevent the IRS from going through with the levy. Let’s assume that you really do owe the money:

1. You can set up a payment arrangement–you pay off the IRS on a monthly bill schedule

2.Your situation might qualify you for an offer in compromise (the pennies on the dollar thing you see in TV commercials), or

3. Maybe you’re going through hard times and need to be put into the currently uncollectable status—you still owe, but the IRS quits hounding you until you get a job or your situation changes.

But maybe you don’t really owe the money. That’s the big kicker for me. Usually, if you’re getting IRS levy notices, you do owe them money—or at least part of it, but I have seen several cases where my clients don’t owe the IRS anything! A couple of times I have even gotten them refunds instead. If you didn’t do your taxes, and the IRS did them for you, don’t assume that the IRS did them right. When the IRS does your taxes for you, they automatically put you in the highest tax bracket they can justify and you get no deductions or tax credits that you might have qualified for. (Here’s a hint: if you’ve got kids, the IRS probably did your taxes wrong.) Even if you find that you don’t owe the IRS money—you still have to contact them, let them know the situation, and then you’re going to have to provide proof. Usually your proof is your corrected tax return.

Dealing with the IRS is the best way to get yourself out of levy trouble. But here are a few things that you also might want to consider doing while the threat of a levy is still hanging over your head:

1. Make sure your name is taken off of your kids’ and/or parents’ bank accounts. If you’re on someone else’s bank account, the IRS can and will levy that account too.

2. Don’t keep large amounts in your bank accounts. If you’ve got lots of cash, then maybe you can just pay your debt. But usually, this isn’t an option for most people. If your paycheck is going direct deposit into your bank account, get the money out immediately. You can put your cash onto a prepaid Visa debit card. Once the levy is in place, the IRS can only take the funds that are in your account at the time of the levy, if you get another deposit, that money is accessible. Transfer money in only as you need to make payments out of the account.

IRS levies are serious business. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring them.


Note:  We try to answer all the questions that come to us but please be patient.  It’s our busy season right now.  We may not get to your post until the weekend.  When you make a post and use the capcha code, it won’t immediately show up.  You see, for every normal person like you that posts, there’s about three advertisements for things your mother wouldn’t approve of.  (We try to keep this a G rated website.)   We have to edit those out.  If you need an answer right away, here are some links that might help:

EIC questions of any kind:  http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Earned-Income-Tax-Credit-(EITC)-%E2%80%93–Use-the-EITC-Assistant-to-Find-Out-if-You-Should-Claim-it.

How to find free tax preparers:  http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Free-Tax-Return-Preparation-for-You-by-Volunteers

How to find your local IRS office:  http://www.irs.gov/uac/Contact-Your-Local-IRS-Office-1

If you want to hire us, please call (314) 275-9160 or email us.  We do prepare returns for people all over the country (and a few foreign countries as well.)  We are sorry but we cannot prepare an EIC return for someone outside of the St. Louis area because of the due diligence requirements.

The Truth About All Those People Who Don’t Pay Income Tax

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I’m sure you’ve heard it all before: 51% of Americans don’t pay any income tax! I got an earful of it just the other day from Granny’s boyfriend (who, by the way, also pays no federal income tax). A lot of people have been asking me about that lately; the two main questions are 1. Is it true? And 2. How come so many people aren’t paying? I did some research and here’s what I found.

1. According to the Tax Policy Institute, 46% of American households are not expected to pay federal income tax in 2011. It’s not 51%, but that’s still a pretty big number.

2. Of that 46% (that’s roughly 76 million American households), half of them pay no federal income tax due to standard deductions and basic exemptions. In English—it means they’re poor. Our tax system doesn’t tax subsistence level incomes. For example: a married couple making $18,700 a year or less would pay no federal income tax. It’s important to note that they still are subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes, either through their wage withholdings or through their self employment taxes on their federal return. There’s a big difference between “no federal income taxes” and “no taxes ”.

3. That leaves 38 million households that pay no income tax because of special provisions in the tax code.

So what are these special provisions and who is affected by them?

1. 44% of those 38 million households are covered under tax benefits for the elderly. That would include the extra standard deduction for senior citizens and the exclusion of some social security benefits from taxation. (The report also mentions the credit for the elderly, but in reality, I have never, ever prepared a return where someone actually qualified for that credit.)

2. Another 30% of those tax provisions are credits given for children and the working poor, namely the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Credit.

3. That leaves the remaining 26% (less than 10 million households) reducing their federal income tax liability to zero through tax breaks.

So what are these tax breaks and how do they break down? (By the way, in the Tax Policy Report, Tax breaks are called “Tax expenditure provisions” and households are called “tax units”. Forgive me for trying to make people sound human.)

1. Exclusion of cash transfers accounts for 6% or 2.28 million households. In English we’re talking about people who receive SSI or other non-taxable payments like that.

2. Education credits account for 5.6% or 2.128 million households.

3. Above the line deductions and tax exempt interest account for 5.1% or 1.938 million households. Above the line deductions are those things on the front of a 1040 tax return like the deductions for an IRA, alimony paid, student loan interest and the teacher deduction to name a few. Tax exempt interest is usually earned on state and local government bonds.

4. Itemized deductions account for 5% or 1.9 million households. The most commonly claimed deductions here are for mortgage interest, real estate taxes, state and local taxes, and charitable contributions.

5. Other credits make up 2.5% or just under one million households. The foreign tax credit isn’t counted in this as it’s considered to be a tax paid. This category is more for things like the residential energy credit, items you’ll find on the back of the 1040.

6. The last category is reduced rates on capital gains which accounts for 1.3% or less than half a million households. Regular income is taxed at your regular tax rate, but long term capital gains are taxed at a lower rate (between 0 and 15%).

So what does all this mean and why should you care? That’s the question of the day, isn’t it? Let’s be real, it is kind of aggravating to think that 46% of the American public doesn’t pay any income tax, especially if you’re paying taxes. But where are we going to make the changes?

Do you want to eliminate the tax benefits for the elderly? I’m not recommending that; Granny’ll whop me upside the head. If Congress slashes the Social Security and Medicare budgets, you can’t attack seniors with increased taxes on the other side.

We could reduce the standard deduction and exemptions and push more people into the taxable income category—but that would raise everyone’s taxes, not just the poor.

We could eliminate the other tax breaks like the education credit and itemized deductions, etc. While doing so would take some people out of “pay no income tax” category, it would also greatly increase the taxes of many people who are already paying into the system.

If you’re looking for an easy answer here, there really isn’t one. If you would like to learn more about the Tax Policy study, here’s a link to their site: http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/publications/url.cfm?ID=1001547

Five Things You Can Do to Reduce Your Self-Employment Taxes


deductions for small business owners

Author’s note: Yes, this is a stock photo that I bought online. My home office has never been this neat and tidy. But that green accountant’s lamp? I’ve got that on my desk too!


A fellow business owner told me that he was really surprised last year at tax time. His business had done well and he didn’t have many expenses to offset his income. You want to have income—it’s sort of necessary if you like to do things like eat, wear clothes, and have a roof over your head, but the more income you have, the more you pay in taxes. These tips are things that you might be spending money on anyway that can help reduce your “business income” and reduce your self-employment tax.


Claim a home office. If you are working for yourself, you should have a home office. I actually have two offices: one in an office building where I meet clients, and my home office where I perform administrative duties like paying my company’s bills. If you have more than one office, your home office should be your administrative office—doing so makes your commute to the other office a deductible expense (normally, commuting is not deductible).


If you’re already claiming a home office, make sure that you’re maximizing your deduction. Did you know that hallways, stairways, crawl spaces, and bathrooms don’t count towards your total square footage? And don’t forget to claim the depreciation on your home. I’m always amazed at the number of folks who don’t claim it. If your business has a loss, the deduction carries forward to next year.


Hire your kids. If you have children under the age of 18, you can pay them to work for you and you aren’t required to pay FICA, and you don’t have to pay Federal Unemployment tax on them either. The work has to be real and the wages have to be commensurate to what you’d pay someone who is not your child. They also have to do work for the company, not things like clean up the kitchen for this to count. Have them keep a time sheet so that you have documentation of the work in case the IRS checks on it. For this you must be a sole proprietor, you can’t be a Sub S corporation.

Hire your spouse and set up a Section 105 Health Plan. Sure you can deduct your health insurance on the front of your tax return, but it doesn’t affect what you pay in self-employment taxes and it only covers your health insurance. With a Section 105 Health Plan, you hire your spouse as an employee and the compensation package includes 100% health coverage for him (or her) and his family (which includes you). This has the effect of putting all of your family’s health care expenses as a deductible business expense. Just like with hiring your kids, your spouse will have to perform a real job for the company, keeping a time sheet, etc. (You must be a sole proprietor, LLC is okay. You cannot be Sub S Corporation.)


Maximize your auto deduction. The majority of people claim auto mileage for their business because it’s easier (I’m talking about claiming real mileage and not the folks who go around claiming 40,000 business miles a year on a car that’s only been driven 12,000. I like to stick with honest deductions). For a lot of folks, it’s worth it to claim your actual expenses, especially now with the price of gas so high. Take the time to really keep track of your actual auto expenses for one year. This will vary a lot depending upon your auto usage, but for some people it’s a big savings.  Compare your actual expenses to the standard mileage rate and claim whatever gives you the larger deduction.  Remember, you still have to keep track of your business versus personal miles to claim your actual expenses as a deduction.