When starting a business, you need to do quite a bit of heavy lifting. Of course, a big part of this is handling the complexities of the US tax system. In fact, one particular area that often trips up entrepreneurs is something called estimated tax payments.
The main reason is that this is quite different from when you have a job. You see, a self-employed person needs to essentially do what an employer does – that is, make ongoing payments to the IRS.
This often comes as a complete surprise to first-time entrepreneurs. After all, when April 15th rolls around, they usually get stuck with fees from the IRS for interest and penalties. But even worse, the overall tax bill can be hefty. As a result, you may have no choice but to take steps to resolve this, such as with an installment agreement (hey, the early days of a startup can be very lean).
So what do you need to know about estimated taxes? First of all, they include not only federal income tax but also the amounts for Social Security and Medicare. You’ll also need to make equal payments according to the following schedule:
April 15 (first quarter)
June 15 (second quarter)
September 15 (third quarter)
January 15 (fourth quarter)
Note: You may also have to pay estimated taxes for the state you are based in and the deadlines could be different (as is the case with California).
OK, there are some exceptions to being required to make estimated tax payments. They include:
• You expect to owe less than $1,000 for the year (whether as an individual, sole proprietor, member of an LLC or S-Corporation)
• You did not have to pay any taxes during the prior year
• You have a corporation where you expect to owe less than $500 for the year
• You are in an area that has suffered a natural disaster
Now, if you do not meet the above, you will need to follow either of these:
• You pay 100% of the tax you paid for last year (the percentage is 110% if your adjusted income is $150,000 or $75,000 if you are married and file separately) or
• You pay 90% of what you will ultimately owe for the current tax year.
And if you have a corporation, the requirement is that you pay the lesser of
• 100% of the tax you paid for the last year or
• 100% of what you will ultimately owe for the current year.
But as should be no surprise, coming up with the amounts can be tricky. In fact, you may ultimately pay way too much, which essentially means you are loaning money to the IRS! Because of this, you may want to use software like TurboTax or get the assistance of a tax professional.
And once you come up with the amount, the process of making the payment is straightforward. You can either file Form 1040-ES or Form 1120-W (for a corporation). But the easiest approach is to use the IRS’s Electronic Federal Tax Payment System.
The good news is that – once you get things setup – the process of handling estimated taxes should be smooth. But of course, the important thing is to make sure you make it a habit.