As a business owner, you should familiarize yourself with your federal, state, and local tax requirements. Understanding what your obligations are will assist you in filing returns and paying taxes accurately and on time. Whatever taxes you are required to pay, you have to be very aware that there are deadlines for remitting them and any delays on your part could result in penalties. Here are some tips that can help you avoid tax trouble with the IRS.
The IRS requires employers to withhold federal income tax and FICA (Social Security and Medicare) taxes from their employees' wages. The IRS also wants you to remit these employment taxes, along with your company's FICA contributions, to them in a timely manner. Failing to remit these taxes can lead to serious penalties for noncompliance. This is one issue you absolutely must stay on top of.
Remember, sole proprietors, general partners, and, usually, members of limited liability companies do not have Social Security and Medicare taxes withheld like employees do. Instead, they must pay self-employment taxes, which typically cover Social Security and Medicare.
You must generally make quarterly estimated tax payments to cover self-employment taxes and income tax on income that is not subject to withholding. If you do not make required estimated payments on time, you may owe the IRS an underpayment penalty.
Employees and independent contractors are treated differently for income tax withholding and employment tax purposes. Generally, the more control you have over a worker's tasks and hours of work, the more likely that individual is an employee. In the case of employees, you must withhold federal income tax and FICA taxes, pay your share of FICA taxes, and pay unemployment taxes. You are not required to withhold income or FICA taxes from an independent contractor. Independent contractors pay income taxes and self-employment taxes on their own. If the IRS determines that your business has misclassified employees as independent contractors, it could prove to be costly.
Keep Business and Personal Transactions Separate
Personal bank and credit card accounts should always be kept separate from business accounts. Doing so makes it easier to identify all appropriate business expenses at tax time. That, in turn, simplifies things when it comes to claiming business tax deductions.
Substantiating Business Expenses
Like every business, your company will incur various expenses that are simply the cost of doing business. Many of these business expenses will be deductible. You should have proof of purchase for those expenses that you intend to deduct. Proof can be a cancelled check (or a legible image of the check), or a credit card, debit card, or electronic funds transfer (EFT) statement that shows the payee, amount of purchase or transfer, and the date of the transaction.
It's also important that you can provide an invoice or receipt that identifies the purchase. If it's not clear what the business purpose for the purchase is, then you should attach a note of explanation or write directly on the invoice or receipt. This can be helpful if the deductibility of the purchase is ever questioned by the IRS. Deductions for business travel expenses have very specific substantiation requirements, so be sure you are familiar with them before claiming these expenses.
Determining what taxes your business is subject to and when those taxes must be remitted is complex. Unfortunately, errors can be costly to your business. A professional who specializes in small business tax and accounting matters can help your business put systems and procedures in place so that it can claim all the deductions it is entitled to and meet its tax obligations in a timely and accurate manner.