Many people dream of the independence that comes with being self-employed. But along with that freedom comes more responsibility—like paying taxes to the IRS multiple times per year.
Independent contractors and the self-employed don’t have taxes withheld by an employer and are usually required to pay estimated taxes in quarterly installments using Form 1040-ES. These payments are typically due April 15, June 15, and Sept. 15 of that tax year, and Jan. 15 of the following year. The combined amount owed also can be paid in advance for the entire year in April.
“The important thing to understand is it is your responsibility to pay the taxes as evenly as possible throughout the year,” says Jackie Perlman, principal tax research analyst at the Tax Institute at H&R Block.
But what if you can’t pay the estimated amount due?
Don’t sweep that obligation under the rug, Perlman says. “Pay as much as you can as soon as you can.”
If you underpay, you will be subject to the estimated tax penalty. To avoid this, you must pay in total at least 90 percent of your tax for the current year or 100 percent of last year’s tax, whichever is smaller. The more you pay on time, the less chance there is that you will be subject to fines.
For some people, the seasonality of their business can create a cash-flow problem when it comes time to pay. For example, someone who works selling Christmas trees might not have income outside of the months of November and December. Those individuals can use the annualized income installment method (Schedule AI). In this instance, the amount due might be less than one-fourth of your yearly required payment.
If you are still unable to pay your taxes, you may want to file on time and pay what you can to limit fees and penalties as much as possible. Then call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. The agency can work with you to get an extension, payment plan, waived fees, or other assistance.
Taxes for the self-employed can be tricky and nuanced, but they can be done yourself. However, Perlman suggests getting help from a tax preparer if finance isn’t your forte.
And whether someone is helping you or not, Perlman emphasizes that it’s important to keep accurate records—especially when self-employed. “That’s step one,” she says. “You do want to keep good track of your income and your business expenses.”
Stephanie Hardiman Simon is a freelance writer and social media professional in Chicago. Her work has appeared in the Portland Press Herald, Nashville Business Journal and Valley Business FRONT magazine, among others. She is a proud graduate of Washington and Lee University and holds a master’s degree in journalism from DePaul University. Follow her on Twitter: @_StephSimon.