If you own an unincorporated business, you likely pay at least three different federal taxes. In addition to federal income taxes, you must pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, also called the self-employment tax.
Self-employment taxes are not insubstantial. Indeed, many business owners pay more in self-employment taxes than in income tax. The self-employment tax consists of
• a 12.4 percent Social Security tax up to an annual income ceiling ($147,000 for 2022) and
• a 2.9 percent Medicare tax on all self-employment income.
These amount to a 15.3 percent tax, up to the $147,000 Social Security tax ceiling. If your self-employment income is more than $200,000 if you’re single or $250,000 if you’re married filing jointly, you must pay a 0.9 percent additional Medicare tax on self-employment income over the applicable threshold for a total 3.8 percent Medicare tax.
You pay the self-employment tax if you earn income from a business you own as a sole proprietor or single-member LLC, or co-own as a general partner in a partnership, an LLC member, or a partner in any other business entity taxed as a partnership. (There is an exemption for limited partners.)
You don’t pay self-employment tax on personal investment income or hobby income. For example, you don’t pay self-employment tax on profits you earn from selling stock, your home, or an occasional item on eBay.
The tax code bases your self-employment tax on 92.35 percent of your net business income.
That means your business deductions are doubly valuable since they reduce both income and self-employment taxes. In contrast, personal itemized deductions and “above-the-line” adjustments to income don’t decrease your self-employment tax.
Some types of income are not subject to self-employment tax at all, including
• most rental income,
• most dividend and interest income,
• gain or loss from sales and dispositions of business property, and
• S corporation distributions to shareholders.
You calculate your self-employment taxes on IRS Form SE and pay them with your income taxes, including your quarterly estimated taxes.
Look at what has happened to self-employment taxes since they first came into being in 1935, assuming you earn at the base amount:
• $60 in 1935
• $60 in 1949
• $3,175 in 1980
• $7,849 in 1990
• $14,413 in 2006
• $21,848 in 2021
To put the rates in perspective, say you are single and earn $150,000. On the last dollar you earned—dollar number 150,000—how much federal tax did you pay? The answer in round numbers—39 cents (14 cents in self-employment and 24 cents in federal income taxes).
Wow! That’s a lot. Then, if you live in a state with an income tax, add the state income tax on top of that.
Two things to know about tax planning:
1. Your new deductions give you benefits starting at your highest tax rates.
2. In most cases, the return on your planning is not a one-time event. Once your plan is in place, you reap the benefits year after year. Thus, good tax planning is like an annuity.
In conclusion, here is a short checklist of some tax-planning ideas. Review these ideas so you can identify new business deductions for your tax return. You want business deductions because business deductions reduce both your income and your self-employment taxes.
• Eliminate the word “friend” from your vocabulary. From now on, these people are sources of business, so start talking business and asking for referrals over meals and beverages.
• Hire your children. This creates tax deductions for you, and it creates non-taxable or very low taxed income for the children. Also, wages paid by parents to children are exempt from payroll taxes.
• Learn how to combine business and personal trips so that the personal side of your trip becomes part of your business deduction under the travel rules (for example, traveling by cruise ship to a convention on St. Thomas).
• Properly classify business expansion expenses as immediate tax deductions rather than depreciable, amortizable, or (ouch!) non-deductible capital costs.
• Properly identify deductible start-up expenses ($5,000 up front and the balance amortized) rather than letting them fall by the wayside (a common oversight).
• Correctly classify business meals that qualify for the 100 percent deduction rather than the 50 percent deduction.
• Know the entertainment facility rules so your vacation home can become a tax deduction.
• Identify the vehicle deduction method that gives you the best deductions (choosing between the IRS mileage method and the actual expense method).
• Correctly identify your maximum business miles, so you deduct the largest possible percentage of your vehicles.
• Qualify your office in your home as an administrative office.
• Use allocation methods that make your home-office deductions larger.
• If you are married with no employees, hire your spouse and install a Section 105 medical plan to move your medical deductions to Schedule C for maximum benefits.
• Operate as a one-person S corporation to save self-employment taxes.
• If you are single with no employees, operate as a C corporation and install a Section 105 medical plan so you can deduct all your medical expenses.
In summary, we recommend to “tax plan” and then “tax plan” some more.
We specialize in helping clients clarify their taxes so they keep more of their money. Many small business owners who come to see us in Fort Worth, TX generally do not understand the tax law and do not do ANY tax planning.