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It's not easy being a small business owner this time of year. Stress levels are on the rise as owners scramble for receipts and hope they're not leaving money on the table or opening themselves up to an audit.
The tax filing deadline is right around the corner. April 15 is the date for sole proprietorships, partnerships and limited liability companies, while March 17 was the deadline for corporations that report on a calendar year.
Small business owners need to make sure they've properly filed each form, correctly itemized each deduction and write-off, and have their receipts handy in case of a dreaded audit. Whether this is your first year filing or your tenth, here are a few tips to help you eliminate errors and navigate this year's business tax season:
Partnerships report their income/losses/expenses on Form 1065. If you are a sole proprietor, then you report your business income and expenses on a Schedule C attached to your personal income tax return. Likewise, if your business is an LLC treated as a sole prop, you also use the Schedule C attachment.
But if you have a corporation or have elected to treat your LLC as a corporation, then you will need to prepare a separate corporate tax return with Form 1120. Use Form 1120S is if you have elected S Corporation Status.
The IRS provides helpful tables that break down the necessary tax forms for each business type.
Starting with the 2013 return, you now have the option to use a simplified method for calculating the home office deduction. In the past, you needed to add up your actual costs (mortgage/rent, utilities, etc.) and multiply that figure by the percentage of your home that's dedicated to your office (see Form 8829). Now, you can choose to take a deduction of $5 per square foot of office space—with a $1,500 deduction cap.
While the simplified deduction will save you time and paperwork, it may give you a smaller deduction. Savvy tax filers should calculate the home office deduction using both methods and see which is more advantageous. Of course, if you haven't kept track of your home expenses and don't have documentation to back it up, then you should take the simplified deduction.
Equipment (also called capital expenditures) are typically higher-value items that will last significantly longer than one year. Computers, software, office furniture, and servers are all examples of equipment. With the Section 179 deduction, you are able to write off the entire cost of new equipment in one year (up to $500,000), rather than taking depreciation over multiple years.
Add up any computers, software, and other equipment you purchased in 2013 in order to get a greater deduction for 2013. And make sure to report these purchases on Form 4562.
See also: Work From Home? Your Taxes Just Got Easier
Business owners of sole proprietorships, partnerships, and S Corporations may be able to deduct the premiums paid for medical and dental insurance for themselves, their spouse, and dependents. In addition, if you have a company with fewer than 25 full-time employees and pay at least half of your employees' health insurance premiums, you may qualify for a tax credit up to 35% of the cost under the Small Business Health Care Act.
You can learn more about insurance deductions with IRS Pub 535.
If you picked up the tab for entertaining a current or prospective client, you can deduct 50% of the cost as long as business was discussed at the event or the entertainment takes place immediately before or after a business discussion. Be sure to write notes on the receipt, such as whom you were meeting with and what business was discussed.
You can deduct 100% of your travel costs if the primary purpose of your trip is for business. If you get some downtime and are able to stay a few extra days after the business is done, that's fine. But, don't try to expense your airfare for a seven-day trip to the Florida Keys for a two-hour meeting.
IRS Pub 463 lays out all the details for these important expenses.
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