Being self-employed can make budgeting and financial planning a relative challenge. But there's a plus side to being freelance, and it's the ability to take advantage of key tax write-offs. In additional to direct business expenses, like a laptop, there are other money-saving deductions you can take on your return. Here are five you don't want to miss out on.
1. Home office deduction
It stands to reason that your direct costs of doing business are deductible on your tax return. So if, for example, you're a freelance IT technician, and you purchase computer equipment and hard drives to do your job, you can deduct those costs from your income. But if you conduct business out of your home, you can also capitalize on what's known as the home office deduction.
To qualify for this deduction, you must have a dedicated space in your home that's used solely for business purposes, and that space must constitute your primary place of business. Provided you meet these criteria, you can claim a wide range of home expenses that aren't directly related to your business. These include your mortgage payment, property taxes, homeowners' insurance, heat and electricity costs, and water bills.
To calculate your deduction, see how much space your office takes up relative to the rest of your home, and then apply that percentage to your total yearly expenses. So if, for example, your office takes up 200 square feet of a 2,000-square-foot home, and your home expenses equal $30,000, you can deduct 10%, or $3,000, on your tax return.
2. Travel expense deduction
Any time you're required to travel for business purposes, you're allowed to deduct expenses like your flight, hotel room, mileage on your vehicle, and parking fees. Want to squeeze in some sightseeing along the way? Believe it or not, you can probably still get away with claiming a deduction provided you spend more than half of your trip working -- but if that's the case, you'd deduct that portion of the trip alone.
Let's say you fly somewhere for three days of business meetings and decide to stay an extra night to sightsee before returning home the next day. You shouldn't deduct that final night's hotel stay because its cost wasn't incurred for business reasons. However, you can deduct your lodging costs for the first few nights, as well as your flight back and forth.
3. Deduction for health insurance premiums
One downside of being self-employed is that you're required to pay for your own health insurance. And if you have a spouse or multiple dependents to cover, that could get expensive. Thankfully, you're allowed to deduct the cost of your family's health insurance premiums on your taxes, which, depending on how much you spend, could put a fair chunk of money back in your pocket.
4. Deduction for professional development and marketing
Many freelancers belong to professional organizations or take classes to grow their skills. These expenses count as eligible deductions, as they're considered a necessary part of doing business. Furthermore, if you spend money to advertise your services, be it online or in print, you can deduct your marketing costs when you file your return.
5. Deduction for retirement plan contributions
Just because you work for yourself doesn't mean you can't benefit from a tax-advantaged retirement plan. In fact, freelancers have even more options for saving this way. A traditional IRA allows you to contribute up to $5,500 per year in pre-tax dollars if you're under 50. If you're 50 or older, this limit increases to $6,500.
But your IRA choices don't end there. As a self-employed individual, you can also open a SEP IRA, which is just like a traditional IRA, but with a higher annual contribution limit. You're currently allowed to contribute up to 25% of your income for a maximum of $54,000 per year. There's also the SIMPLE IRA, which gives you the option to contribute up to $12,500 tax-free each year if you're under 50. If you're 50 or older, you get a $3,000 catch-up that raises this limit to $15,500.
Finally, you can open a solo 401(k), which is similar to a regular employer-sponsored 401(k), except it's geared toward individuals. This year, you can contribute up to $18,000 tax-free if you're under 50, or $24,000 if you're 50 or older. And, as an added plus, you can kick in up to 25% of your business earnings for a total of $54,000 per year, or $60,000 if you're 50 or older, which can serve as a sizable tax deduction.
The more deductions you're able to claim, the more earnings you'll get to exempt from taxes. It pays to plan your deductions carefully to ensure you're getting the maximum benefit.