Self-employment can bring more freedom, but often it brings more pressure as well. You are both employee and employer, which means you can set your own hours and decide which projects you feel like taking on. It also means that if you don't have any money coming in, there's no one to blame but yourself.
Taxes get more complicated, too, because you must pay them quarterly and you owe a lot more in Social Security and Medicare tax, which in traditional jobs is split between employee and employer. But there is one plus to being a self-employed person at tax time, and that's all the deductions you can claim to lower your bill. Here's a look at seven that you don't want to miss.
1. Self-employment tax deduction
Everyone pays Social Security tax and Medicare tax, as I mentioned above. Social Security tax is 12.4% of your income and Medicare tax is 2.9%, for a total of 15.3%. You're only responsible for half of that when you have an employer. Your company pays the other half. But when you're self-employed, you must pay it all on your own.
The good news is that the government enables you to write off half of what you pay in these taxes (your employer portion) so you don't have to pay income tax on this amount. This puts self-employed workers on an equal footing with traditionally employed workers.
2. Home office deduction
The home office deduction is one of the most popular self-employed tax breaks and also one of the most abused. You're allowed to deduct expenses like electricity, heating, property taxes, and even your homeowners insurance as they relate to your home office. So if, for example, your home office takes up 10% of all the square footage in your home, you could deduct 10% of all the bills listed above as business expenses.
The big catch here is that you can only deduct home office expenses if that room is solely or primarily used for business. You cannot consider your living room as your home office just because that's where you work from. You probably use it just as much, if not more, for personal purposes so it would not qualify as a deductible expense.
3. Travel expenses
Whether driving to see a client in the next town or flying across the country to attend a conference, you can deduct any travel expenses you incur on behalf of your business. This includes flights, rental cars, hotel stays, and even ridesharing fees. If you're driving your own vehicle, you can deduct 58 cents for every mile on your 2019 tax bill. In 2020, this drops to 57.5 cents per mile.
The government isn't just going to take your word on these expenses, so keep documents to prove what you spent. The same goes for the home office deductions you plan to claim above: Keep receipts or else the government could disallow them if it audits you.
4. Office supplies
Simple things like paper and pens, all the way to expensive pieces of equipment you buy for your business, can be tax-deductible, as long as you use them primarily for business and you keep all receipts to prove your expenses. Go back through your bank and credit card statements for the last year and note any business-related expenses you may have forgotten about. Highlight them or record them on a separate sheet of paper so you have all the numbers you need when you're ready to file your return.
Paid advertising, like ads online or a TV or radio commercial, is a deductible business expense. The same goes for maintaining a business website and any billboard space your company pays for. Keep track of how much you spend on advertising throughout the year and hold on to those receipts.
6. Professional education
Attending conferences, taking a professional development course, or pursuing an advanced certification to improve the quality of service you offer your customers are all deductible expenses as long as they relate to the business you're currently running and you have the documents to prove your expenses.
Courses to help you branch out into a new, unrelated business wouldn't count, though. It's fine to write off a course in graphic design if you're already a graphic designer, because it can help you improve your skills and the services you offer. But if you run a bakery and just decide to take a graphic design course on a whim, you can't count this as a business expense.
7. Health insurance premiums
Self-employed workers don't have an employer to help them cover the cost of their health insurance, so the government enables them to write off their premiums. This only applies to health insurance that you're paying for on your own. If you get health insurance through your spouse's company, you cannot write this off even if you're self-employed. But you can write off premiums for yourself, your spouse, and any dependents if you pay the full cost of the health insurance premiums yourself.
This isn't a comprehensive list of all possible self-employed business deductions, but it should give you a sense for what you can and cannot write off. Only expenses that are primarily or solely for your business are tax-deductible and you must have documents to prove all of these deductions.
And remember this list as you move into 2020, so you can start keeping records of all tax-deductible expenses to make next year's tax season go much smoother.