This year was my first year filing an ass load of 1099s. Luckily the 1099s were offset by a W-2 job I had for the first 8 months of the year. (I only owe $300 this year!) September of 2011 was the first time I made the leap into freelancedom and I’ve not looked back. Next year’s taxes are going to be cray-cray.
I was really nervous about filing as a newbie freelance writer. I had no idea how much in taxes I was going to owe and I wasn’t sure the best way to go about filing. (Should I go with an accountant or the TurboTax route?) I did my research and ended up filing with TurboTax Home & Business yesterday. It was painless and I learned a lot from it. Side note– I haven’t gotten to the self-employed quarterly taxes part in my freelance life yet. That’s the next hurdle.
I’m neither a tax/accounting professional nor well experienced in this matter. In other words, I’m full of shit half of the time, so please take my suggestions below with a grain of salt and do your research first! This is what I learned the first time around and I’m sure I have plenty more to learn!
TurboTax or Accountant?
I was ready to pay someone to do my taxes because I was afraid that in using the basic version of Turbotax, I was going to miss out on a lot of deductions. That was before local writer Dan Solomon suggested I use TurboTax Home & Business. Dan is a well-experienced and prolific writer in town and has used TurboTax Home & Business for his taxes. It is $99 and easily walks you through all the deductions you can make for your business. A process that I thought initially would take many hours and a lot of money took only an hour with TurboTax Home & Business. If you have an LLC, that might be a different matter.
Update- A friend said regular TurboTax also walks you through deductions. Anyone freelancers here think one is better than the other?
Update update- I used regular TurboTax for 2012 instead of Home & Business and it walks you through deductions as well.
What Can I Deduct?
Having never made deductions before, I was not well versed in this matter until I did my research. I ended up learning that you can deduct many items such as your health insurance (if you pay for it), a portion of your rent/mortgage (if you work out of home), a portion of phone bills (if you use for business), any business related expense (for me I deducted domain purchase, web design fee, web hosting fee, business cards) and business meetings (meetings w/ other writers, meetings w/ interviewees). You can even deduct entertainment expenses such as Netflix, magazine subscriptions or books if you used them for work too. At first I didn’t think the deductions would add up, but by the end, I was able to deduct a couple of thousand dollars from my freelance work. I got to watch the money I owe the G’ment go down with each deduction. It was such a rewarding feeling.
Here are some great resources on what you can deduct as a freelancer:
101 Deductions for Bloggers and Freelancers
20 Deductions for Freelance Writers
Tax Deductions for Freelance Writers, the Self-Employed and Other Sole Proprietors
Keep Track of Your Records
Record keeping sucks ass and I’ve never been good at, but wanting to make sure I did this whole freelance thing right, I kept a binder for receipts and a small vehicle mileage book in my car. I wasn’t always good about keeping mileage, so that’s why GoogleMaps is your best friend. I’m surprised that I actually did as well as I did keeping records. I also went back through old bank statements to make sure I didn’t miss any appropriate deductions and my calendar to make sure I didn’t miss any appointments. A lot of people will tell you that you can get very colorful and ambitious when it comes to deductions. Essentially you can write off anything, they’ll say. I have a hard time doing this. Even though I’m poor as shit and most likely not at risk of an audit (TurboTax even told me so!), I still want to have the records to back up what I’m deducting. It’s up to you what you decide. The likelihood of you and I getting audited is slim, but I like being an honest person. Check out this story from The Rumpus about a writer’s deduction predicament.
Talk to Others
The best thing you can do is talk to others in your field about what they do come tax season. Tweeting about doing my taxes as a freelancer brought a slew of comments from others in the same position. It helped me to remember that a.) I’m not alone in this and b.) A lot of people have done this before.