Taxing Topics: A 9-Point Q&A For Your Schedule C

The first 3 1/2 months of the year are known in the US as tax season. If  you are an independent creative professional, that means you get to fill out your Schedule C once again, or for the first time. But creative freelancers and tax forms are sometimes a difficult mix.

These are some common deductible questions I receive from students and coaching clients. I provide short, concise answers to them with this disclaimer: Talk with your accountant, tax preparer or tax attorney to confirm what deductions are available to you. I am not an attorney and I am not offering legal or financial advice.

Should I fill out my own return?

You certainly can and a lot of people do. The choice of doing it yourself or paying someone else  is up to you. Do you prefer to use a paid service? Would you rather do it yourself? About 80% of small business owners use the services of tax professionals. If you self-prepare your return, be sure to first read up on how to do it. Software such as Turbo Tax® walks you step-by-step through the return and schedules. If you use a professional tax preparer or service, you may deduct the cost as a business expense.

My 1099 shows the total of creative fees and expense reimbursements. What do I do about that?

Include the entire amount shown on the 1099. Deduct the expense costs on your Schedule C. They will even each other out.

I got a 1099 from a side gig and a W2 from my employer. What do I do?

Report 1099 income (non-employee compensation) on your Schedule C. Report wage income shown on your W2 on your Form 1040.

How do I deduct business mileage?

Include business mileage on your Schedule C. If you deduct mileage, be sure to differentiate between business and personal mileage, and deduct only what you have kept written records of. There are some good mileage and car expense tracking apps which send you cvs or html files of your mileage and car expenses. I advise that if you don’t keep records of something, you can’t deduct it.

If I work from home, will I get audited if I deduct for my home office deduction?

I can’t say. I don’t know if audit risk increases simply because someone claims a home office deduction. My understanding is that the deduction for the home office requires that it’s your only place of business, and that it’s used exclusively for business. You can’t rent a co-working space or office somewhere else and also deduct your home office expenses. You can’t deduct for a home office if it’s part of your kitchen or master suite.

Can I pay myself a salary and deduct it as a business expense?

You can take profits from your business as a salary or as a draw, and don’t need to do any withholding. You will pay self-employment taxes based on the net profit shown on your Schedule C.

Are my art supplies a Cost-of-Goods or Office Expense deduction?

My understanding is this: If you are selling original artwork or items you make on your Etsy shop, your supply costs are included under cost of goods sold. Office supplies then include printer ink and paper, pencils, pens, staples, thumbtacks… anything that you consume as a normal part of doing business, but don’t become part of a product you sell. It can also depend upon whether your use cash-based or accrual-based accounting. This is definitely an ask-your-accountant situation, due to its complexity.

Do I need to make quarterly estimated payments?

If you intend to make a profit on your business, you should set aside a percentage of income for taxes as a regular business practice. When you pay quarterly, you avoid making a “balloon payment” of taxes in April, and also avoid any late payment penalties. Employees pay taxes throughout the year via withholding, thereby funding the government year-round. Self-employed persons are not subject to withholding, but should make estimated tax payments throughout the year.

Can You Recommend A Tax Preparer?

I can, but I won’t. You should locate an income tax professional in your area that you are comfortable working with and who is familiar with the design, illustration and photography professions.

Again, I am not offering tax advice. I am not an attorney, tax preparer or CPA. If you take steps for yourself based on the questions and answers above, confirm everything with your tax professional before proceeding.

Some resources for you:

Salary or Draw? How to Pay Yourself As A Business Owner

Self-Employed Individuals Tax Center

A List Of Deductible Business Expenses for Schedule C 

Get Your FREE sole proprietor EIN from the IRS

Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and design director at Alvalyn Creative, an independent practice near Thousand Oaks, California. She creates visual branding, publications and books for business, entrepreneurs and authors. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business roadmap program for creative freelancers. Contact her for your visual branding, graphic and digital design needs. Join her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and subscribe to her free monthly newsletter.

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