7 Tax Mistakes That Can Cost Small Business Owners Thousands

Tax season is a good time for small business owners to reflect upon their past year’s business performance, and plan ahead for next year. As part of your tax planning, it’s important to watch out for a few big tax mistakes. Small business owners work too hard to lose money to unnecessary taxes or bookkeeping mistakes. These tax mistakes could be separating you from too many of your hard-earned dollars — and undermining your long-term financial wellness — in your business and personal finances.

Let’s look at a few big tax mistakes that any freelancer, solopreneur, or small business owner should aim to avoid.

1. Not separating your business and personal finances

Even if you’re in the early days of starting a business, even if it’s just a side hustle, try to separate your business income and expenses from your personal finances. Don’t pay vendors from a personal checking account. Don’t use business bank accounts for personal expenses.

Read more: we researched free tax software and put together a list of the best options here

If you do not have a clear, separate financial identity for your business and personal finances, you’re making life harder for yourself. If your business and personal funds are intermingled, this makes it harder to keep track of your legitimate tax-deductible business expenses. You might forget to deduct hundreds of dollars that could’ve saved you money on taxes. Or worse — you could try to deduct something that shouldn’t be deducted, and end up making yourself vulnerable to an IRS audit.

2. Not tracking your business expenses

Too many small business owners get so excited about running the business that they get sloppy about bookkeeping. And there’s no excuse for this anymore! There’s so much great small business accounting software available now. It’s easier than ever before to keep track of your deductible business expenses all year round, month after month.

And good business bookkeeping is not just about taxes or tracking expenses: it’s a way to keep an eye on your business’s performance. Where’s your revenue coming from? Did you have a good week, month, or quarter? Who are your biggest clients, where are your biggest risks, strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities? Good bookkeeping helps you monitor the pulse of your business — not just at tax time.

3. Not forming an LLC (or other business entity)

If you’re serious about being a small business owner, and not just a hobbyist or side hustler, you should form a Limited Liability Company (LLC) or other legal business entity for your business. Make your business “official” and real in the eyes of the law by forming an LLC.

Setting up an LLC also helps you get an employer ID number (EIN) tax ID for tax purposes. It lets you open a business bank account and start to build business credit under the name of your company. Forming an LLC can also give you some other useful tax benefits — because it gives you flexibility for how to handle your business income for tax purposes.

4. Not filing taxes as an S Corporation

If you have an LLC, and you have enough business income to be worth using this strategy, you should consider filing taxes as an S Corporation. This is a tax strategy that small business owners can use to get more advantageous tax treatment for their business income.

Instead of paying self-employment taxes on your full amount of business income like a sole proprietor or LLC would do, forming an LLC and then electing to file taxes as an S Corporation lets you pay yourself a salary, and then pay yourself a “distribution” of other business income — but you don’t have to pay self-employment taxes on that distribution amount. Like an LLC, an S Corp is a pass-through entity — so the income also gets the federal 20% qualifying business income deduction.

Talk to an accountant for advice. Filing taxes as an S Corp might not be the right choice for every business owner or type of business.

5. Not hiring professional tax help

Speaking of accountants: you do have professional tax help, right? You’re not trying to run a business and file your own taxes, are you?

Small business taxes are generally way too complicated to navigate yourself. Spend the money and get some help. It’s a huge weight off your shoulders. Even if you love bookkeeping and taxes, it’s beneficial to get professional tax help so you have an extra set of eyes on your tax return — and someone you can go to for personalized advice.

6. Not getting a health savings account

If you have a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) that is eligible for a health savings account (HSA), you really should use it. Health savings accounts are versatile, powerful tax-advantaged accounts. It’s like a traditional IRA, but for healthcare. For 2024, you can deduct up to $4,150 of HSA contributions (if you have single coverage) or $8,300 for family coverage. Don’t make the mistake of missing out on this extra tax break — and there are no income limits.

7. Not using a small business retirement plan

Small business owners also get an extra tax break from the IRS when saving for retirement. There are several types of tax-advantaged small business retirement plans that your company can use, depending on whether you have employees and other aspects of your business finances. Some of these plans, like a SEP IRA, can let you save more money for retirement than you could save as an employee with a 401(k).

Bottom line

Small business owners work too hard to lose money to tax mistakes. Use tax software, bookkeeping software, professional tax help, tax-advantaged accounts, and other tools to help you maximize your tax savings and build a stronger foundation for your business.

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