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Most-asked Business Tax Questions

Filing Returns, Taking Business Tax Deductions, Forms

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Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about business tax returns.

1. Do I Have to File a Business Tax Return?

The answer is always "YES." If you have income and fail to file an income tax return, you may incur fines and penalties from the IRS. Even if your business has a loss, you must report that loss. A business loss may actually help you, because it can reduce your total income on your personal tax return.

You must report all business income, including income reported on Form 1099-MISC as an independent contractor, on your personal tax return. So it just makes sense to take allowable deductions to decrease your taxable income. It doesn't take much to be a "real" business; you just need to operate like a business, keep business and personal records separate, and show you are trying to make a profit.

Read more about how to set up a simple business to take advantage of business tax benefits.

2. Can I Use Tax Software to Prepare a Business Tax Return?

Tax software is focused on personal tax returns, but most of the top tax software programs have versions that include Schedule C (for sole proprietorships and single-member LLCs). Some also have versions that guide you through the process of preparing partnership and corporation tax returns. Check the details for the brand of software and the version to make sure that the form you want is included.

3. Do I Need a CPA to Prepare My Business Tax Return?

If you have a simple Schedule C tax return, you may be able to use tax software or complete the form yourself, if you know what you are doing. But what if you miss something? Missing an important deduction can cost you money and cause you to pay higher taxes.

Don't forget you must also complete Schedule SE for self-employment taxes and include those taxes in your personal tax return.

Tax preparers at large walk-in tax preparation firms are much less familiar with business taxes than personal tax forms. They may know Schedule C, but not partnership or corporation returns.

Partnership and corporation tax returns are complicated. They involve preparing a separate tax return for the business and then a K-1 for each shareholder or partner. And there are many pitfalls along the way.

You can find a CPA or get help from a qualified business tax preparer, like an Enrolled Agent In any case, it's often worth the money to get help with a business tax return.

4. How Do I Determine My Business Income?

Before you prepare your business tax return, you will need to put together an income statement, often called a "P&L" or profit and loss statement. This statement lists all sources of business income, then shows all the expenses. Income minus expenses equals net income. You must also include barter income on your business tax return.

If you are preparing a business tax return for a business that makes or sells a product, you will need to include a cost of goods sold calculation, to show the change in the value of goods over the year's time.

5. Are All Business Expenses Deductible? How Do I Know Which are Not Deductible?

Almost all business expenditures are tax-deductible, as long as:
  • You can prove that you are in a legitimate business and attempting to make a profit, and
  • You can prove the business purpose for each expense.

Keeping excellent records is the key to deducting business expenses. The most common error made by business owners is not keeping records for business mileage and for meals and entertainment expenses.

Some expenses cannot be deducted by a business, because the IRS does not consider them legitimate business expenses. For example, political contributions, fines and penalties, membership at a social or sports club, and commuting costs cannot be deducted. Read more about business expenses that cannot be deducted .

6. Do I Have to Pay Self-employment Tax?

Every taxpayer pays Social Security and Medicare tax on income. Employees pay this tax (called FICA tax) through withholding, and their employers pay the other half of the required amount of tax. Self-employed individuals pay the entire amount of this tax (called SECA Tax) by paying self-employment tax on the net taxable income of their business.

To find out if you must pay self-employment tax, you must know whether you are an employee or a business owner. If you own and run a small business, you are a business owner and you pay self-employment tax. Partners and LLC members are included in this category.

If you are a shareholder or officer in a corporation, you are also an employee, and you pay FICA tax on your salary. You don't pay self-employment tax.

The Social Security portion of self-employment tax, like Social Security tax paid by employees, adds to your eligibility for Social Security benefits when you retire or if you become disabled.

7. How Do My Business Taxes Affect My Personal Tax Return?

Your portion of business tax is included in your personal income tax return, depending on the type of business you own.

Small business owners file a Schedule C for each business they own, and the net income from this Schedule C goes on Line 12 of the first page of your personal tax return. So, the income from your business is directly taxable to you, at the same rate as your other income.

Owners of partnerships (including members of multiple-member LLCs filing as partnerships) receive a Schedule K-1showing their share of the partnership's tax liability. Schedule K-1 income is included on each partner's income tax return and is taxed along with other sources of income.

In the same way, owners of corporations and S corporations also receive a Schedule K-1 showing their share of earning from the corporation, and the K-1 income is included on their personal tax returns.

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