If your freelance business is structured as an S corporation (S-Corp) or a C corporation (C-Corp) with a December 31 year end, your tax filing deadline is right around the corner—falling on March 16, a full month before your personal taxes are due.
If you haven’t started preparing your business taxes yet, don’t panic, but don’t procrastinate either—it’s time to get started, so let’s review what you need to do.
Tips for filing your business taxes as an S-Corp
Hopefully, you made the decision to create your business as an S-Corp, at least in part because you were aware of some of the tax advantages of doing so. One of the major tax benefits of an S-Corp is that it is not subject to corporate tax rates. Instead, the S-Corp passes through profit (or net losses) to shareholders and any business profits are taxed at individual tax rates on each shareholder's personal return (Form 1040). However, before S-Corp shareholders can report anything on their 1040s, the company must complete and file IRS Form 1120S.
Preparing the S-Corp tax return is relatively straightforward—if you have been diligent about keeping accurate financial records for your business. While you can certainly file these forms on your own, you may wish to engage a tax professional to help you analyze your company’s financial statements, maximize tax deductions or credits, and keep you in compliance with the latest IRS regulations applicable to S-corporations.
To file an 1120S for your business you will need, at minimum:
1. A complete set of financial statements (your income statement and balance sheet);
2. Each shareholder’s name, address and social security number;
3. A complete transaction history and summary statement of each shareholder's capital accounts; and
4. Copies of your payroll tax returns, W-2 statements, sales tax returns and the amount of federal, state and local taxes your business paid throughout the tax year.
You will also need supporting documentation for any deductions on pre-tax expenses you plan to claim such as travel, computers, phone bills, advertising, promotion, car expenses, and health care premiums.
Once you have your Form 1120S complete, you will need to prepare a Schedule K-1 for each shareholder. This form is used to report each shareholder's pro-rated share of net income or loss from your S-Corp, along with various separately stated income and deduction items. Schedule K-1 can also be used to summarize a shareholder's beginning and ending stock basis for the year.
To prepare Schedule K-1 you will need:
1. the completed 1120S tax return;
2. a complete transaction history and summary statement of each shareholder's capital accounts; and
3. information about each shareholder including their name, address and Social Security number
Schedule K-1 can get complicated in the calculation of your shareholders’ income and expenses, which is based on their ownership of stock in the S-Corp. If your shareholders have owned their S-Corp stock for the entire tax year, it is fairly easy—their stock basis will determine their pro-rated share of income and expenses. It becomes more complex when stocks are bought, sold, or transferred during the year or if a shareholder terminates their entire equity position in the company.
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Tips for filing your business taxes as a C-Corp
While C-Corps and S-Corps have many similarities, they do have some important differences, especially when it comes to filing taxes. Essentially, your C-Corp is a separate tax-paying entity, paying tax at the corporate tax rates. The major disadvantage of a C corporation is the potential for double taxation with profits first taxed to the corporation and then at the shareholder level, if they are distributed as dividends (which are not tax deductible for the corporation).
To pay taxes, C-Corps file Form 1120, but do not file separate schedules related to individual shareholder wages or dividends like an S-Corp does. However, there are several other schedules and a wide array of information that a C-Corp must file including (but not limited to) their balance sheet, cost of goods sold, dividends and special deductions, compensation of officers, detail on tax computation (including credits and other taxes) and much more detailed financial data.
Given the amount of financial data, the analysis involved, and the additional regulations and requirements imposed on C-Corps by the IRS, the tax returns for these entities can become quite complicated. It is often best to seek professional help to complete your C-Corp tax filings to avoid costly errors, save time and to reduce the risk of future audits and your own frustration levels.
Can’t make the deadline? Exhale…and file for an extension.
If you don’t feel that you can get all of the information you need to prepare your S-Corp or C-Corp return together and still get it filed by the March 16 deadline you can request an automatic 6-month extension using IRS Form 7004. This will give you until September 16, 2015 to file without penalty…but only if you request the extension in advance. Don’t forget to file for state and local extensions, if applicable, as well.
March 16 is just a few short weeks away, so don’t delay it any longer—put filing your business taxes on the top of your to-do list…today!
Jonathan Medows is a New York City based CPA who specializes in taxes and business issues for consultants across the country. His website, www.cpaforfreelancers.com, has a resource section with how-to articles and information for freelancers.