For many people, tax season can be a mad scramble full of document-hunting, form-filling and nail-biting.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Starting your tax prep well before the deadline can make your life way less stressful—especially if you own
a business and plan to claim deductions.
If you want to get a head start on your taxes this year, follow our guide to getting your business ready
for tax season:
Step 1: Get your bookkeeping in order
Without updated books, you can’t file your taxes. Here’s what you need to do before tax season hits to get
your books in shape.
Make sure all of your business transactions are recorded properly
Screwing up your taxes because of a missing or erroneous transaction can be stressful—but also easily
Make sure you’re recording all of your business transactions in your general ledger, and that you’re
categorizing each transaction
as accurately and consistently as you can. If you’re paying a developer to build an app for your Cat Cafe,
for example, don’t record it as an “investment” one month and a “marketing expense” the other. Be
Make sure your books are balanced
If you use double-entry accounting, make sure that your books are balanced—that is, that the sum of all the
credits is equal to the sum of all debits.
If you’re using a program like QuickBooks, don’t worry about this part—it should be done automatically.
Reconcile your bank accounts
“Reconciling” is just a fancy accounting term for make sure your books match your bank
records.” But doing so can save you and your bookkeeper loads of time and trouble in April.
Your bookkeeping isn’t really done until you’ve checked it against what the bank says.
Separate personal and business expenses
Not separating personal and business expenses can become a huge
headache around tax time. It generally takes more time to sort through expenses when they’re mixed up in one
account, and you might miss some deductions.
The sooner you open a small business account and separate your personal and business accounts, the better.
Talk to a professional
Doing everything yourself can be a great way to save money, but habing an
experienced CPA or tax professional take a look at your books is a wise decision in making sure you’re set
that you’re taking advantage of the right year end tax moves, and that your business is in good shape for
Step 2: Get your deductions and paperwork organized
A big part of the tax season scramble is hunting for receipts. You need proof for all your deductions, just
you get audited by the IRS.
Once you’ve completed Step 1 and your transactions are all tagged, you’ll have a better idea of which
receipts you need to track down.
Not sure which expenses are tax-deductible? Start with this
big list of tax deductions.
The IRS requires you to
keep all business records
for three years. Intimidated by the mass of receipts, invoices and payroll records
gathering dust in the corner of your office? Worried about losing your records in a fire?
You can solve all of these problems by digitizing your records.
Secure cloud storage services like Dropbox,
Evernote, or Google Drive. Any of these
websites will support scanning and storing.
Step 3: Set aside enough tax money
If you owe at least $1,000 in taxes, the IRS usually requires you to make estimated tax payments through the
year. Setting aside tax money becomes a lot less painful if you follow a few simple rules:
Use the 30% rule
If you’re not sure how much you owe in federal taxes, set aside 30%. That’s percentage should cover the vast
of small businesses if you’re not clear on your exact tax obligations.
Choose a saving method
You have three options for how to save up for taxes.
The per-payment method: Every time you receive a payment from a client or customer, put
30% of it into a business savings account.
Ideal for beginners who don’t have a good sense of how much they’ll be making this year.
The monthly method:
Total up all the income you’ve made this year so far, divide it by the number of months to get your
monthly income, and calculate whatever 30% of that is. That’s how much you should be putting aside in
Ideal for businesses that are just starting to make a profit, who expect to pay more taxes this year than
The yearly method: Take last year’s business total income, divide it by four, then
calculate 30% of that amount. The result is
how much you need to save (and pay) for your quarterly estimated tax payments. Ideal if you don’t expect
your business income to drastically change this year.)
Keep your tax money in a separate account
To avoid the temptation of dipping into your tax savings, you should keep them away from your day-to-day
finances in a separate business bank account.
If you don’t want to think about setting aside money every month or quarter, consider setting up recurring
automatic bank transfers into the account.
Get clear on state-specific taxes
In addition to federal taxes, there are state and local taxes you might need to pay, including
sales, franchise, property, and excise taxes.
Read up about state-specific taxes well ahead of time (this is available on the
Florida Department of Revenue website for your
state’s tax authority) and work with your CPA to make sure you aren’t forgetting any.
Step 4: Read up on tax reform (and how it affects you)
Tax Cuts and Jobs Act
(TCJA) took effect on January 1, 2018, and it will mean big changes for the way C corporation and
pass-through entities pay their taxes.
Here’s a brief summary of how the TCJA might affect your return:
C corporations get a flat 21% income tax rate
This is a huge tax break for businesses of any size. Whether your C corporation earns $1 or $100,000,000,
you’ll pay 21% of that amount in income tax.
Pass-through entities get a 20% tax deduction
If your company is a pass-through entity, the most significant TCJA change is a tax deduction of up to 20%,
which will be applied to your Qualified Business Income (QBI).
But there are some limitations, especially if you’re a Specialized Service Business (lawyers, consultants,
artists, etc.) or if you have employees. It’s complicated—check out this guide from the Tax Policy Centre for a full breakdown of the deduction.
No more write-offs for games of golf or courtside tickets with a client
That’s right: the TCJA has completely eliminated or drastically reduced some
common expense deductions
for businesses, including:
Client entertainment expenses (used to be 50% deductible, now 0%)
Office snacks and meals (used to be 100% deductible, now 50%)
Employee transit and parking benefits (used to be 100% deductible, now 0%)
How to adjust your books for the TCJA
The IRS hasn’t published a full summary of all the deduction changes yet. To prepare for them, we’d
recommend you make two changes to your bookkeeping:
Create a separate ledger for client meals and client entertainment, since they may be deducted
Create a new ledger called “Transportation Fringe Benefits,” since they’re deducted differently than
other fringe benefits under the TCJA