- Are you a hobby or a business? This may seem basic to some people, but the first thing you’ll have to consider when starting out is whether you really are operating a business, or pursuing a hobby. A hobby can look like a business, but essentially it’s something you do for its own sake that may or may not turn a profit. A true business is generally run for the purpose of making money and has a reasonable expectation of turning a profit. The benefit of operating as a business is that you have more tax tools available to you, such as being able to deduct your losses.
- Pick your business structure. If you operate as a business, you’ll have to choose whether it will be taxed as a sole proprietorship, partnership, S corporation or C corporation. All entities except C corporations “pass through” their business income onto your personal tax return. The decision gets more complicated if you legally organize your business as a limited liability corporation (LLC). In this case you will need to choose your tax status as either a partnership or an S corporation. Each tax structure has its benefits and downsides – it’s best to discuss what is best for you.
- Apply for tax identification numbers. In most cases, your business will have to apply for an employer identification number (EIN) from both the federal and state governments.
- Select an accounting method. You’ll have to choose whether to use an accrual or cash accounting method. Generally speaking, the accrual method means your business revenue and expenses are recorded when they are billed. In the cash method, revenue and expenses are instead recorded when you are paid. There are federal rules regarding which option you may use. You will also have to choose whether to operate on a calendar year or fiscal year.
- Create a plan to track financials. Operating a business successfully requires continuous monitoring of your financial condition. This includes forecasting your financials and tracking actual performance against your projections. Too many businesses fail in the first couple of years because they fail to understand the importance of cash flow for startup operations. Don’t let this be you.
- Prepare for your tax requirements. Business owners generally will have to make quarterly estimated tax payments to the IRS. If you have employees, you’ll have to pay your share of their Social Security and Medicare taxes. You also have the obligation to withhold your employees’ share of taxes, Social Security and Medicare from their wages. Your personal income tax return can also get more complicated if you operate as one of the “pass-through” business structures.
Starting your own business can be equal parts thrilling and intimidating. Complying with regulations and tax requirements definitely falls into the latter category. But, with some professional help, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can get started with this checklist of things you’ll need to consider.
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