A Guide to Paying Quarterly Taxes

Updated for Tax Year 2018


OVERVIEW

As a small business owner or freelancer, you’ll find that mastering your quarterly taxes is a key part of running a successful company. If you’ve come from a corporate or employee background, this may require a shift in your mindset, since you probably think of taxes as something you do once a year. But the good news is that paying taxes quarterly allows you to spread your tax responsibilities over the year and avoid a disruption to your cash flow come tax time. Here’s a closer look at how quarterly taxes work and what you need to know when filing your tax returns.


Who Is Required to File Quarterly Taxes?

Young male florist busy at his shop

Anyone who is self-employed may be required to pay quarterly taxes. A self-employed person is someone who:

  • Is an independent contractor
  • Works in a trade or field as a sole proprietor
  • Is a member of a partnership that conducts business, such as an LLC
  • Runs a business on their own, including a part-time business

“When I first launched my business, I was completely clueless about quarterly taxes,” says Denna Smith, a Seattle freelance writer. “However, the IRS has made it really straightforward. As a business owner, you just need to get a system in place and that makes it very manageable.”

What Taxes Do Self-Employed People Pay?

As a self-employed individual, you file an annual return but usually pay estimated taxes on a quarterly basis. Quarterly taxes generally fall into two categories:

  • The self-employment tax (Social Security and Medicare)
  • Income tax on the profits that your business made and any other income

In the 2018 tax year, for example, the self-employment tax rate on net income up to $128,400 is 15.3%. That breaks down to 12.4% Social Security tax and 2.9% Medicare tax.

  • High earners—generally, individuals with incomes of $200,000 or married couples with incomes of $250,000—are subject to an Additional Medicare Tax of .9%.

To calculate your taxable income as a business owner:

  • Take your annual gross income—the total revenue you received—and deduct expenses, and any deductions you’re eligible for. For example, if your annual revenue was $100,000 and you have business deductions that total $30,000, your taxable income is $70,000.

The Internal Revenue Service provides a full listing and reference guide for small business owners. IRS Form 1040-ES is a worksheet that takes you through that calculation and helps you determine your taxable income and payments.

Once you have an estimate for the taxes you’ll owe for the year, divide that number by four and submit your quarterly payments by their due dates. If you undergo significant changes in income or expenses during the year, that may impact the quarterly taxes you need to pay.

  • For example, if your company loses a big customer and your income drops as a result, you can adjust your quarterly payments accordingly.
  • Alternatively, if you land a major contract that increases your income, it may be prudent to revisit the worksheet to ensure that you are paying the appropriate amounts.

How to Pay Quarterly Payments

Once you’ve calculated your quarterly payments, you can submit them online through the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System. You can also pay using paper forms supplied by the IRS. When you file your annual tax return in April, you will pay the balance of taxes that were not covered by your quarterly payments.

You can use your new total annual income to estimate your quarterly payments for the next tax year. You can also use software like Quickbooks Self Employed to track your income, expenses, and deductions throughout the year, which will help with estimating your quarterly payments.

When it comes tax time, TurboTax will ask you simple questions and fill out all the right forms for you to maximize your tax deductions.

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