Tax Pointers Part 1: Estimated Taxes

In Accounting & Finances, Business, Taxes on July 7, 2015 by Sufen Wang

easy-estimated-taxes-2013The federal tax filing deadline has come and gone. However, April 15, 2015 passing doesn’t mean you’re done with taxes forever – in less than a year, you’ll be moaning and groaning about having to file the 2015 tax return. But you can make these future filings much easier by keeping better records in the coming months. If your 2014 tax return was a pain-in-the-butt, try to understand what gave you trouble, and work on it now, rather than later. Otherwise you’ll be stuck saying shoulda’, woulda’, coulda’ when that 1040 comes around again.

estimate-clipart-screenshot1In-line with this is the first in a three blog series of Tax Pointers to keep in mind as you handle your business for the rest of 2015. First up is the most time-sensitive: paying estimated taxes on your 2015 income. This is most applicable to self-employed taxpayers, but if you’re an employee and you don’t have enough tax withheld, or don’t have any tax withheld at all, you’ll probably have to make estimated tax payments throughout the year.

Not everybody who falls into the aforementioned categories has to make these payments. For example, if you had no tax liability for the prior year, you were a U.S. citizen or resident for the whole year, and your prior tax year covered a 12 month period, you won’t have to pay estimated tax for 2015.

Math_2If you’re not one of those lucky individuals, generally, you’ll pay your estimated tax in quarterly payments according to some rather strange deadlines set by the IRS. The U.S. tax system is a pay-as-you-go system, and these quarterly dates make sure that you pay your fair share just like those employees who have taxes withheld from their paychecks. And, by paying as you go, you won’t get stuck owing Uncle Sam a big, scary, chunk of change next April. If you pay too much before then, don’t worry – you can get it back in your refund. The quarterly deadlines come around four times a year, but the intervals aren’t exactly every four months: Q1: April 15, Q2: June 15, Q3: September 15, Q4: Jan. 15, 2016.

Tax-Penalty1You’ll notice immediately that the first & second quarterly deadline already passed. Yup, if you expect to owe $1,000 or more when you file your 2015 federal tax return, you should have already made the first estimated payment by April 15, 2015 and the second by June 15, 2015. If you forgot due to that looming 2014 federal tax return deadline, and/or if you underpay your estimated taxes, you could be hit with a penalty. And the longer you wait to make or correct an estimated tax payment, the more the penalty will add up as the days go by.

You’ll see also that the second quarterly payment is due only two months after the first. Yup, it’s a shorter time period, but the goal is to pay the same amount as the first quarter. This estimated amount, of course, can change depending on big events like getting married, having a kid, or suddenly making a bunch of money. In that case, you would have to revise your estimated tax payments, and if you’re an employee, you might need to change the amount of tax withheld from your pay with a new Form W-4.

ballparkguessNow comes the hard part. As the name clearly suggests, your estimated tax payments are only guesses. However, estimating that you’ll owe $5 in taxes each quarter clearly isn’t going to cut it. You have to be in the ballpark of the actual amount you would owe come tax filing time – specifically, a 90% accuracy ballpark. Finding that ballpark number involves figuring your expected adjusted gross income, taxable income, taxes, deductions, and credits for the year, and using Form 1040-ES. And form means a complex worksheet which will make you wish you had paid closer attention in math class.

One easier route is to look at the total tax on your 2014 return, and make sure you pay at least 100% of that number this year (110% if your income is higher) via your quarterly estimated payments. This is good news because according to the IRS, “generally, most taxpayers will avoid this [underpayment] penalty if they owe less than $1,000 in tax after subtracting their withholdings and credits, or if they paid at least 90% of the tax for the current year, or 100% of the tax shown on the return for the prior year, whichever is smaller.”

math-clip-art-math-notebookWhile figuring out your estimated tax can be tough, paying is a piece of cake. You can pay online using IRS Direct Pay, online with your debit or credit card, by phone, or by mail using the payment vouchers that come with Form 1040-ES. However you choose to pay, be sure to keep records of the date and payment amount!

Stay tuned for the next piece in the series when we head back to the ranch and look at Tax Pointers for Farmers.

Sufen Wang, M.S.Accountancy
Wang Solutions, Long Beach, CA (562) 856-0793
Editor: Hannah Huff, M.F.A. Creative Writing: Poetry, (626) 806-5805

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