Diana Kelly Levey

The Best Tax Tips for Freelancers in 2021

A portrait of Kenneth Boyd on a bakcground of 1040 forms

June 8, 2021

This guest post was written by Kenneth Boyd, an accounting and finance expert and the content manager at AIS-CPA. Boyd has 30-plus years of experience in financial services and accounting, been published in  Inc.Investopedia and QuickBooks and is the owner of St. Louis Test Preparation.

*This blog post on tax tips for freelancers is not a substitute for consulting with your accountant for professional tax advice on your taxes and learning more about tax write-offs for freelancers.*

As a freelancer, you’re entitled to claim tax credits and tax write-offs that will reduce the amount of taxes you’ll pay to the government. It’s one of the perks of being a freelancer, especially since you’ve likely been earning a gross income all year and might have to pay about 20 to 30 percent of that to the government at tax time.

While tax time tends to bring out confusion and anxiety among the self-employed set, getting your taxes done each year doesn’t have to be painful. I made this guide to help fellow freelancers navigate tax season to receive the highest returns at year’s end. (FYI, preparing ahead of time for taxes is one of the things successful freelancers wish they knew when they first started out.)

8 Items Freelancers Can Write Off on Taxes

Home Office Expenses

Freelancers that spend a lot of time working from home can claim their home office, but you must use that space often and exclusively for your business.

To calculate your home office expenses, use the following two methods:

  • Simplified: Take the square footage of your home office (up to 300 square feet) and multiply it by 5 dollars per square foot.
  • Regular: Find the square footage of your home and subtract the square footage of your home office. Take that number, then multiply it by your home’s overall expenses, like property taxes, maintenance, repairs, utilities, and insurances.

Business Meals and Travel

While freelancers probably aren’t meeting with too many clients these days, you can still subtract 50 percent of the cost of some of your own meals as long as they’re considered ‘necessary and ordinary’ or if one of your employees is present during the dinner. Meals cannot be extravagant or lavish, so leave that expensive champagne off the bill. If you bought a client or fellow freelancer a meal to have during a Zoom meeting and you ordered food as well, a portion of your meal could be a write-off.

Since the IRS determines what is and isn’t deductible, it’s a good idea to keep your receipts handy in case of an audit. To limit paper and keep track easily, upload photos of your receipts to the Cloud so they’re at arm’s length should you need them.

You can also deduct travel expenses, but you likely haven’t traveled much in the last year. If you did, you can write-off meals (up to 50 percent of the bill) and transportation costs. (Here’s how one freelancer earns a living as a travel writer.)

Freelance Membership Dues

It’s common for freelancers to have a network of peers and potential clients obtained from chambers of commerce or business associations. If you’ve joined an organization that requires you to pay annual dues, you could write them off as long as that organization pertains to your freelance business. (Related: 5 Ways to Invest in Yourself without Spending a Ton of Money)

For example, a freelance graphic artist could write off dues associated with a local trade association for advertising professionals, but they can’t write off a country club membership even if they met clients at that location.

Phone and Internet Expenses

You likely use your phone a lot for both business and personal use. Freelancers can deduct some of their annual internet and phone bill based on the percentage used in their business. It can be a challenge to determine exactly how much of your internet and cellphone you’ve used for work, so only deduct what is considered reasonable. (Try these tips to save even more money as a freelancer.)

Keep an itemized list of your cell phone usage and figure out a reasonable percentage you can claim. Never deduct 100 percent of your cell phone bill unless you have a dedicated number associated with your business, or you’ll likely get audited. (Can you really prove that texting your mom on your cell phone was about a work matter every time?)

Marketing and Advertising

Freelancers may require advertising and marketing to promote their business. Whether you’re ordering business cards, enlisting the help of an SEO service, subscribing to LinkedIn Premium to find editors and marketing professionals, or maintaining your websites, you can deduct these costs as long as they promote what you’re selling or serve a purpose in your business.

Depreciation of Business Equipment

You probably didn’t think you could profit off of your dying business equipment, but in some circumstances, you can receive some money back on your laptops or software. Depreciation is complicated and may require you to ask a professional accountant on what can be considered a write-off, but here are some key points you’ll need to get started:

  • IRS section 179 lets you deduct the full purchase price of a qualifying asset like software or equipment that’s losing its value. Deducting this cost will reduce the amount of taxes owed at the end of the year.
  • Equipment bought during the 2020-2021 tax years will usually qualify as long as you don’t spend over $3,500,000 on said asset.
  • The asset you’re writing off has to be used to qualify. If you buy a piece of equipment in 2021 but don’t use it until 2022, you won’t be able to write it off.
  • Your assets have to be purchased by you, tangible, and used for running your business.

For a full list on which business equipment qualifies, go to section 179.org.

(Related: How You’ll Save and Spend Money by Working from Home)

Freelance Business Insurance

Not all freelancers require business insurance, but many of us will purchase extra coverage to ensure they don’t receive any unexpected business expenses. Professional liability coverage, income protection insurance, business interruption insurance, and commercial property insurance are all covered, but some states let you write off other forms of insurance.

Sometimes you save more money by not having extra insurance, but that only applies to freelancers that don’t have clients walking in and out of their homes. If you purely operate online as a single entity, business insurance may not be the right option for you. (Check out Diana Kelly Levey’s e-book, 100+ Tips for Beginner Freelance Writers, for more must-have freelance business advice.)

Health Insurance

Unless you have a spouse who receives health insurance through their full-time job, you can deduct a portion of your pay premiums. Freelancers don’t have the option of receiving medical insurance through their employers because we are our own employers. Thankfully, the IRS will let you deduct dental, health, and vision insurance.

Remember that if you qualify for health insurance deductibles, you can’t claim them on the same form as your other business expenses. Write in your deductible on Line 16 of Schedule 1 that’s attached to your 1040 form.

Now that you have your taxes covered, sign up Diana Kelly Levey’s freelance coaching services to get your freelance writing in tip-top shape for the remainder of 2021.

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