Just about the most common problem self-employed people and partners make is failure to pay estimated tax payments. It is hard enough being a small business, and rent is due or you have employees to pay. But according to the IRS, you must pay them first.
Taxes must be paid as you earn or receive income during the year, either through withholding or estimated tax payments. If the amount of income tax withheld from your salary or pension is not enough, or if you receive income such as interest, dividends, alimony, self-employment income, capital gains, prizes and awards, you may have to make estimated tax payments. If you are in business for yourself, you generally need to make estimated tax payments. Estimated tax is used to pay not only income tax, but other taxes such as self-employment tax and alternative minimum tax.
If you don’t pay enough tax through withholding and estimated tax payments, you may be charged a penalty. You also may be charged a penalty if your estimated tax payments are late, even if you are due a refund when you file your tax return.
Who Must Pay Estimated Tax
Individuals, including sole proprietors, partners, and S corporation shareholders, generally have to make estimated tax payments if they expect to owe tax of $1,000 or more when their return is filed.
Corporations generally have to make estimated tax payments if they expect to owe tax of $500 or more when their return is filed.
How To Figure Estimated Tax
Individuals, including sole proprietors, partners, and S corporation shareholders, generally use Form 1040-ES, to figure estimated tax.
To figure your estimated tax, you must figure your expected adjusted gross income, taxable income, taxes, deductions, and credits for the year.
When figuring your estimated tax for the current year, it may be helpful to use your income, deductions, and credits for the prior year as a starting point. Use your prior year’s federal tax return as a guide. You can use the worksheet in Form 1040-ES (PDF) to figure your estimated tax. You need to estimate the amount of income you expect to earn for the year. If you estimated your earnings too high, simply complete another Form 1040-ES worksheet to refigure your estimated tax for the next quarter. If you estimated your earnings too low, again complete another Form 1040-ES worksheet to recalculate your estimated tax for the next quarter. You want to estimate your income as accurately as you can to avoid penalties.
You must make adjustments both for changes in your own situation and for recent changes in the tax law.
When To Pay Estimated Taxes
For estimated tax purposes, the year is divided into four payment periods.
Using the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) is the easiest way for individuals as well as businesses to pay federal taxes. Make ALL of your federal tax payments including federal tax deposits (FTDs), installment agreement and estimated tax payments using EFTPS. If it’s easier to pay your estimated taxes weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, etc. you can, as long as you’ve paid enough in by the end of the quarter. Using EFTPS, you can access a history of your payments, so you know how much and when you made your estimated tax payments.
Penalty for Underpayment of Estimated Tax
If you didn’t pay enough tax throughout the year, either through withholding or by making estimated tax payments, you may have to pay a penalty for underpayment of estimated tax. Generally, most taxpayers will avoid this 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. There are special rules for farmers and fishermen.
However, if your income is received unevenly during the year, you may be able to avoid or lower the penalty by annualizing your income and making unequal payments.
The penalty may be waived if:
- The failure to make estimated payments was caused by a casualty, disaster, or other unusual circumstance and it would be inequitable to impose the penalty, or
- You retired (after reaching age 62) or became disabled during the tax year for which estimated payments were required to be made or in the preceding tax year, and the underpayment was due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect.
If you or a client need help with tax problems, call Jeffrey R. Siegel, your Kansas City Tax Attorney, at (913) 735-4829. We help with offers in compromise, tax levies, garnishments, installment agreements, tax delinquencies, clearing tax liens, tax lien help, innocent spouse relief, injured spouse relief and other solutions when you cannot pay your taxes.