by Peggy Bechko
2012 is gone
Okay, I made it through the end of the year when I got my new computer. Yes, I actually did the techie thing (I am no techie if you’ll remember) and got the thing up and running. My brain felt like a marshmallow after, but I guess that’s par for the course from what I hear from IT people. Even downloaded printer drivers for the new Windows 8 version, installed and actually have it printing.
Whew, that’s over. Computer is functioning fine, I’m getting caught up and yes, you know what time of the year it is – it’s tax time happy people!
Now don’t tell me I’m jumping the gun. I’m not. For one thing, we always file our taxes early because we nearly always are entitled to a refund. We pay in too much so we have a cushion against rise in writing income (something to be joyfully anticipated, not feared). So we waaaay over estimate.
At least hot on the heels of computer adventure this should not be too ‘taxing’ or stressful.
Um, I hope.
So, as a writer, what’s to be done to prepare for tax time? Not a lot at this point, but then I’ve been keeping up with it all year, maintained a spread sheet and have a good accountant.
A few tips from me to the rest of you writers. First of all, keep your receipts for everything you buy and print ones from the computer for things you buy online. Keep them in order by date and keep them neatly in a file AFTER you note them on a simple spread sheet. If you do this each time you spend money on your writing career it will be easy and will save you money. And remember to back up that simple spread sheet in some fashion so you don’t loose your year’s entries along about November to a computer crash and have to do it all again.
If you’re the sort who tosses receipts (when you actually get them) into a shoe box and then hand that rubber-banded shoebox over to your accountant at the end of the year (or more likely a couple of days before tax deadline) stop it at once! At the rate a decent accountant charges if you do this and he or she has to plow through everything you have you’re spending a fortune. And if you think you’re not going to be financially penalized (even above the hourly rate) think again. And you know that smiling face? It’s a mask. The accountant you did this to really wants to kill you.
My mother was an accountant, I know.
She taught me to keep my records straight as I go and save a whole lot of time, money and aggravation. The more hours spent on your tax return, the more you pay. So, if you keep your records clearly from day one of 2013, make a simple spread sheet and print that out to take along before you go see your accountant (he or she may or may not want you to bring along all your receipts) along with your earings statements from wherever your writing income has sprung. Personally I copy checks when they come in so I remember to add them to my little spreadsheet.
Other things I want to mention. If you have a dedicated space in your house you use only for writing and writing associated tasks you can write it off your taxes as your office. BUT, to do this, talk with your accountant and do it right. It can be an open door for an audit and we all want to avoid those. My advice here? Don’t do it if there’s any doubt that space is exclusively for your writing.
Oh, and be honest. Don’t be a tax cheat. There’re are a lot of laughs about cheating on your taxes, but believe me it’s not worth it…oh the tales I could tell (my mother was an accountant, remember?).
You can do your own taxes as well. I did mine for years before I got too sick of it and found our accountant. There are a whole lot of rules and information online where you can find the tax laws and rules, forms and publications and more. I maight add that if you do your own taxes it’s evenmore imperative that you keep your records straight and do it from day one because it’s YOU who’ll be sorting through everything when ti comes time to prepare the tax return.
And I know, April 15 is the deadline. If you have an accountant and want to make him or her deleriously happy with you get your information in early – like in late February or eary March. Before everybody else does and they’re in a perpetual state of stress and headache. If you’re doing your own you bet you better get at it early. If you have questions or need extra forms and how to fill them out you’re going to need some lead time in case you can’t readily get what you need.
So take your head out of the same, get a little organized and start thinking about this now so you can correct the errors you’ve made in 2012 and start 2013 on a much better note. Think about all the things that are associated with your writing and make a point of taking care of the record keeping as you go.
If you drive a car on occasion for your writing assignments check on what the latest mileage allowance for tax purposes (info available online at the site I mentioned) then keep a small notebook in your car and record the beginning odometer reading and end when you return. Date that page, tear it out and put it with your receipts. A great way to remember to track it and not miss out on a deduction.
Remember things like your web access. Yes, it’s a business expense, but if it’s in the home and the kids are using it to play video games 4 hours a day then it’s not exclusive and you can charge only a portion off to your expense. This is why an accountant is handy. Or seriously read up on the IRS rules regarding your writing income and allowable expense.
Heed my advice. Get moving. And have a great 2013