As we muddle our way through tax preparation, we tend to focus on the little things, like whether to deduct 100 percent of your internet connection or if that lunch with a friend really counts as an expense. But we should also be asking ourselves a bigger question about the future: Is this the year to incorporate?
The answer depends on your income—and your comfort level with personal liability. Remember that LLC stands for limited liability company. If you have an LLC and get sued for an article you write—which does happen—the LLC will help limit your exposure and shield your personal assets.
“The decision to organize an LLC should be based on whether the freelancer needs the extra liability protection an LLC provides,” said Ben Henry-Moreland, CFP and founder of Freelance Financial Planning.
Here are some factors to consider:
Sole proprietors benefit under new tax law
You don’t need to form an LLC to take advantage of a 20 percent qualified business income deduction under the recently enacted Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, according to Brad Paladini, tax attorney at Paladini Law.
“The twenty percent deduction is for pass-through businesses including partnerships, S-corps, and LLCs,” he said. “The deduction is also for sole proprietorships, which a lot of tax professionals are unaware of. So you do not need to incorporate to get the benefit of the deduction.”
Sole proprietors won’t lose their business deductions
You might have heard that the new tax law eliminates some types of business deductions. However, that provision doesn’t apply to freelance expenses deducted using a Schedule C.
“The business-related deductions for Schedule C aren’t affected by the new plan,” said Joshua Zimmelman, president of Westwood Tax & Consulting LLC. “If that’s the main reason for considering incorporation, then it isn’t necessary to do so.”
An LLC requires extra paperwork & follow-up
Starting an LLC comes with both extra work and hidden costs. You’ll need to pay a filing fee for the LLC forms (usually a few hundred dollars, though it varies by state). Then you’ll have to register your business name, open a bank account, and keep up with your state’s reporting requirements. There’s a chance you may need a registered agent as well, someone who can receive official communications and legal documents on your behalf.
Henry-Moreland suggests you ask yourself three questions to decide whether it’s worth the trouble:
1. Is incorporation worth the extra time and money involved? If you’re relatively new to freelancing, probably not. If you’re established and in it for the long haul, maybe.
2. Is your freelance income stable and growing? Incorporating is a growth move, but incorporating by itself won’t help you get new clients. Think of it as something to consider after you’ve already proven you can build something worthwhile.
3. Are you planning to hire any contractors or employees? Once you get to the point when you’re regularly hiring people, it might be time to think about incorporation.
The C Corp could be a better alternative
Once your taxable income passes $157,500 (if you’re single) or $315,000 (if you’re married), you start to lose the benefits of the 20 percent qualified business deduction. Those benefits phase out completely if your income passes $207,500 (single) or $415,000 (married).
For anyone in this (enviable) situation, Paladini suggests becoming a C Corp, which is now taxed at 21 percent compared to the previous 35 percent rate.
Get professional advice
If you are considering incorporating in 2018, you should probably set up a meeting with a certified public accountant (CPA)—or find a CPA if you don’t already have one. Be aware that they might ask you to wait until after tax season to have the conversation or start the incorporation process if you reach out to them in March.
Even if incorporating doesn’t make financial sense right now, you can spend 2018 building your portfolio, landing new clients, and working to become a six-figure freelancer. By the time you hit that income milestone, you might be ready to file those forms and take your career to the next level.