Financial strategies

edited April 2013 in The Toolbox
It's income tax season in the US, which poses certain challenges to the self-employed creator.  For those who have income, what strategies do you use to accommodate your business activities?


  • Fraud, deception and, oddly, slander.

    Nowadays I keep receipts for everything and have a bookkeeper and (once a year) an accountant. Which has driven home that I am running a small business.
  • It's not precisely a financial strategy, but an unexpected perk of pro comics is that people will pay my way to places I wanted to go anyway. And my forthcoming trip to New Orleans is tax deductible (I genuinely am going for research).

    I will say this - I genuinely didn't realize before I got everything for this year's taxes how much money went to comic business related stuff. It adds up, and it's easy to not keep track.
  • True.  It can be a mess.  The more money, the more travel, the more promotion, whatever.  I have folders and pockets divided by months for receipts.

    The digital age has helped a little.  Accessing credit card / debit card / cashed checks / receipts, etc. has been easy.

    I will seriously look into the LLC for this year.
  • Yeah, I have a moleskine receipt thinger, and every so often they get organized by someone who is not me. I am, as it turns out, pretty good at deciding what needs done and how to do it. I am shitfuckawful at actually doing said things, especially when it comes to repetitive tasks.

    Like Eastwood said, a man has got to know his limitations. And then outsource then. I'm pretty sure that's what he said.
  • Well, who could argue with Clint Eastwood? ;)

  • Since comics-making is still a net-loss business for me, I combine it with the "highly diversified" moonlighting I do fixing computers, graphic design, GoogleAds on a few moderate-traffic web sites, etc to balance out that income on my Schedule SE.  If I'm ever audited, I'll justify it as up-front investments into a line of business that I hope will pay off down the road.  Which, remarkably, is the truth.
  • edited April 2013
    If any of you need some advice on what's deductible, or expensable, or the rules of business vs. hobby, please rely on those of us who have been doing this for a while. Or those of us married to tax preparers.
  • @RussellLissau - that's what this thread is for, haha!

    How 'bout starting with the ups and downs of starting an LLC?
  • I'm not the right person to ask as Indiana is a pass through state. LLCs with one member are treated more or less like individuals. The only tangible benefit is the ability to open a business checking account with its own debit card!
  • edited April 2013
    Thanks, Steve.
    Yeah, California (my state) is not a "pass through" state.
  • I'm tempted to make a geographic, cultural, or dietary joke about Indiana and California.  I will refrain.
  • I, for one, will be keep an eye on this thread closely, and I know absolutely NOTHING about tax deductions, business expenses, etc. for self-employment. I can't think of anything you would say that I would find at least a little beneficial. So if someone wants to list off some of the drop-dead basics we should be doing, I am all ears (or eyes, in this case...).
  • I'm not an accountant, but my understanding is that LLC's will not only not save you anything, but will actually cost you more in taxes and fees. For example, California (Jimmie take note!) has an annual fee of $800 for each LLC in addition to whatever taxes you pay. If it's not a pass through you need to pay taxes twice, once on the LLC income and again on the money you get from it. 

    The only reason a sole proprietor would create an LLC (again, my understanding) is to limit liability. And I doubt many of us would get sued for our comics. 
  • @Jay_Latimer - yeah the more I learned about that the more I saw exactly what you were saying.  Granted.... I created Bomb Queen... my potential for being sued is higher than others, hahaha!

    What about S-Corp status?

    And I agree with @GMatias that the bare bones, rock bottom line basics should be noted  in this thread.
  • Some years I make enough to be classified as a business, in which case everything is deductible. 

    Not for a couple of years, though--I have been operating at a loss for a few years now.  This last year I have spent a LOT, and I hope it will pay off next year. 

    I am not sure, but I may be able to claim expenses from past years if my 'business' becomes solvent again. 
  • edited April 2013
    So if someone wants to list off some of the drop-dead basics we should be doing, I am all ears (or eyes, in this case...).
    Drop-dead basics?
    Well, for US federal taxes, if you haven't done anything like incorporating, you should be using Schedules C and SE to report your income and expenses and figure out your self-employment tax for Social Security.
    Don't claim a home office as an expense unless you've discussed it with a tax expert to make sure you're doing it  – and everything else – right, because that's a red flag for an audit.
  • Here are my basics, which are pretty basic: 

    If you have any significant income from sales, you should set up a separate bank account for comics. It can still be a personal account, but use it only for comic-related income and expenses. 
    Keep all of your expense receipts for anything related to comics. 
    Set up a system to keep track of your income and expense and update it every month (I use Excel)
    Use Turbo Tax (or another automated program) to file taxes - it makes things much easier. 
    As for home office claims, the IRS now has a simplified standard deduction. I'm pretty sure that claiming this will not automatically trigger an audit. 
    [Also, if I were an IRS agent looking for additional revenue sources, auditing comics creators would be pretty far down my list]

  • Four people in my family do taxes for a living, so I've got some ancillary knowledge here. More importantly, I've been reporting income as a freelancer and journalist for 20-plus years, so here's what I can tell you.

    1. If your Schedule C business isn't turning a profit in 3 out of 5 years, it's a hobby and not a self-employed business. The IRS takes that ver seriously.

    2. Keep receipts for everything related to the business. I claim my comic book purchases, DVDs (legitimate research at times), mileage, hotel stays during cons, food, parking, postage, Internet service, cell phone service and office materials and equipment. It's easy to do with a spreadsheet, and Trevor does that. Me, I simply staple all the receipts in chronological order in a notebook so they're easily reviewable if I need to do so.

    3. I don't bother with a separate bank account, because my income from comics pays my home bills. Other people have the luxury to separate, but I don't.

    4. Do not fuck around with the IRS. We once made a minor adding mistake on a return and got penalized a few hundred bucks, even though we offered to pay the diference immediately. Repeat: DO NOT FUCK AROUND WITH THE IRS.

    5. My wife says the Turbo Tax type programs are rubbish if you have serious expenses and are itemizing, but they're OK if you have a simple return.

  • edited April 2013
    EDIT: Looking at @Russell_Lissau's post, I guess I can't claim anything below because I'm not turning a profit on it yet (or at all?) or do I keep track of things now and just now that if I don't turn one in the next three years, I need to stop claiming stuff?


    I'm assuming that the more specific the info, then the more help it will be to everyone, so here's exactly where I stand now:

    I co-host a podcast called The Next Issue, and receive no income from this. For that I review comics which I have purchased (not all expressly for the show, but everything on the show I've paid money for), talk to creators, and occasionally travel to shows for interviews/coverage. I also pay the webhosting bill for our episode site. I've also had business cards made for myself that are show-related.
    • I'm assuming the money spent on this in 2012 is not covered, but moving forward, the hosting bill and travel expenses and/or ticket fees for shows I get coverage from are things that can (and more importantly should?) be recorded/tallied/saved for my tax guy?

    I will be starting a webcomic in the next year or so, but will certainly start spending money/doing work on it this year, and I assume will receive no income from it until well into next year, if ever.

    • Right now the writing brings in no income and incurs no direct cost, but one could make the case that all my comic purchases are 'research' costs? (Is that what you mean by expense receipts related to comics, @Jay_Latimer?) Plus when I start paying other individuals for rendering services for my webcomic, that will need to be accounted for? In addition to webhosting costs and advertising/etc.? 

    The extent of my tax knowledge is I collect the End-Of-Year statements/forms I get in January and take them to my guy at JH and he does my taxes. I am not incorporated or LLC'ed or anything like that. I live in Maryland.  

    What jumps out at you guys in terms of "You should do this..." or "Why the hell did you not do X already?" (preferably the former than the latter 8D )?

  • Currently, I will be paying over $900 in Quarterly (1040-ES vouchers) for this year.
    And that's after paying over $3 grand for last year (this year's filing).

    "You should do this..."
    There are a lot of factors for each person.  But basically no matter if you make a profit or not, you should...

    As @RussellLissau ;said, keep ALL receipts (you can even make notes on them on the sides).

    Put them in chronological order for ease of use (it helps when you have a receipt you can't recall).

    If you are making a profit, then you can either...
    (a) Do estimated tax based on your AGI [Adjusted Gross Income] from the year before (if you have it) and then you might actually get a refund if you overpaid or get hit with a loss.


    (b) shell it all out at once.  I did that this year and it sucks.  You think paying $900 every four months is bad?  Pay almost $4 thousand at one time.  It doesn't matter how much you write off, if you kept it all and spent it then the U.S. wants to know why you haven't paid them anything (as it's done through a regular paycheck).  Plenty of people do this, especially in those times between hobby status and full profitability. It's a real scary jumping off point when a person decides to go "all in", trust me.

    Medical is also an issue if you're self-employed.

    The majority of people have health insurance through their day-jobs.  It's usually deducted out of a paycheck just like Federal & State & Social Security, etc.  But if you're fully self-employed then that comes out of *your* pocket, or whatever plan you've purchased.  THAT tends to be a very good write-off (not that I'm encouraging people to get sick).  I made the mistake of shelling out $4 grand in dental work that I missed on last year's file.

    Speaking of that dental work... something unique came out of that.  I had the work done at the very end of the year.  I paid at the time but the money wasn't taken cashed from my account until the first of the NEXT year.  In short, DO NOT do big transactions that span over the year mark.  Do it well beforehand, get receipts, bank info, cleared checks, et. on the YEAR you want it in.  I lost over two thousand in dental over that.  I paid in 2011, but it wasn't credited to my account until 2012.

    Also, speaking as a published professional, I get 1099-MISC income statements from the publisher.  This is basically the equivalent of a W-2 you'd get from an employer (but with a lot less information).  It basically states what you've made for the entire year.  The sum will be stated as royalties or non-employee payments, but the bottom line is that $$$ is what the IRS sees as taxable (which can be offset by the estimated tax -- if you went that route).

    Also, keep in mind... If you are paying someone to help create the book (like work-for-hire) you have to be careful.  I hire a colorist on my books.  He lives in Canada. He is considered a *non-employee*, or an *independent contractor*.  For me... it's just like a company that outsources work for me in the states.  Yeah, I know... I'm un-American, haha!  But honestly, it just ended up that way, I didn't go out my way to do that.

    Anyway, I bring that up because sometimes it's not a concern IF the publisher splits the money to each person who worked on the book.  As in WFH (Marvel DC, etc.) you get paid for your part / contribution.  But with creator-owned works, if you're the *lead / contact / creator* then often ALL the money comes to you and then you distribute it to everyone else.  The main problem with this is that YOU will be taxed for the entire 1099-MISC even if your had to split it with others on the team.  Some folks create 1099 forms for everyone on the team.  Some folks (depending on their situations) take the full hit if it benefits them.

    To that point we'd have to ask @JustinJordan or @BrandonSeifert ;how they handle it on their books.
    I do all the work on my books so I don't have to split it.

    I'm no expert on anything.  These are just my recent experiences.  So if others want to jump in then please add to the mix, correct me, or whatever.  I know that just about everything can be searched for online, but this thread is on this forum so it can be accessed here under one roof.  As @RussellLissau said, he lives with a family of tax accountants AND he knows comics, too.  His wife also offers services.

    I would take her up on that, but my wife wants to do it (marriage status is another thing I have to deal with this year) plus, my wife has a lot of financial hoops through her family's estate that she has to jump through.  BUT... if I were still single I'd be tossing it all to Russell's wife.
  • Greg, if you make no income on something, it is a hobby not a business.
  • Filing quarterly is much better than the lump sum in April, Jimmie. Too many years in a row of not filing estimated quarterlies, and you will be penalized.
  • @GMatias - It sounds like you're putting in and writing off more than you're making - even with all the good write-offs you're listing.  But trust me, I know exactly how you feel.  In fact, I'm sure a lot of people here do.

  • @RussellLissau - that's what I thought, but it's good to hear coming from someone else looking at my situation. But as soon as I get some income, even if it's less than my expenses and not overall profit, it becomes a business, right?

    @Jimmie_Robinson - I haven't actually written any of this off on my taxes before because, like Russell said, I figured it was just a hobby. But since I'm starting up the webcomic (I.e. something that might actuall bring money IN) (hahaha) this year, I thought I'd throw out everything I have going and get some feedback for moving forward.
  • edited April 2013
    Having income doesn't necessarily make it business (instead of a hobby), but you are supposed to report that income, typically on Schedule C as if it was a business. But you can't consistently report losing money on it year after year, and keep claiming the expenses as business expenses, because the IRS (correctly) concludes that you're not really doing it to make money.
  • If your expenses exceed your income, claim just enough to show a small profit and pay taxes on that. That way it is always a business, and you can continue to claim expenses.
  • I keep track of my expenses in a Google Doc spreadsheet. It's in my bookmarks menu. Every time I have a business expense, the next time I'm at the computer I fire up the Doc and add the expense. Then I file the receipt (with a check mark on it to show I recorded it).

    It's much easier for me to do it as I go than to try to catch up later. The one time it really breaks down? Cons.
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