How I balance freelance income between taxes, retirement, and salary


  • After submitting my taxes this yr, I obtained hit with a shock invoice for simply over $10,000 from the IRS.
  • I did not panic, although, as a result of I’d deliberate forward for my taxes as a part of my three-prong cash administration technique that covers taxes, retirement financial savings, and nearly all the things else.
  • Whenever I receives a commission by a shopper for freelance work, I instantly put aside 30% in a high-yield enterprise financial savings account for taxes, one other 10% in a retirement financial savings account, and the rest stays in my enterprise checking account to pay enterprise bills, give myself a salary, and anything.
  • Using a number of accounts helps me maintain the cash separate and prepared for any shock payments — like the most recent one from the IRS.
  • See Business Insider’s picks for one of the best high-yield financial savings accounts »

I’ve made loads of monetary errors in my private life. Luckily, I sorted most of those out by the point I began my freelance enterprise. I use budgeting software program (You Need a Budget, to be particular) to finances for my enterprise similar to I do for my private funds, and it has been a lifesaver in additional methods than one. 

Take, as an illustration, when I obtained hit with a shock IRS invoice for $10,034 after doing my tax return this yr. That sucks. But, I already had excess of that saved in my tax financial savings account, so I’ll be capable to pay it with no downside and nonetheless have cash left over to high off my different retirement accounts and repay the final little bit of my pupil loans.  

All too usually I hear different freelancers lament not having the ability to pay shock tax payments, and not having sufficient retirement financial savings. It does not must be that method. 

All you want is an easy system, a budgeting program, and the self-discipline to spend a few minutes checking out your income as you receives a commission. Trust me, if I — probably the most scatterbrained of individuals — can do it, so are you able to. Here’s what I do. 

Tax financial savings: Set apart 30% in a high-interest financial savings account

Unfortunately, like all issues in life, the federal government will get its due first. 

If you had an employer, they’d take a lower of your paycheck earlier than you receives a commission. Now, you are your personal employer, so let’s be sure to do the identical factor. 

I log into my high-yield enterprise checking account at the least each few days. Develop a schedule for your self; as soon as a day, as soon as every week, and so forth … Mark it on the calendar till it turns into a behavior, or use an app like Todoist (additionally useful for planning your day as a enterprise proprietor). 

If I see that I’ve gotten any new shopper funds, I tally all of them as much as get the full quantity. Then, I multiply it by zero.30 to shave off 30%. This quantity will get transferred right into a separate financial savings account that I’ve arrange only for tax financial savings. 

When I must pay my quarterly taxes, I switch the required quantity again into my checking account so it is able to go. 

By the top of the yr, I’ve normally saved up fairly a surplus past what I’ve paid out in taxes. I do that intentionally as a result of I by no means need to get caught with a tax invoice I cannot pay. Thus, I save an even bigger share than I suppose I’ll owe in taxes. This is the place having an accountant estimate financial savings fee can actually come in useful. 

Retirement financial savings: Set apart 10% in a retirement account

As enjoyable as freelancing may be, I do not need to do it eternally. Someday I’d prefer to retire. 

That’s why I additionally put aside 10% of every paycheck for retirement. I observe the quantity similar to with my tax financial savings, and as soon as a month, I deposit the month-to-month whole into my Vanguard SEP IRA. 

You can deposit a fair bigger slice if you’d like, however since I have an odd enterprise construction as an LLC partnership with my husband, I’m restricted to that quantity with my SEP IRA. You may also go for one other self-employed retirement account, like a SIMPLE IRA or a Solo 401(okay). 

My paycheck: Set apart 60%

What’s left over in my checking account is for me. Now that I know I have my current tax obligations and my future wants taken care of, I’m comfy paying out the remainder to myself. 

In reality, I get barely lower than 60%, as a result of I additionally use this chunk of cash for my month-to-month enterprise bills, together with transcription charges, my Skype subscription, and accounting charges. I additionally save up for different bills, like attending conferences or annual subscriptions. 

However, as a freelance author, my overhead is not a lot. After I finances out for these things every month, the rest will get lumped right into a “Distributions to ME!” class, and on the finish of the month, I deposit it into my and my husband’s private account as my paycheck. 

I’ll revise my percentages for subsequent yr

For most of my five-year freelance writing profession, this technique has labored fairly nicely. I’ve at all times had a surplus in my tax financial savings account by the top of the yr, and so I deal with it as a bonus. 

This yr was a bit of totally different. Since my husband lately graduated and moved into the working world, our mixed income was increased and we forgot to regulate accordingly. Thus, I was confronted with each freelancer’s worst nightmare: a shock tax invoice of $10,034. 

No sweat, although. Thanks to my system and over-saving for my taxes, I had greater than sufficient in my tax financial savings account to pay the rogue tax invoice, and then some. I nonetheless obtained to pay myself my “bonus,” and I did not want to fret about going into debt once more. 

At the identical time, I additionally confronted one other downside: I over-contributed to my SEP IRA. It additionally wasn’t a giant deal since I solely needed to withdraw the additional cash plus the earnings, however it was a problem and a couple of additional hours of labor to determine. 

However, I’d nonetheless want not to have that top tax invoice subsequent yr, and not have to fret about fixing an over-contribution to my SEP IRA. So, I’m adjusting how I divvy up my paycheck. 

Rather than a 10/30/60, retirement/taxes/distributions system, I’m going to avoid wasting extra for taxes and much less for retirement. I’ll break up issues up 7/33/60. That method, if I have not contributed the utmost to my SEP IRA by the top of subsequent yr, I can extra simply high it off than take it out. 

It’s nonetheless a piece in progress, however it’s one of the best system I’ve discovered to ease my monetary anxiousness and be certain I have all my bases lined. It solely takes a couple of minutes to run by means of this routine every week, and the outcomes are nicely value it. 



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