From guest blogger Helen Schussler, CPA
HOBBY INCOME VS.
If you produce art to sell you are in the art business. If
you sell your art, you need to report your income to the IRS. For artists just
starting out, the first hurdle is to prove you are in business, in other words,
that you have a profit motive. This is important because if you do not have a
profit motive, you are engaged in a hobby and “hobby loss” rules apply. The
“hobby loss” rules are not tax advantageous.
I had a client who was a doctor and also played the bass.
One year he organized a gig with his band at a local bar. He was paid $4k by
the bar. Between paying for equipment rental, paying some of the musicians and
other incidentals, the gig cost him a little over $4k. He was fine with that
because he really was doing it just for the fun of it and was happy that at
least it wasn’t costing him anything.
In January of the next year the bar sent him a Form 1099
showing non-employee compensation of $4k. The Form 1099 is an IRS form prepared
by the person who paid you, in this case the owner of the bar. One copy of the
form goes to the IRS and one copy goes to you. My client wasn’t concerned about
the form because he figured no tax could be due on no income. He had netted less
than zero income on the performance. He didn’t even mention it to me; the story
came out when I was working on his tax return in February and called to ask
about the Form 1099.
Music for my client was clearly a hobby, not a business. Although
you can take deductions for the expense of a hobby, those deductions are limited and, sometimes, depending on
your income, not allowed at all. You
can never take a loss from a hobby. My client was very surprised to find out he
owed $1k in tax on the $4k earnings from the gig.
If you engage in your art to sell it and make money you are
in business and different rules apply. You are considered self-employed and file a Schedule C with your annual income tax
return. Schedule C is the page of your tax return where self-employment income
and expenses are reported. If expenses are greater than income you have a loss.
The expenses are not limited and the loss is not limited. The loss can be used
to reduce any other taxable income you have, for example wages you have from
your day job.
In order to benefit from the self-employment rules and not
fall under the hobby loss rules you need to be sure you really have a business
going. Make sure you have a separate checking account and credit card that you
use only for business expenses and that any earnings you make get deposited
first into that business account. The IRS frowns on the commingling of funds.
If you take money from your business account for groceries and from your
personal account for paint supplies, it starts to look like a hobby. Worse is
if you do not even have separate accounts to begin with.
Other ways to prove a profit motive is to exhibit your work,
advertise it and of course, actually make a profit from it. An activity is
presumed to be engaged in for a profit if it is profitable three out of five
consecutive years. (For a new business the first two years may show deductible
losses, but you should start showing a profit by the third year. If you don’t,
you may still have a valid business; it just may be more difficult to prove.)
TAKE ALL YOUR
Once you have established a profit motive, you want to get
the benefit of all your deductions. The mileage deduction is often overlooked.
If you have to drive for your business, keep a log of miles driven. I suggest
keeping this piece of paper right in the car. Whenever you take a trip for your
art, write down the date, the destination, the purpose and the number of miles
driven. Each mile is a 55.5 cent deduction for 2012.
If you use part of your home as a studio or office you can
take a deduction for that as well. The deduction is calculated based on the
percent of square feet used for the business compared to the whole home. Just
be careful, the space must be used exclusively for the business purpose.
Things you do for education or to stay current in your field
are also deductible: ticket expenses to plays for a playwright, art
periodicals, museum fees, etc. Other common deductions include travel, office
supplies, art supplies, website maintenance, etc. Equipment you purchase, like
a camera, is also deductible, but over time. You usually cannot deduct the
entire cost in the year of purchase, but must depreciate the cost of big ticket
items over the years you use them.
PAY YOUR TAXES
Now that you are up and running and clearly making a profit,
you need a plan for paying your taxes. The IRS expects to be paid along the
way. You generally can’t wait until your return is due on April 15th
to pay your taxes. If you receive a Form W-2 as an employee, taxes are taken
out and paid to the IRS over the course of the year. If you are self-employed,
you are responsible for paying that tax to the IRS in four quarterly estimated
payments. These payments can be made in equal installments and are due in
April, June, September and January (not exactly equal quarters, but that is how
the IRS does it.) So if you estimate that you will owe $2k in tax you should
pay $500 each quarter.
You can also “annualize” and pay as you earn. That means if
you make nothing from January through November, but do really well in December,
you pay no tax estimates April, June and September, but pay all in the fourth
quarter (January of the following year.)
The quarterly payments, of course, are estimates. As long as
you pay 90% of the total tax due you will be o.k. and will not have to pay any
interest or penalties when you file your return in April. The IRS also will not
charge interest or penalties if you have paid in 100% (or 110% for higher earners)
of the tax that was due in the prior year. So if you owed $5k in tax for 2011,
and you have paid in $5k in tax in 2012, you may owe more in April, but you
will not owe interest and penalties. You can find instructions for calculating the
tax due here >>> f1040es
Lastly, it is important for artists not to overlook
retirement planning. If you file a Schedule C for your self- employment income as
an artist, you can set up a SEP-IRA. You can set up a SEP-IRA even if you
participate in a 401K plan at your day job. The tax advantage of having a SEP
is you can take a deduction for the amount you deposit into the SEP account and
the money grows in the account tax deferred. You don’t pay any tax until you take
withdrawals when you retire. Withdrawals taken at retirement age will likely be
taxed at a lower rate.
The amount you can deposit into a SEP-IRA each year depends
on your self-employment income. For 2012, the maximum you can contribute is
$49k or approximately 20% of your self-employment income, whichever is less. If
you contribute to your 401K at your day job, total contributions for both the
SEP and the 401K cannot exceed the $49k. So max out your 401K at work ($17k for
2012) and if you can afford to put any more away, put it in a SEP.
I hope this has been helpful. I have skimmed over these
important topics to give you an introduction to the tax issues you may have to
deal with. In my next blog I will discuss the tax implications of donating your
artwork to charity and leaving artwork to your heirs. Please leave any
questions; I will try to respond to everyone.
IRS Circular 230 notice:
In order to comply with requirements imposed by the IRS, I must inform you that
any U.S. federal tax advice contained in this blog is not intended or written
to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under
the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to
another party any transaction or matter that is contained in this blog.