It's Not Fun, but It Has to be Done Benjamin Franklin wrote a 1789 letter that states, “But in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Even at the United States’ early beginnings, federal taxes were a necessary evil to fund various public projects and administrative costs. Today, federal taxes serve much of the same purpose. While virtually no one likes to prepare and file their taxes, it is a necessity if you want to avoid fines and further hassle. It is no secret that preparing and filing your taxes is notoriously complicated. Many people lament that it should not be so difficult to pay the government. However, some of the complications allow people to save money if they discover specific tax benefits. Knowing how to file your own taxes may be a good option if your tax situation is relatively straightforward, or if you are willing to learn the process. Why Do You Need to File Your Taxes Every Year? The short answer is that federal law requires that most individuals file taxes annually. Income taxes are assessed every year based on your income earned during that period. You then pay a percentage of that income to the government, less any deductions, adjustments, or credits that you qualify to receive. If you do not file (and pay) your taxes, then you may be assessed penalties and interest. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can even go as far as garnishing your wages and repossessing your property if you do not file and pay as required. The Benefits of Filing Your Own Taxes If you are one of the 43% of Americans that are doing your own taxes, you are certainly not alone. Roughly 53 million people prepared and filed their own taxes in 2018. There are many benefits to filing your own taxes, including: Saving money: Hiring a tax professional is expensive, and many people can prepare and file their returns on their own, completely free of charge. Control: Some people like knowing the exact information that is included in their return and being able to control the data, and for some, knowing precisely how the numbers work out, is comforting. Gain helpful information: When you prepare your taxes, you can see what items saved you money this year or which issues you should address so you can save money next year. While filing your own taxes is complicated, it can be beneficial under the right circumstances. There are several programs online that walk you through the process to help ensure you are taking advantage of all of your available deductions and credits. The Drawbacks of Filing Your Own Taxes In addition to the benefits, there are also some disadvantages to filing your own taxes. These include: Time and effort: Preparing and filing your taxes takes time and work You have to sift through financial information and deal with concepts that you may not understand well. The process can be frustrating and take a considerable amount of time. Error risk: If you do not completely understand how your taxes work, you run the risk of making a mistake because of misconceptions. If that happens, it could lead to underpayment and audits down the road. Questions: Even if you use a tax preparation software, you may still have questions that will remain unanswered unless you do significant research or reach out to a tax professional. For some people, the risk of having a substantial error that triggers the IRS’s attention is enough to scare them away from preparing their own taxes. Preparing for Filing Your Taxes When you begin work on your taxes, you should have information gathered throughout the year. Some of the most common items that you will need include: Social Security numbers for you, your spouse, and any dependents Information about wages, such as W2s or 1099s Investment income information Documents that represent any other source of income Information regarding adjustments to income, such as student loan interest paid, IRA contributions, and health savings account contributions, just to name a few Information regarding potential credits, including, for example, child care expenses, education expenses, or retirement savings contributions Data about any tax payments that you may have made throughout the year Keeping good records will help make tax preparation easier at the beginning of the year. [youmaylike] The Basics About What You Can Claim When Filing You must pay income taxes on all your income earned throughout the year. However, that income is reduced by a few things. The further you can reduce your taxable income, the less you tax you will pay. There are three general categories of tax reduction methods: Standard or Itemized Deductions Everyone can claim either the standard or itemized deductions. Standard deductions are a set amount that is based on your filing status. Itemized deductions are based on actual expenses that you incurred throughout the year. You can choose to use the higher deduction. The higher the deduction, the less tax you will have to pay on your income because your income decreases on paper. Itemized deductions include things like medical expenses, state and local tax payments, and home mortgage interest deductions. Itemized deductions will only decrease your income by a certain percentage, or up to a specific point. Adjustments Some adjustments to your income may also be available. These include things like paying student loan interest or alimony. Adjustments are more valuable compared to deductions because they decrease your income dollar for dollar. Credits A credit decreases your taxable income as well. Some credits are refundable while others are not. For example, you get a child tax credit simply for having children that qualify for that credit, but that credit will not be paid out to you if you do not have any tax obligations. On the other hand, the Earned Income Credit, which is available for low-income filers, will be refunded to you even if you do not owe any taxes. There are a wide variety of deductions and credits available. Take a look at the federal forms and related schedules to determine whether you might qualify for any of these. How to File Your Own Taxes If You Live Overseas If you earned income in the United States as a U.S. citizen or resident alien, you likely need to pay taxes on that income. This is true even if you live overseas. You can still choose to e-file or mail your tax return to the IRS once you have it prepared, just as if you physically lived in the United States. In some cases, you will be taxed on the income that you earned throughout the world. However, you may be able to deduct a portion or all of the revenue that was not made in the United States in some circumstances. Filing Online The IRS offers an online filing option that is free for individuals that have an adjusted gross income below a specific threshold. Generally, your income must be below $66,000 to qualify for this service. You can also file online by using a commercial tax preparation software. Examples of this type of software include: H&R Block TurboTax TaxCut TaxSlayer There are many programs available that will file your taxes for you, often for a fee. Knowing how to file your own taxes can be a great way to save money, but it can be tricky as well. If you want to file your taxes yourself, be sure to read the form instructions thoroughly and get familiar with various tax saving opportunities before you begin preparing your return.
Find the Right Grant to Apply For
Start-ups and small businesses alike rely heavily on funding to kickstart operations. Unfortunately, traditional funding typically costs more than you may think. Bank loans can be difficult to secure due to the nature of the risk and uncertainty in a small business. If you can get a bank loan, interest rates will be high to compensate for the high risk. Private equity, funding from private parties (e.g. angel investors or venture capitalists) in exchange for ownership and interest in the business, can often result in loss of control.
So what other options for start-up and small business funding are there? In this article we will talk about government grants for small businesses.
Purpose of Small Business Government Grants
Although "free money" does not exist, government financial awards come quite close. Grants are a type of financial assistance that do not need to be repaid, unlike small business loans. Government grants are financial awards that are funded by governmental organizations, with the goal to push a specific initiative.
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), which is the largest provider of small business government grants in America, aims to "aid, counsel, assist and protect the interests of small business concerns, to preserve free competitive enterprise, and to maintain and strengthen the overall economy of our nation."
Government grants come in many flavors and sizes and it is critical to choose one that is appropriate for your situation. There are awards based on region, industry and even on the gender or nationality of the founding team.
Federal grants from the SBA fall into two main categories:
- Research and Development (R&D)
- Export Development
R&D includes the activities that your small business takes to understand the market, need for your product and service, and how to develop it. These types of federal grants are best for small businesses that are starting up or looking to develop new products.
If your small business is looking to expand its products, the Export Development program would be more suitable.
A full list of current SBA government grants can be found here.
In addition to the SBA grants, there are thousands of other grants available posted daily on grants.gov.
Who Is Eligible?
Government grants, especially those from the SBA, have the following requirements:
- The company needs to be an American company
- The company must be for-profit
- The company must have 500 or fewer employees
Each grant will then list out more specific requirements.
Financial and Marketing Benefits
The funding from a government grant can be significant, from a few thousands of dollars to millions. Depending on the grant size, funding can either be awarded as a lump-sum amount immediately or be provided based on project phases and milestones. For small businesses, it is important to know the funding timeline, so costs and growth can be managed accordingly.
Aside from financial funding, winning a government grant can bring media attention and brand exposure. Awardees of small business grants can also benefit from additional credibility, helping to make the business brand more reputable and trusted among consumers and clients.
Another beneficial side effect of winning a government grant can be an extended network. Once you win a grant, it can be easier to work with former awardees or business partners.
Effort and Overhead Required
From the application to follow-up reporting, applying and winning a government grant for your small business can be a full-time job in itself. As such, a small business owner will need to determine if the administrative effort required for the application is worth the monetary value.
The process to get a small business government grant includes:
Identifying the Right Grants and Programs
Grants.gov among many other sources will produce up to thousands of available grants. It will require patience to filter through all the results. First, look for programs that are relevant to your business and industry. Then narrow them down to ones that provide an attractive amount of funding.
Research the Grant and Create a Tailored Application
Most federal programs will be organized and sponsored by a specific organization. Common agencies include the Department of Commerce or Department of Environmental Protection Agency. You should know who the agency behind the grant is.
Research the agency and find out what their mission and goals are. This will help you tailor your grant application to address what is important to them.
For example, a grant application for the Department of Commerce may highlight how your small business can help enrich the economy and fund more jobs, while a grant application for the Department of Environmental Protection Agency should focus on how your small business can tackle climate change.
Sending one standard application to multiple grants will most likely not result in much success. If you are going to take the time to seek government funding, make sure your application stands out by doing the research beforehand.
Final Interviews and Winning the Grant
Some programs may require finalists to interview, while others may select a winner solely from the applications. Be prepared for both scenarios.
If you do win a government grant for your small business, congratulations! It means a lot in terms of business validation for your idea as well. Make sure to capitalize on the win by preparing a press release and media kit so the story can be picked up and easily shared.
Milestones, Reporting and Follow-ups
Once you win the award, you will need to understand what your contractual deliverables are. It is not uncommon for the federal agency behind the program to only release parts of the funding at a time. Some programs will even require you to accomplish a set number of project deliverables, known as milestones, prior to receiving all of the money.
Make sure you are well aware of the milestones and timelines, so you don't break the funding contract. With each phase of your project, you will most likely need to report on your progress. These reports, like the application, can take a lot of administrative effort. It may be wise to assign someone in your team as a project coordinator to ensure due dates are met on a timely basis.