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Calculating and Paying Quarterly Estimated Tax Payments

So I did my taxes over the weekend and found that I had a significant tax shortfall (more than I’ve ever had as a rebate, but I see it as a good thing) as a result of not paying quarterly estimated tax payments last year. Now, I wasn’t assessed a penalty because I paid more tax than I did the year before (I wasn’t within 90% of what I owed, which is the other ‘get out of jail free’ card) but this year I will have to be paying these estimated payments in order to avoid penalties. If I hadn’t paid more than last year, I would’ve had about a hundred and fifty bucks in penalties, which isn’t bad on an absolute scale but terrible when you consider it’s a completely avoidable loss. So, here is my rough and tumble guide to calculating and paying your quarterly estimated taxes.

Calculating How Much Tax You Owe
You must make quarterly estimated tax payments on any self-employment income you earn and the process of calculating the amount of that tax isn’t tricky but does require a calculator. The first thing you need to do is to figure out what your average tax rate is, which you can find on your previous year’s tax return by dividing your income tax (line 43 on your Form 1040) by your adjusted gross income (line 37 on your Form 1040), that is your average tax rate. As a self-employed person, you need to tack on an additional 15.3% for Social Security and Medicare. Now, you take that tax rate and multiple it by your quarterly profits and that’s the amount you need to pay.

Another safe way to go about it is to see how much you paid in taxes last year, estimate how much you’ll have withheld and subtract that value from your tax paid, add some buffer to that and divide it by 4. If your business is growing, you’ll still experience a tax shortfall but you’ll avoid penalties. So, if you have a tax liability of $10,000 for 2006, your job withheld $6,000 last year, then your shortfall was $4,000. Add some buffer, say another $400, and you should send in $1,100 each quarter. That means for 2007, you’ll have paid $11,600 in taxes which is more than the $10,000 you owed last year – penalties avoided.

Paying That Quarterly Estimated Tax
As for paying it, you have two options – the 1980 way of writing a check, or the 2000 way of sending payment through the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System [3]. I recommend the EFTPS because you won’t lose a payment in the mail but if you use a check, be sure to make out the check to United States Treasury, your social security number on the check, and include a copy of Form 1040-ES [4]. The due dates for payment are April 15th for the first quarter, June 15th for the second quarter, September 15th for the third quarter, and January 15th (of the following year) for the fourth quarter. Obviously, keep copies of all your checks, forms, etc. for tax time next year.

Now, another question I had was whether the payments have to be equal and they aren’t required to be equal but they should. I don’t know what the ramifications are if they aren’t equal but as long as you do a pretty good job of estimating, a small deviation probably isn’t a big deal.

(As with anything you read on blogs, please consult a tax professional before you take any action)