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Though my circumstances are not that difficult, I want to be sure that I pursue the correct legal path for my family since our business administrative needs may be changing.

I am a self employed contracted Software Engineer. I do not have an LLC because my tax write offs are minimal and I work directly with one client with whom I have a good relationship. I've had no benefit for opening an LLC so I've not done the work or paid the fees to do so.

My wife may soon start an at-home business, bringing in a modest income. I handle 100% of our finances and we've always filed jointly. What I'm hoping to do is to strike a balance between financial management (including tax handling and preparation) between both our work and income. What should we do to most easily manage our money, without overpaying to much in taxes within the US?

Here are the options that I can think of:

  • We both work as self-employed entities. Her expenses will be separate from mine and at tax time, we file jointly. She will have more expenses and write-offs than I will so business bookkeeping will be double what it currently is because I will have to find a way to manage her business separately.
  • She becomes an LLC but I don't. Similar to the first option but since she will be working with many clients, this could offer some liability sheltering. That may not be necessary but it never hurts to have a safety net.
  • We create an LLC or some other legal "blanket" entity that we both work for as employees. All income and expenses come from the same entity/accounting management software, taxes are handled as a single entity and income payments are dispersed back to us. If this is feasible, we'll probably want to keep it easy where either she or I receive a sole pay check rather than one each. My wife hasn't had personal income in over 7 years. It would be nice not to have to file taxes for someone if you don't need too.
  • Anything else that's a better idea.

What's the best way to set up an at-home business that will have two workers, assuming it's feasible for the two of us to financially "group" our work together, even though the nature of our work isn't directly the same? There are many households where both spouses are self employed. What's the best approach of managing our business/businesses as a single unit so that we can simplify tax burdens and paperwork?

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If it was me, I would make an appointment with a good accountant. The current tax situation makes it very attractive to setup an LLC S-Corp where the company earns money and pays you and/or your wife a salary that is much lower than the revenues received.

The IRS has yet to fully explain the 20% pass through deduction, but from what we know so far, it will be very beneficial to have such a structure.

Lets assume that you have 100K in revenue, 20K in expenses, and 40K in salary. In such a situation, in 2017, you would pay W-2 type taxes on 40K, and distribution like taxes on 40K (no social security). Sweet deal.

In 2018, you would still pay 40K W-2 taxes, but now you would pay only distribution like taxes on 32K. Better deal. This tax law is scheduled to continue until 2025, but it could change before then.

Also such a scheme allows one to really maximize retirement savings, however, it comes with a cost. Running payroll is not cheap, there could be state and local fees, and filling such a return is expensive. You mention that your revenues are not really all that high, so it may not be worth it.

Also if you intend to grow this company into something that will be sold, a LLC S-Corp or partnership might not be the best organization.

It is time for professional help.

  • Relying on goodwill to protect against liability is not a good idea. If something goes wrong, and the code is found at fault, the customer could be in a situation where they must litigate to keep their company. Goodwill will not help there. Plus, in lesser situations, goodwill will still work, even if OP incorporates. Last I checked filing incorporation papers for an LLC is inexpensive. Being able to separate personal assets from the business is potentially priceless. So I think OP should follow your advice and work with a CPA to set up some sort of incorporation, and develop management plan. – Xalorous Nov 1 '18 at 17:20
  • My gut instinct is that unless the whole thing is making say 200k+, it's just not worth it. It really cost a lot to set these up and pay every year. If you just file as an ordinary old person, it's $30 or whatever on taxact.com and that's it. If over 200k {or, whatever the exact figure is - I'm guesstimating} for sure, of course. – Fattie Nov 1 '18 at 17:30
  • @Fattie, I think it is less, 80K maybe, 100K for sure. If you figure about 2000 for taxes, payroll, and insurance, the tax savings on the pass through deduction alone makes it worthwhile. Let alone the social security savings and additional retirement savings. For me, my cost of running my LLC is about 1800/year. One way I save money is to run payroll quarterly. – Pete B. Nov 1 '18 at 18:45
  • @Xalorous an LLC itself does not provide the same protection of assets that it used to, still insurance is necessary. My limits and exclusions policy cost me about 600/year. That is what is truly needed to protect oneself. – Pete B. Nov 1 '18 at 18:48
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    @PeteB. Thanks for the advice. FYI, you mentioned "low revenue". I get paid a fair hourly rate and I work about 40 hours/week. What I mentioned was low was expenses. I have an office I borrow, for free, with no utilities but internet ($65/mo). I get a new PC ever 3-4 years and software licenses are minimal. All-in-all, my tax write offs are usually less that $2000/year, which is what I was trying to communicate. Your advice, and comments, are helpful though. Thanks. – RLH Nov 2 '18 at 19:21

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