When you’re self-employed you probably want to get paid.
So you think you should pay yourself.
At least a little somethin’, amirite?
You are the business owner after all!
I mean, you do have bills to pay.
Unless you live with family or are taken care of I guess!
But let’s stay on point here lol.
How do most people take money out of their business for personal expenses?
Or doing a mobile deposit.
Or simply transferring money whenever they need it.
Some people I have worked with have made transfers as many as 3-4 times a week.
That is a horrible way to pay yourself no matter how you look at it, but not uncommon.
Because, just like anything else, there is a right way and a wrong way to get money out of the business to take care of personal expenses.
And just to be clear, when I say “pay yourself” I’m using that to describe the act of taking money out of your business to use for personal purposes.
The Problem With Taking Money From A Business
The money that comes into a business is meant to be used strictly for business purposes.
That means it can only be used for paying for:
- business rent
- running payroll
- marketing costs
- your business website & all its related costs
- and anything directly related to the operation of the business.
That money is not to be used to pay for your:
- mortgage payment
- grocery delivery services
- utility bills
- car insurance premiums
- anything for your kids
- personal vacations
- or anything else that has nothing to do with the business.
Sometimes, however, it is necessary to take money out of the business in order to cover some personal expenses…
The Wrong Way To Pay Yourself
Lots of people who own small businesses don’t know how to properly handle the task of taking money out of the business.
Unfortunately, many also don’t feel like they need to work with a tax accountant because they can “Google what they need to know”.
They simply make payments for their personal expenses out of the business bank account or use the business credit card for those personal expenses.
Some even head over to the ATM machine and take cash out of the business for no other reason than to have some pocket cash.
None of those methods are even close to proper.
Another thing I’ve been hearing as of late is incorrect advice for sole proprietors and single-member limited liability company (SMLLC) members, or the partnership partners to sign up with a payroll service and take a salary.
While in theory that’s a sensible option and helps to alleviate the headaches of paying self-employment tax each quarter, it’s not permitted.
A sole proprietor can have employees but they cannot be employees.
If anyone recommends that you pay yourself by putting yourself on salary as either a partner (of a traditional partnership without S Corporation status) or a sole proprietor you should ignore them and seek advice elsewhere!
The Correct Way(s) To Pay Yourself
Let’s face it, starting a business wasn’t done just to put in work and get no reward.
You want to get paid for your time and effort.
If you need to access money for personal reasons, there are three acceptable methods for doing so:
- Putting yourself on salary and taking payroll checks (if an S-Corp)
- Writing a check to yourself in the form of a distribution (again, if an S-Corp)
- Schedule regular draws (if you’re a sole prop or Single-Member LLC) instead of random withdrawals
You should always create some sort of separation between business and personal expenses, and taking either of these steps does so without drawing any unnecessary attention to the transactions.
Setting yourself up with regular payments, even if they aren’t actual “salary” checks helps not only keep the business looking legit, but it also helps people budget better because it simulates a regular salary like before they took on the entrepreneurial venture.
It also creates a paper trail, which keeps you in a good position if/when it comes to…
Getting In Trouble By Not Paying Yourself Properly
So what’s the worst thing that can happen if you don’t keep your business and personal money and expenses separate?
If you continue to treat your business as your personal piggy bank?
Bottom line is that if you are ever looked at for any reason by the IRS, a whole lot actually.
The first that that would happen is that you would have to undergo an audit, during which the burden would lie on your shoulders to prove that the expenses in question are valid business expenses.
It is your responsibility to show proof in the form of receipts or invoices that can support your claims.
If you cannot, then the fun really begins.
If you happen to be a C-Corporation, then the tax return would be recalculated with all of the expenses added back.
What makes this particularly troublesome is that C-Corps are taxed at higher rates than individuals.
Not only that but you will be assessed interest and penalties on the unpaid portion of the newly calculated tax liability.
If the business is a partnership or an S-Corporation, the expenses will still be added back to the tax return, but it gets a little dicier from there.
Since those business formats flow through to the personal income tax return, you not only have to have your individual return recalculated but the additional income may in fact cause you to be phased out from deductions and/or credits that were originally claimed.
Let’s also keep in mind that if you have a state income tax, your state return will be affected too.
From there, your new income tax liability will be computed and you will again be charged penalties and interest on the unpaid portion of this new figure.
Additionally, you will now be on the IRS’s radar and the chance for future review and audits will increase.
On top of that, if you needed to raid the business accounts to support your personal lifestyle, then you will be in even greater trouble once the interest and penalties start piling on.
“How Much Should I Pay Myself?”
This is something I get asked regularly:
Hey Eric, I’m newly self-employed, can you tell me or help me to figure out how much I should pay myself?Dozens of entrepreneurs
It’s not a bad question.
In fact, it’s a sign that they are thinking about things in the right way.
The answer, however, is difficult to come by.
It’s like most things in life, the answer is: it depends.
Everyone has a different circumstance and family situation to consider when coming up with a figure to pay yourself.
Another thing that factors into the equation is whether the business is profitable or not.
Obviously, if your business is losing money, you can’t pay yourself.
The best way I have found to answer the question of “how much should I pay myself” is to do this:
- Come up with a personal monthly budget
- Figure out how much in total you will need to pay yourself in order to meet the budget
- Divide that number in half
- Pay yourself one half on the 15th of the month
- Pay yourself the 2nd half on the last day of the month
This essentially acts like a regular paycheck which makes it easier to maintain a budget.
If, however, you can’t pay yourself that amount in full, then simply pay what you can.
The point of this exercise is to make it so that you aren’t constantly dipping into your business money to pay for your personal expenses.
So now you know the answer to the question “How much should I pay myself?” should you be wondering?
Well, that’s the basics on how to pay yourself as a self-employed “boss”.
Granted, no one article can ever address everyone but this should help the majority of you.
Keep in mind 2 things:
- Nothing is written in stone–you can schedule it however and use any dollar figure you wish.
- These aren’t “rules” or “laws” just guides to help keep you out of potential trouble and make it easier to manage your business plus your money.
I urge you to adjust these guides to suit your own individual situation.
And one last thing:
A BUSINESS IS NOT YOUR PERSONAL PIGGY BANK!
How do you pay yourself as a self-employed person? Do you just take money out of the business account whenever you feel like it? Do you have a schedule? Do you leave the money in the business account and simply pay yourself whenever you want to bring that balance down?