Taxes. I love doing my taxes. Or, more accurately, I love going to have my taxes filed. As a writer, tax season is when you finally see the benefits of your hard work—mainly all the receipts you have saved and cataloged to claim as expenses. Do I file my own taxes? No. Am I capable? Probably not. Since nineteen years old I have been fortunate enough to have Taylor Herrick as my tax guy. This past year, Taylor opened Tax Retriever Inc. with the best business partner possible—his golden retriever, Jasper. Over the years Taylor has been able to give me guidance on how to claim expenses and mitigate my tax liability and/or maximize my return. Taylor has seen me through a divorce, two international book deals, and a major job transition. Jasper has been a good boy. The main thing though: I trust Taylor (and Jasper) completely.
Now, let me tell you about being a writer and taxes. Most of this has come from years of Taylor’s advice and guidance and I’m probably not going to explain it thoroughly enough (because I am not an expert at all). Again, this is why I trust Taylor to do what he does and why you should schedule an appointment with him:
If you’re a writer and you’re not claiming expenses, you are missing out—especially this past year. The economics of being a writer of any stripe are unsteady, so the best way to stabilize your yearly (lack of) income is to track your expenses. If you’re a freelancer who gets regular gig work, this makes the lean times a little easier to manage. If you’re a long-form worker—maybe a novelist—this is a lifesaver as you await the next payment from the publishing world.
Claim a portion of your living expenses: Miracle and I had an apartment with an extra bedroom where I did my writing. The percentage of the space for that room could be claimed—25%. So 25% of our rent, renter’s insurance, and utilities counted as a business expense.
Claim your meals: This was a great one from last year because you could claim 100% of the meals prepared in a place that has a kitchen. (I guess it’s normally 50% of meals, but they are trying to spur the restaurant industry along. Again, this is something that Taylor takes care of for me; I just collect and catalog my receipts.)
Claim your vehicles accordingly: This one is a little more complicated and I rely heavily on Taylor for this write-off. Vehicles can be claimed for only mileage or for their total expenses. Once you begin to claim a vehicle a certain way, it has to remain that type of write-off forever. For us, we had two main vehicles: our Prius and the VW Bus. We claimed mileage on the Prius and total expenses on the Bus. The Prius has great gas mileage and seldom needed repairs, making it great for claiming miles. If I needed to pick up a Bus part, I took the Prius to get it, making the trip a business write-off. With the Bus, I can claim all the work on it (hello, two engines and body work!), the gasoline I put in it, and insurance and repairs.
Claim travel: For a writer, traveling is research and our entire bus journey is the basis for what will hopefully be a book in a couple years. When we stay in an AirBnB, hotel, or pay parking and tolls—that’s a write-off.
Claim postage: If you’re a writer, I’m sure you’re using the postal system. Save those receipts and claim them.
Plan ahead: As a writer—especially novelists—you will have good years and bad years of income. Talk with your tax preparer during the good years about amortizing your large expenses to help out in the lean years. Going into this adventure I had a computer, writing desk, and a few other large expenses pushing forward to help out with our no-income situation. The timing of our adventure was also important. We wanted to have about half a year of regular employment under our belts before we left. In other words, we wanted to pay some taxes up front, so we could spend the second half of the year, racking up write-offs on the road.
Have some income: I take on work every year for Writer’s Digest as a contest judge. The pay is super low and if you broke it down, it pays less than minimum wage. But it’s smart to have some income from the field where I am claiming my expenses, so I do it. Other gigs, like being the keynote at the Great Lakes Writer’s Conference, pay well and I am grateful. But I also claim my travel expenses that aren’t covered by the conference and any meals I eat to and from the conference.
Donate: I know, I know. Under the past president the threshold for donating became unreasonable and many people stopped tracking their donations. For one reason or another, if you are tracking your expenses, it still makes sense to report your donations. So even though you don’t reach ten of thousands of dollars in donations, it makes sense to let your tax preparer know.
At the end of the year, I have a fairly simple spreadsheet and somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 write-offs. Taylor and I sit down in his office and we run through the spreadsheet and I watch as being a writer who only makes a couple thousand dollars per year, pays off. I am grateful to know Taylor and am thankful that he takes the time and interest to explain how write-offs work. Without him, we really would not know what to do. I’ve recommended him to other writers and creatives, all of whom have spoken highly of him and his work ethic.