Quarterly Taxes 101: Know what you owe

If you are self-employed, the words “quarterly taxes” and “estimated payments” likely send a shiver down your spine. Not to worry! We've create the ultimate guide to quarterly taxes to make estimated payments a breeze.

In this guide, you'll learn what quarterly taxes mean to you, how to determine if you should pay quarterly taxes, and how to pay them if you do. If you find this content helpful, you may like to try our FREE app, Stride Tax, which makes it easy to record tax deductible milage and expenses year-round.

What are quarterly taxes?

Quarterly taxes are estimated tax payments to the IRS made throughout the year (instead of all at once in April).

Everyone is required to pay taxes. If you’re self-employed or work for the man, your taxes are paid one of two ways:

  1. Withholding taxes from your paycheck, or
  2. Paying quarterly taxes.

Traditional (W-2) employees usually don't owe quarterly taxes; taxes are withheld from their pay. However, if you are self-employed (real estate agents, Uber drivers, or any freelancer or contractor), taxes are not withheld from your pay. That's right— you are responsible for paying taxes on your own!

How do I know if I owe quarterly taxes?

If you are self-employed and turning a profit, you probably owe quarterly taxes.

However, it’s possible that you’re already paying enough in taxes during the year. For example, if you have a full-time or part-time job where your taxes are already being withheld for you, and you may not need to pay quarterly taxes if you typically get a tax refund.

Alternatively, you do not need to pay quarterly if you have already paid at least

  1. 90% of the tax for the current year, or
  2. 100% of the tax shown on the return for the prior year.

In this case, your tax liability is already almost completely covered. Keep in mind, this is most common for people who have used their previous year’s tax refund to pay their upcoming year’s taxes. For example, if you received a refund on your 2016 taxes in April and elected to pay it toward your 2017 taxes, you may be covered for estimated taxes, but only if that refund equals 90% of your expected 2017 taxes or was equal to your 2016 taxes.

What if I didn't earn that much?

Even if you only earned a little, you may still need to pay quarterly taxes. If you expect to owe $1,000 or more in taxes, the IRS expects you to make quarterly tax payments on your business profit for that tax year. As a reminder, you are making a profit if your self-employment income is higher than your business deductions.

If you have income that didn't have taxes withheld and you expect to owe $1,000 or more in taxes on all of that combined income in April, then you should consider paying quarterly taxes.

How do I pay?

You will need to file Form 1040-ES to file quarterly taxes. You can either file this form by hand, or use a tax filing software such as TurboTax and TaxAct to help you calculate what you owe. Here are the three steps you'll want to follow:

Step 1: Calculate what you owe. 

Form 1040-ES will ask you to use your expected adjusted gross income (AGI) to estimate your owed tax. If you expect to earn a similar amount to last year, your AGI from last year is a good starting point to determine what you you’ll make in the upcoming year. Adjust it up or down, depending on how much you expect to make this year. You are shooting for a ballpark estimate. Once you have your expected adjusted gross income, run your AGI through the appropriate tax rate schedule to find your owed tax, and then divide your owed tax by 4 to find what you owe for each quarter.

When you are calculating what you owe each quarter, keep in mind that you need to pay 25% of the total that you expect to earn in a year, instead of estimating what you’ll owe in each quarter. This can be especially tricky for self-employed taxpayers with income that varies throughout the year.

Step 2: Mail in your Form 1040-ES. You can find the correct address on the IRS website.

Step 3: Choose a payment method. You can select a payment method on the IRS website or mail your check with your Form 1040-ES.

What happens if I don’t pay quarterly taxes and wait until April?

If you owe more than $1,000 in taxes and do not pay taxes quarterly, you’ll be hit with an underpayment penalty by the IRS. Ouch!

However, you may be able to avoid the penalty if you meet either of these qualifications:

  1. You didn’t pay due to a disaster or an “unusual circumstance”
  2. You retired or became disabled during the tax year.

You can find how to declare these waivers on page 2 of the instruction for Form 2210. 

When are the quarterly tax deadlines?

The 2017 quarterly tax deadlines are:

  • Q1 Deadline: April 17, 2018
    File estimated taxes for January 1 to March 31
  • Q2 Deadline: June 15, 2018
    File estimated taxes for April 1 to May 31
  • Q3 Deadline: September 17, 2018
    File estimated taxes for June 1 to August 31
  • Q4 Deadline: January 15, 2019
    File estimated taxes for September 1 to December 31

I still have questions. How do I get help?

Stride is here to help you with self-employment taxes so you can have more time to do the work you love. Email us with questions on quarterly payments or any other tax question you may have.