The FreeAgent Blog

Share the self-employment love this Valentine’s Day!

Posted on 14 February 2018 by FreeAgent - Jump to comments

Love it or loathe it, the divisive holiday that is St Valentine’s Day is upon us once more. Rather than convince you to treat your nearest and dearest to a petrol station bouquet or a Milk Tray, we’ve focused our efforts on celebrating something far more important - all the things there are to love about being self-employed.

Freelance life can have the occasional downside (the Self Assessment deadline might still be fresh in your memory), but there are still so many wonderful upsides to running your own business. Here are some of the best things about working for yourself - which one is your favourite?

Share what you love about working for yourself over on Twitter! Click or tap on any of these images to create a draft tweet, with the images already attached! #LoveMyBoss

I can work from anywhere

While your office-dwelling 9-5 counterparts wrestle with the daily commute, your workspace is completely flexible. Your living room, kitchen, office, local cafe, or even favourite country - work happens wherever you open your laptop.

I’m my own boss

When you work for yourself, you’re fully in charge of your own workload, growth and development. Putting in extra hours when the going gets tough is paid back by the flexibility to take extended holidays, and if you want to upskill, you don’t need to ask permission to take time out to learn something new. You’re the boss!

I can do what I want, when I want

We recently asked what your favourite things about self-employment are on Facebook, and some of the answers included: ‘Knowing I can give my clients my undivided attention, and that I can structure my day as I want to’, ‘Freedom and flexibility’ and ‘Sitting in my pants whilst I work’. When you work for yourself, you make the rules, you set the hours, and you decide the uniform (even if that uniform happens to be your pants).

If you'd like to win an A2 print of your favourite poster, head over to the FreeAgent Facebook page and tell us which one you'd like to put up in your home office. Happy Valentine's Day! ❤️

Know how long it will take your Self Assessment payment to reach HMRC

Posted on 22 January 2018 by Emily Coltman - Jump to comments

Wednesday 31st January isn’t just the date by which you have to submit your Self Assessment for the 2016/17 tax year to HMRC. It’s also the date by which you have to pay your tax bill - so it’s important to get organised and make sure that your payment reaches HMRC before the midnight deadline.

Here’s a handy rundown of the main payment options that HMRC accepts, how long each type of payment takes to process and how you can use each payment method.

Please note, you can no longer pay at the Post Office and personal credit cards are no longer accepted.

Payment type How long it takes for the payment to reach HMRC How you can pay
Online or telephone banking (Faster Payments) Same or next day, including weekends and public holidays By using the bank details listed on gov.uk
CHAPS Usually the same working day (if you pay within your bank’s processing times) By using the bank details listed on gov.uk
Debit card online HMRC will accept your payment on the date you make it, not the date it reaches their account - including on weekends and bank holidays By following the links from your HMRC online account.
Business credit card online (1.5% charge) HMRC will accept your payment on the date you make it, not the date it reaches their account - including on weekends and bank holidays By following the links from your HMRC online account.
At your bank or building society (only an option if you still get paper statements from HMRC and have the paying-in slip they sent to you in the post) Same day (Monday-Friday only) By paying cash or writing a cheque made payable to 'HM Revenue and Customs only' followed by your Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR) followed by the letter ‘K’.
Bacs Three working days By using the bank details listed on gov.uk
Cheque through the post Three working days By writing a cheque made payable to ‘HM Revenue and Customs only’ followed by your Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR) number. It should be posted along with your paying-in slip to HMRC, Direct, BX5 5BD – no street name, city name or PO Box is required.
Existing Direct Debit Three working days By setting up a Direct Debit from your HMRC online account. (Note that you have to set up a new direct debit every time you wish to make a payment).
New Direct Debit Five working days By setting up a Direct Debit from your HMRC online account.

Note: For payments where a reference is required you will need to use your 10-digit Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR). Where a payment reference number is asked for you should use your UTR followed by the letter 'K'.

Whichever method you plan to use to pay your tax bill this year, if you’re planning to meet the deadline then make sure you file your Self Assessment with HMRC in enough time to allow your payment to reach them before the 31st January. Otherwise you will have to pay interest and may even face a penalty, even if you manage to file your tax return on time.

Don’t forget that online payment services may be slow during busy times - you can check online if there are any current problems or times they aren’t available.

Five ways for small businesses to beat the Monday blues

Posted on 15 January 2018 by FreeAgent - Jump to comments

You don’t have to be Garfield to dislike Mondays. Running your own business has tons of benefits, but that doesn’t mean you’re immune to a case of the new work week blues.

Mondays don’t have to be the scourge of your week though, so we’ve assembled some tips to make them downright bearable, and perhaps, dare we say it, enjoyable.

Refresh your workspace

Tidier people are generally healthier and happier, and that clutter makes it much more difficult to focus on tasks. Before you get on with your usual Monday routine, take some time to tidy up your workspace. Once things are clean and organised, you might want to put on some mood-boosting music, which has been proven to make you feel happier and more creative.

Another top tip to cheer up your working environment is purchasing a new houseplant. Indoor plants have been shown to reduce stress and improve concentration, as well as looking pretty lovely too. If you invest in one like Aloe Vera, it will also improve your air quality (it’s NASA approved!).

office dog

Move it, move it

If you’re already at the pinnacle of health, then feel free to stop reading here. But if like most of us, you could do with a few healthy boosts to your weekly routine, then read on. Monday is a perfect opportunity to head into the week feeling strong - you might want to take up a new Monday evening gym class, or perhaps make Monday your designated lunchtime run day (guaranteed to blow away any weekend cobwebs).

80s dancing

Get organised for the week ahead

After a weekend of fun, your projects from last week might feel like a bit of a distant memory. Make your first priority on Monday mornings writing down a to-do list - either for the day, or the week. Whether it’s a spreadsheet of tasks, an online productivity tool like Evernote, or simply jotting everything down in a notebook, nothing is quite as satisfying as crossing (or deleting) an item off that list. If nothing else, being organised has been shown to decrease stress and boost your energy levels.

dog with a list

Make time for Monday socialising

Nothing brightens up a dreary Monday quite like getting together with fellow freelancers to share stories, ideas and connections. Websites like Meetup and LinkedIn are really helpful for finding other nearby freelancers in your profession. If you can’t find a group that suits you - why not start one? Then you can look forward to your Monday coffee (or cocktail..) club every week.

jim and pam

Learn something new

There is always room to learn something new, no matter how accomplished you might be in your field. If you find Mondays a a bit of a drag, then turn them into your weekly opportunity for a learning sesh. Find a relevant online course from sites like Memrise and pop some time in your calendar even Monday to dedicate to studying something new. The routine will hopefully help your new habit stick, and give you something exciting (and business boosting!) to look forward to every week.

dog reading

If all else fails…

…and you just can’t beat that Monday slump, then just enjoy this cat video, along with the fact that you won’t have to sit through another Monday for a whole week.

Ask the accountant: freelance finance questions answered

Posted on 8 January 2018 by FreeAgent - Jump to comments

Last month, the fountain of knowledge that is our chief accountant Emily Coltman FCA, sat down with Michelle Carvill from MadeSimple to talk accounting for the self-employed.

As part of the MadeSimple StartUp Community’s weekly ‘Tuesday Teach’, Emily put her expertise to good use and answered some of the community’s most frequently asked questions:

"What is Self Assessment and who needs to file it?"

In our accounting glossary, this is how we define it:

“Self Assessment is short for the 'Self Assessment tax return', a form that many business owners need to send to HMRC each year to report how much they have earned and from what sources.”

It is likely that you will need to fill out the Self Assessment tax return if you are:

  • self-employed
  • the director of a limited company
  • receiving income from a property or trust

You have to send this tax return to the government by the end of January, and it will cover all your income information from 6th April one year to 5th April the following year. For example, the upcoming Self Assessment deadline of January 31st 2018 requires information about all your income between 6th April 2016 and 5th April 2017. The government body that monitors the collection of tax returns is HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs).

"What happens if you don’t submit your Self Assessment tax return on time?"

If you’re even one day late, you’ll be subject to a £100 fine. After three months the amount you’re charged starts to go up - and you can end up being penalised up to £10 a day. If there are exceptional circumstances, you can sometimes appeal these fines but HMRC is quite strict; in a recent tribunal someone appealed their late payment fine due to having had an operation, and as it was a planned operation HMRC deemed that it was not a reasonable excuse for missing the deadline. So get your affairs in order well in advance, or you could end up paying a lot more than just your tax bill! If you have any concerns about submitting your Self Assessment or paying on time, talk to an accountant.

"What are the biggest mistakes you’ve seen when people file their tax return? Are there common errors?"

There are a few things that people tend to trip over when it comes to Self Assessment:

Joint accounts

When filling in your tax return, you have to declare how much interest you’ve accumulated on your bank accounts. If you have a joint account with someone else, make sure you only enter 50% of the accumulated interest on your tax return.

ISA

If you have an ISA, you don’t need to record that interest on your tax return as it’s tax free income.

Year end

If you’re self-employed, you might prepare your accounts each year to a date that doesn't match the end of the tax year (e.g. January 1st - December 31st). If you do this, be aware that the bank interest that you put on your tax return still needs to be for the tax year , not your business’s accounting year.

You don’t have to worry about year ends with FreeAgent, as the software works out how much interest you’ve accumulated in the tax year, rather than in your accounting year.

Expenses

Mistakes relating to which expenses you can and can’t claim are quite common. Common mistakes include claiming too much or too little business use of home costs, or trying to claim home to work travel as a business expense. We have a wealth of resources on our website to help freelancers work out their expenses:

"Should I register as a sole trader or a limited company?"

You might have heard that you can save tax by running your business as a limited company instead of a sole trader. This can sometimes be the case, but there are are a few important things to bear in mind before you take the plunge. There are positives and negatives to both options, and it really depends on your own unique situation:

Sole traders are legally one and the same as their business. They only have one form to file to the government each year: a single Self Assessment tax return. Sole traders also have the luxury of being able to withdraw money from their business account as and when they please - as long as they pay their tax, HMRC doesn’t care! Overall, being a sole trader means there are fewer forms to complete, fewer rules to abide by, and it’s a much simpler way of managing your business finances. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that if your business is sued, your personal assets, rather than your business’s assets, will be at risk.

Limited companies are just that: companies. If you choose to operate your business as a limited company, you and it are completely separate legal entities. Limited companies have to file at least four forms each year to HMRC and/or Companies House:

  • a set of accounts for the company
  • a confirmation statement for the company showing who controls and owns it
  • a tax return for the company
  • a tax return for the director

Taking money out of your business accounts is not nearly as simple for limited company directors, who can't withdraw money as and when they please. If you want to draw a salary from a limited company you’ll have to set up a payroll system. If the company pays you and/or any employees a monthly wage that will mean 12 extra filings to HMRC - and if the company pays a weekly wage you’ll have to file for each of those!

One of the upsides of operating your business as a limited company, however, is that if your business is sued, you have limited liability protection and your business’s assets - not your own - would be liable.

"What are your top four financial tips for freelancers who are starting out?"

Get yourself a business bank account. Draw a very clear line between your personal and business funds. The sooner you do this the better, so sort yourself out with a business account as early as possible.

Be really organised and have your books in order from the get-go. Keep a record of everything you spend, whether it’s snapping photos of receipts (which HMRC largely accepts) or keeping your paper copies all neatly filed away. Taking some time to set up a filing system now will save you a big headache in the long run.

Remember that if you are running your business through a limited company, you and the company are legally separate. The income belongs to the company, not you. You have to be very careful about getting that income back into your pocket, or you might find yourself liable for tax you haven't bargained for.

Find yourself a good accountant. There is no substitute for an experienced, knowledgeable accountant. Even more important is that they know your industry, and can clearly explain your accounts to you. At the end of the day, it’s your business and you’re responsible for it. If you’re not getting the most out of your current accountant - check out our directory to find one that’s a good fit for you.

Watch the full recording of Emily’s interview over on the MadeSimple startup community.

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