Many solo entrepreneurs and freelancers keep their personal and professional finances combined when they first start out. Any paycheck goes right into their personal bank accounts, and any expenses are charged to their personal credit cards.
In the beginning, this is understandable. You might not know if your business is going to succeed—or you might start your business as a side hustle, so you don’t think you need a lot of infrastructure.
However, as soon as your business is established, it’s important to separate your business and professional accounts. Here are a few reasons why—and how to do it.
You Can File Your Taxes More Easily
Your business can deduct a variety of expenses throughout the year, but you need to keep track of these costs and ensure that they’re separate from your personal accounts. An easy way to do this: open a dedicated business account. You can charge expenses to a business credit card or write out checks that pull from your professional funds.
Once tax season comes along, you won’t have to remember what professional expenses you had. You can simply download your transactions from this account and determine which costs are tax-deductible. This simplifies and speeds up the process.
You Can Create a Cushion to Keep Paying Yourself
Many freelancers or sole proprietors use their business bank accounts to stabilize their income throughout the year. They deposit all of their income into the business bank account and then withdraw a flat salary each month.
For example, a contractor might make $7,000 in January and $3,000 in February. By pulling a flat salary, he can afford to pay himself $5,000 monthly (or $4,500 monthly with a cushion saved for later).
Some people enjoy the stability of knowing they’ll get paid the same amount no matter what they earn. If the business account starts to get too big, these freelancers can award themselves end-of-quarter or end-of-year bonuses and enjoy the extra cash.
You Can Budget Better
Not only can you enjoy a flat salary with separate personal and professional accounts, but you can also budget your expenses. You can easily see which charges are related to your business and plan for fluctuations throughout the year.
A common example of these kinds of expenses is professional software subscriptions. A business owner might use a software tool as part of their workflow and pay an annual fee to license it. If the cost of this service is charged each February, the business owner can budget for it and ensure they have enough funds in the bank to prevent overdraft fees.
You Can Develop Business Credit
If your business begins to do well, you’ll likely want to scale—which will probably require additional funding. To secure this working capital, especially from a lender, you’ll want to have established business credit.
When your personal and business finances are intertwined, you make it difficult to identify your business income and expenses, which are used to assess your business credit. By separating the 2, you can paint a clear picture of the financial health of your business—making it easier to determine your likelihood of defaulting on a loan.
3 Steps to Separate Your Business and Personal Finances
There are multiple ways to prove that your personal and professional finances are separate from each other. Many of these steps are free or affordable for small business owners.
- Establish a limited liability corporation (LLC), S-corp, or C-corp. This will give you an employer identification number (EIN) from the IRS to separate your personal and professional business dealings. Most states charge application fees to operate LLCs and require annual reports and payments to stay in operation. Learn what your state charges and budget for it.
- Open a business checking account. Once you have your corporation established and EIN generated, you can visit your bank or credit union to open a business checking account. If you already have an existing relationship with the bank, they may be able to waive any opening fees or monthly charges to operate the account. Some banks, however, set limits for how much you need to keep in the account to stay active and above the fee limit.
- Take out a business credit card. While you’re at the bank, ask about opening a business credit card attached to the account—some banks offer this as a perk for opening an account with them. You’ll only use this card for business purposes in order to keep your professional and personal costs completely separate. As an alternative for getting your bank’s credit card, look into business cards that offer competitive rewards systems, like cash back or airline miles.
Once you have your business credit card, you can start to build up your business credit score. This shows that your business can stick to a budget and repay its liabilities in a timely manner.
As mentioned above, most lenders look at business credit when issuing loans, so you may qualify for more favorable terms if you take the time to build up your credit when just starting out. If you lack business credit, then lenders might look at your personal credit scores as well to determine how risky it is to loan money to you.
Like personal credit, it takes time to build up business credit, so the earlier you start, the better.
Take Steps to Separate Your Personal and Professional Finances
Even if your business is brand-new, there are steps you can take to keep your personal and professional accounts separate. Start with good documentation and budgeting and then establish a specific bank account and credit process for your business.
Finally, look into bookkeeping software to invoice customers and record income as it comes in. At Sunrise, we offer a free self-service tool for small business owners. This is a great place to set up your ledgers and prepare your business for growth.