As a freelancer, the most difficult parts of my job aren’t often the work itself.
In short, I’m terrible at accounting and the business side of my job. I’m always on the lookout for solutions that make sense for me and help to minimize the pain caused by administrative tasks and accounting.
I’ve tried everything, including QuickBooks shortly after they went to an online-only service. I wasn’t impressed. I found the interface far too powerful for anything I’d ever need it for, in addition to being expensive, and making me feel like I’d needed a CPA and QuickBooks in order to make this work.
The new version I was asked to demo – QuickBooks Self-Employed – was, well, better. I mean, a lot better.
QuickBooks Self-Employed Is Designed for Freelancers
QuickBooks Self-Employed isn’t adding any mind-blowing features to its base service offering. In fact, it’s what they’re taking away that might make the biggest difference.
QuickBooks Self-Employed is designed for simplicity; more specifically, tax-related matters. Most of the business features you probably never used as a freelancer were removed, and replaced with more relevant tools like income tracking and tax estimations. This makes QuickBooks Self-Employed an ideal choice for the freelance or self-employed crowd.
Estimated Quarterly Tax Payments
Outside of sending in my estimated quarterly tax payments, which – for me anyway – doesn’t take much accounting as I just submit the same amount I did during the previous tax year, and add or delete some from that amount if I made more or less money. It’s an inexact science, and one that has led to some larger than I’d like (read: cry into your cereal) end-of-year payments.
In fairness, QuickBooks always had the ability to handle that for you. I never took advantage of it, but it was definitely there. The old interface was – in my opinion – far too feature-rich for me to ever feel like I was spending my time wisely by diving in and learning every nook and cranny.
Now, QuickBooks Self-Employed makes it easy. The second I log in, I’m faced with the exact amount due on my next (quarterly) estimated tax payment right there in the top right corner of my screen. In fact, I can even pay it (online or through the mail) without ever leaving the website. It’s pretty slick.
It Tracks Mileage
One of the most overlooked deductions for a freelancer is vehicle mileage. Speaking solely for myself here, I don’t even track my mileage, as it seemed rather negligible for someone like myself who never really leaves the house for anything business-related.
My demo with QuickBooks Self-Employed changed my mind.
For some reason, I always thought that the money saved here would amount to mere pennies, and wouldn’t really be worth the time spent filling out an additional tax form or tracking my mileage on each (very short) trip. For the sake of being thorough, I played around with the mileage tracking feature on QuickBooks Self-Employed (literally just so that I could see how it worked in order to write about it) and it blew my mind just how much money I’ve left on the table each year. In my (fake) mileage estimates that I added to the mileage tracker, I totaled 221 miles. This might be pretty close to half of the amount of business miles I put on my car each year. The total saved? $127!
I’m not going to be putting kids through college on this money, but it pains me to think that for the last decade I haven’t submitted any mileage claims, and I could have been saving $250-$500 a year. Over a 10-year period, that’s a lot of cash!
Year End Taxes
If you’re like me, tax time is a nightmare. I spend the greater portion of March trying to organize everything that I had neglected from the previous year.
Another thing to like about QuickBooks Self-Employed is just how seamlessly it integrates with TurboTax. If you’ve never used TurboTax, I highly recommend it. I’ve used it each of the past three years, and although there are free options available (TurboTax is a paid service), the money it saves me by looking for additional deductions is well worth the fee for tax preparation.
With QuickBooks Self-Employed and TurboTax, you essentially answer a couple of questions (which are then saved for next year so you don’t have to do it again), import the data from your QuickBooks account into TurboTax, and your taxes are done within minutes. You can even e-file and make payments without ever leaving the application.
What I Like About It
I was immediately impressed by the level of polish in the user interface. It feels like QuickBooks Self-Employed was, well, built for people like me. The dashboard is simplistic (at a glance), attractive, and attention-grabbing with rich graphics and charts in both the content area and sidebar. In a word, beautiful.
Everything I need is right in front of my eyes the second I log in, and that makes the entire accounting process painless, and offers a gentle learning curve for anyone who has never used accounting software.
It’s as simple as adding your bank accounts, defining whether transactions are business or personal (because – as a freelancer – the two often overlap), and then paying your taxes when they’re due.
Additional features are equally straightforward, and during my entire time exploring the product for this review, I didn’t find myself heading to the help section once.
At $9.99 a month (or $16.99 a month with TurboTax) it’s well within the range of affordability for most freelancers. I also wouldn’t hesitate to pay the $16.99 a month for the TurboTax add-on, as this will save me hours at the end of the year in addition to a lot of frustration by trying to do this on my own. I’m bad at accounting, I hate tax time, and if there’s something that can make it easier on me, I’ll pay for it. The fact that it’s only about $16.99 makes it a pretty easy pill to swallow, and honestly – I’d pay twice as much for the same features.
For those of you that aren’t quite ready to fire your accountant, you can skip the additional $7 for TurboTax and just print tax-ready reports for your accountant right from your QuickBooks account.
What I Don’t Like
I’m honestly struggling to come up with anything that isn’t overly nitpicky. For example, the ability to integrate invoicing into the admin panel, is really all I can think of in terms of things it’s lacking, that might actually be needed.
Others might argue that it’s not as feature-rich as the non-Self-Employed version, and they’re right. That said, it’s not lacking in any way either.
I like being able to run this for the first time (as I did just a few days ago) and – without reading any instructions or following any on-board prompts – natively and intuitively figure the whole thing out. It’s well-designed, and only includes the essential features. Besides, if you find yourself needing more features, you are free to switch to the full version at any time. I’m sure Intuit won’t mind.
Do you use QuickBooks or QuickBooks Self-Employed? If not, what are you currently using? What feature or feature(s) make this the best solution?