Taxes have a long history dating back to ancient civilizations. The earliest recorded tax systems emerged in Mesopotamia around 2500 BCE, where farmers paid a portion of their crops to rulers. Ancient Egypt and Rome also implemented taxation to fund public projects.
During the Middle Ages, feudal lords levied taxes on their subjects. Modern income taxes began in the 19th century, notably with the introduction of income tax in Britain in 1799. The United States introduced income tax during the Civil War, and it became a permanent fixture in 1913 with the 16th Amendment. Today, taxes are a crucial source of government revenue worldwide, funding public services and infrastructure
Paying taxes is a necessary evil for all of us, but fortunately, there are ways to reduce the tax burden you must deal with every year. The perfectly legal ways of reducing how much tax you pay don’t involve shady deals or schemes that will put you at risk of breaking the law. This article will explore and advise you on how to avoid paying taxes legally. We will look at tax deductions, tax credits, and even investments that could help lower your taxable income and increase the amount of money you can keep in your pocket.
Tax Avoidance vs. Tax Evasion
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about tax avoidance versus tax evasion. People often lump the two together when, in reality, they are entirely different concepts.
Tax avoidance is completely legal and simply means taking advantage of any tax deductions, tax credits, or other tax-reducing incentives made available through a tax system. Many taxpayers are unaware of the simple ways to avoid paying taxes legally, which is why you’ll often see misinterpretations between tax evasion vs tax avoidance examples.
One of the best tax avoidance programs is Cyprus’ taxation system for non-residents. This program allows a 20 percent exemption or €8,550 ($9,117) (whichever is lower) on gross taxable income generated from employment exercised in Cyprus by any expat who was a non-resident prior to the commencement of their employment.
On the other hand, tax evasion is the illegal act of deliberately hiding income or falsifying your financial situation to avoid or underpay taxes. It’s essentially refusing to pay taxes you’re liable to pay rather than finding a legal way to avoid them by reducing liability.
Although tax evasion generally boils down to either hiding income or misrepresenting income received, the act of doing so can take many forms. Here are some examples of tax evasion:
Failing to report income: Failing to report income is done by under-reporting income on tax returns from a job, whether it’s salary or tips, not reporting income from investments, such as a business or real estate, or not reporting any other forms of income you receive.
Claiming excessive deductions: Claiming excessive deductions is done by inflating the value of charitable donations, falsely claiming business expenses, or taking deductions on personal expenses for things that are not eligible, such as personal travel or purchasing items not used for work purposes.
Moving taxable assets offshore: Moving taxable assets offshore is done by moving them to an offshore bank account in order to hide and make them inaccessible to tax authorities.
Shell companies: Using shell companies is done by creating a dummy corporation – usually offshore or in tax havens – to funnel income or profits in a manner that distorts actual earnings.
Using company assets for personal use: Using company assets for personal use is done by using a company’s physical assets, such as property, vehicles, and equipment, as well as intangible assets, such as intellectual property and business databases, for non-work or business-related purposes.
Six Ways for Freelancers to Legally Avoid or Reduce Taxes
As a freelancer, there are benefits to this over being employed when it comes to federal taxes. For a start – unlike income tax that is automatically deducted from your wages by an employer – you have more control over the taxes you pay.
Freelancing works particularly well with expenses. How to avoid tax on salary through expenses would require a long-winded explanation compared to one for expenses on income generated through freelancing. Instead of claiming a tax refund for expenses, you can deduct them from your tax bill before you pay it.
Remote freelancers and self-employed individuals also have the freedom to take advantage of foreign tax incentives, such as the Portugal NHR tax regime (non-habitual resident), to pay reduced tax rates in Portugal on income earned in the country.
For example, if you’re a non-resident freelancer who earns €55,000 ($58,600) in Portugal, you will enjoy a flat tax rate of 20 percent, as opposed to the national rate of 43.5 percent for residents. You can find out more about this program in our article: Complete Guide to the NHR Portugal Tax Regime.
Self-employment tax deduction
There are several ways to reduce tax bills and pay no taxes legally, and one of the easiest ways is to take full advantage of a self-employment tax deduction scheme. In the US, this deduction allows you to deduct a portion of your self-employed income from your taxable profit, provided their allowable expenses.
To qualify for the self-employment tax deduction, you must be:
- A sole proprietor
- A partner in a partnership
- A member of a limited liability company (LLC)
- Someone who files a Schedule C or Schedule C-EZ (Form 1040) with their tax return
If you meet any of the above criteria, you can claim the self-employment tax deduction on your Schedule SE (Form 1040) and report your self-employed income in the “Other Taxes” section of Form 1040. In this way, the IRS will differentiate the self-employed tax from the federal income tax.
For example, let’s say you’re a sole proprietor and earned $80,000 in net income from freelancing. At the current tax rate of 15.3 percent – which is imposed on 50 percent of your income — you would owe the IRS $6,120 in self-employment taxes. However, because you can deduct that portion of your self-employed income from taxes, your taxable income would be $73,880. Which means you would save $936.
This scheme can save you a significant amount of money on your taxes each tax year. If you think you might qualify for this deduction, talk to a tax professional to verify your eligibility.
Deduct for business expenses
You can deduct various business expenses from your taxable income as a freelancer in a calendar year. These deductions include office supplies, travel expenses, and marketing costs – even if its for a home office.
You’ll need to keep records of all your annual spending on deductible business expenses, and make sure you know which items are tax deductible. You’ll also need to ensure that you stay within the tax law of deducting only expenses related to your business. Otherwise, you could face stiff penalties from your federal tax authority, such as the Internal Revenue Service.
Another way to deduct business expenses is by using the standard mileage deduction. With this method, you can deduct a certain amount for every mile you drive for business purposes. In the long term, the makes sense, as it’s still an expense for any business owner. In some cases, this doesn’t apply when driving to and from work, but you can include it when going to business meetings. This is crucial for small business owners, as time spent on the road could mean a reduction in income.
Another deductible that most people don’t consider is educational expenses and business trips. Whether it’s a side business or your main income, some countries let you include those details into your personal tax return. Just make sure you follow your country’s tax law and that you use the correct tax code for all your filings. If not, your tax break can quickly turn into a nightmare where you have to repay an exorbitant amount in federal income taxes.
No matter which method you choose to calculate business expenses, make sure that you keep thorough records of all your spending. This will help you avoid any problems down the road and make it easier to present proof of expenditure if requested.
Contribute to a retirement plan
There are a few different ways that you can contribute to a retirement plan as a freelancer, which is also one of the simple ways to avoid or underpay taxes legally. There are two common ways to do this if you’re an American citizen. These are:
- Contribute to an IRA (Individual Retirement Account) – With a traditional IRA, you will not have to pay taxes on the money you contribute until you withdraw it in retirement. The age for withdrawal is 72.
- Contribute to a Roth IRA – With a Roth IRA, you’ll pay tax on the money you contribute now, but you will not have to pay tax on it when you withdraw it in retirement. The age for withdrawal is 59 and a half.
An example of this is, as a worker in the 24 percentage tax-bracket, if you contribute $10,000 to your IRA, you will save $2,400 on income tax for that year.
Contribute to an HSA
When saving for retirement, one of the best ways for American taxpayers to minimize their saving is to contribute to a Health Savings Account (HSA). An HSA is a tax-advantaged health savings account that can be used to pay for qualifying medical expenses, including insurance premiums.
Contributions to an HSA have to be made with pre-taxed income, which means they lower your taxable income. And, if you use the money in your HSA to pay for qualifying medical expenses, the withdrawals are tax-free.
There are a few things to keep in mind if you’re thinking about contributing to an HSA:
- First, you must enroll in a high-deductible health insurance plan (HDHP) to be eligible for an HSA.
- Second, there are contribution limits for HSAs. For 2023, the contribution limit for a freelancer with self-only HDHP coverage is $3,850, while the contribution limit for freelancers with family HDHP coverage is $7,750.
- And finally, you’ll need to designate a beneficiary for your HSA when you open the account.
Donate to charity
On the question of paying no taxes legally, one of the most popular ways to do so is to donate to charity. By donating to a registered charity or private foundation as a freelancer, you can receive a tax receipt, which you can use to reduce your taxable income.
In order to ensure that you maximize tax savings when you donate to charity, there are a few things to be mindful of:
- Make sure that you are donating to a registered charity. You can verify a charity’s registration via the website of your country’s tax authority. A tax authority would be the Internal Revenue Service (irs.gov) in the US or gov.uk in the UK.
- Keep track of all your donations so you can present your receipts upon request.
- Make sure you declare your donations when filing taxes to receive the maximum benefit.
Donating to charity is a great way to lower taxable income, on top of providing financial support for those in need. Although charitable donations don’t generally save you money, many of us appreciate having greater control over where our taxed income – or non-taxed income in this instance – is distributed.
Claim Child Tax Credit
The Child Tax Credit is a tax credit available to tax-paying parents with dependent children under the age of 17. The refundable tax credit is worth up to $2,000 per child, which can be claimed yearly when filing tax returns.
To qualify for the maximum tax credit, parents must have a gross income of under $200,000 for single parents and $400,000 for cohabiting parents. Each child must have a valid Social Security number. Additionally, the child must reside with the taxpayer for more than half of the tax year.
Frequently Asked Questions about Tax Avoidance
What is tax avoidance, and is it legal?
Tax avoidance is perfectly legal and can be achieved in numerous ways, such as through tax credits, contributing to retirement accounts, or business deductions. A perfect example of tax avoidance is Portugal’s cryptocurrency policy, which declares cryptocurrency-generated income non-taxable.
Can you go to jail for tax avoidance?
You cannot go to jail for tax avoidance. Tax avoidance schemes are legal parameters used to reduce tax owed on taxable income come tax season.
What are the advantages of tax avoidance?
The advantages of tax avoidance are that you can save money by reducing your tax burden, as well as redirect money from income taxes you would have paid to the government, to charitable organizations.
What are the effects of tax avoidance?
The effects of tax avoidance are that you can pay lower income taxes, legally.
How can I legally not pay taxes?
You can legally avoid paying taxes on some or all of your income by:
- Taking advantage of a self-employment tax deduction scheme
- Deducting business expenses from your gross income on your tax return
- Contributing to a retirement plan and a Health Savings Account (HSA).
- Donating to charity
- Claiming child tax credits
Is there a way to live without paying taxes?
How the rich avoid paying taxes legally is by living in tax havens like the United Arab Emirates and Monaco, which have no form of income taxes or taxes on wealth and assets.
You can also live without paying taxes by obtaining citizenship through a citizenship by investment program in a country like Antigua and Barbuda that doesn’t impose income tax, inheritance, or capital gains tax on residents who make a qualifying investment in the economy.