What is Tax Compliance and Why You Need to Know About it as a Small Business Owner

Business owners, no matter how small or large, are required to follow the tax laws of the country they belong to (and sometimes of other countries too). These laws govern the income reporting requirements, calculation of taxes, payment of taxes, and procedural requirements for it. Tax laws tend to be quite complicated for businesses, especially in countries with a large tax code, and to make things trickier, they keep on changing from time to time.

Going by the famous doctrine of ‘Ignorance of the law is never an excuse,’ it is your duty as a taxpayer to educate yourself on all tax obligations that you need to fulfill. Keep in mind that there can be several different laws that apply to you that come from different authorities such as from your municipality, your state, your home country, host country, and even international laws. Similarly, there are various types of taxes applicable to a single business-like income tax, VAT, excise, property tax, etc.

We get that small business owners who have recently started out their venture tend to ignore tax compliance until the end of the tax deadline is due simply because they have the pressure of running a profitable business. But postponing tax compliance to the year-end causes serious difficulties for small businesses especially when their documents and books aren’t properly kept organized.

Thus, in order to run a smooth business, you need to have a basic understanding of the tax laws applicable to you and comply with them in a timely manner.

Tax compliances for small businesses

Tax compliance requirement, for any business, depends upon a lot of factors, such as the nature of the business, the legal structure of the business, activities carried out, and so on and so forth. Generally, every business incurs the following tax compliance requirements.

Income Tax/Corporate Tax

Similar to how an individual is required to pay tax on their income, businesses are also required to pay tax on their income i.e. their profits. If you are registered as a corporation, you will pay the corporate tax instead of income tax. Generally, income tax is levied as a percentage of the profit which varies heavily from country to country. At the first look, this seems straightforward but the profits you calculate as per your books of accounts and the profits on which income tax is calculated are, more often than not, different.

Tax laws have detailed provisions for calculating ‘taxable profits’. For example, not all the expenses you incur are allowed as business expenses deductible from your income like personal expenses. This is more important for small businesses as there is a thin line between their personal and business expenses if an audit is undertaken.

These expenses should have a nexus with your business in order to be tax-deductible. You should be able to prove that the expenses were incurred in the course of business, else your expenses might be disallowed in the audit.

The rates of taxes and filing requirements are different for different types of entities such as sole proprietorship, partnership firm, or registered companies. Also, depending upon your revenue and legal structure, you may need to get your financial statements audited and certified.

Advance Tax

Income tax, for small businesses, is generally paid at the end of the financial year. As a business owner, you are supposed to ascertain your taxable profits from your books of accounts, calculate and pay the taxes and furnish the necessary documents in the tax return before the due dates. But as your earnings grow, you might be subjected to advance taxes.

As the name suggests, you are supposed to calculate and pay taxes for the financial year during the year itself, usually quarterly. Thus, your compliance requirements change from yearly to quarterly. The advance tax requires an estimation of the income you will earn during the year. Moreover, advance tax isn’t a separate tax in itself but a different compliance requirement for the same tax.

VAT/Sales Tax

Indirect taxes form a huge part of the tax requirements of businesses. The mechanism of indirect taxes is fairly straightforward in comparison to direct taxes. However, the rate of taxes varies a lot for different types of products and services. Different jurisdictions also have different tax rates. The procedural requirements for availing the ‘input tax credit’ on the incoming tax paid by you have to be filed in a timely manner with complete precision. Any discrepancy or delay in the returns of VAT affects your business cycle and working capital adversely.

The time limit for filing returns for indirect taxes is also very stringent, generally monthly, or quarterly depending upon the size of your business. To ensure proper compliance, all the purchase and sales invoices should be maintained properly and entered in the books of accounts regularly.

However, in most countries, to save small traders from the hassle of complicated tax requirements, there is a limit after which rules of VAT start applying to you. Only once your turnover crosses a certain threshold, you have to get registered with the VAT authorities.

Payroll Taxes

If you have employees in your business, you are required to deduct payroll taxes from their salary and deposit it to the authorities. These taxes are part of social security benefits or Medicare of the employees. However, the burden of compliance is passed on to the employer in most countries.

Apart from that, employers are also required to withhold the income tax of employees from their salaries and pay them on the employee’s behalf.

These taxes are calculated based on the salary of the employees. Every country has a different definition of what constitutes as salary for the calculation of payroll tax. For example, even perquisites or emoluments over and above the basic salary are also considered as salary for payroll taxes. You should take time to study them properly.  Monthly payment and return filing have to be done in order to avoid heavy penalties and fines.

Local Taxes

Apart from the above, there are numerous local taxes that you must pay as a small business owner. These include property tax, municipal taxes, road tax, etc. These taxes vary a lot from city to city. For example, city taxes in New York will be much higher than in some rural towns. Knowledge of local taxes applicable to your business is very important.

Ensuring proper tax compliance

As you can see, even for small businesses, there are a huge number of taxes applicable, and each tax comes with its own compliance requirement and separate due date. Small business owners can easily get confused and forget to comply with 1 or more requirements. To ensure that you follow every compliance requirement, it is necessary to have a systematic approach.

  • Make a list of all the tax laws applicable to you.
  • For every tax law applicable, list out all the necessary forms and returns that you need to file.
  • For every tax law applicable, mark the due dates of payments of tax and the due date of filing of return.
  • Make a list of all the documents necessary for each type of return.
  • Keep your books tidy and supporting documents in order.
  • Keep an eye on the changes in the tax compliance laws especially those which affect your business.

Tax compliance can be challenging for small business owners. Tax compliance not only requires a thorough knowledge of various tax laws, it also requires a lot of time and work to follow. Deadlines have to be met with accuracy. Hence, it is advisable to seek professional help.


I know all the above tax compliance seems like a lot for small business owners. That’s why one of our biggest goals here at Wanderers Wealth is to make your life easier by suggesting you countries that are entrepreneurial friendly and that will make running a business as easy as possible for you. Yes, those countries do exist because those countries realize the huge benefits that professionals and entrepreneurs add to their economy if in return they make compliance easy for them. If you want to get a taste of the decision-making process and learn which countries we recommend to our clients make sure to check out our Low Tax Business Setup Mini Course or get in touch with us by filling out the below contact form.


Do you want professional help with your own International Tax Strategy and Corporate Structure?

Check out our current services. We are here to guide you and help you navigate through the complex world of International Taxes and Business Structures.


We hope you have enjoyed this article. If you have any further questions please leave us a message below and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

    NOTICE: The content of this article is not to be considered as a legal opinion or tax advice. Wanderers Wealth does not hold itself out as a legal or tax advisor. If you want to receive a legal opinion or tax advice on the matter in this article please contact us directly and we will refer you to a legal practitioner.

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