December 31 is not the time to start figuring out your tax deductions for the year. If you haven't been keeping records of your expenses -- gas, new tires and renewing your license, for instance -- you may not be able to prove to the IRS what they were, or even remember them yourself.
As an independent trucker, count on paying self-employment tax along with your income tax if your net business income for the year is more than $400. The tax covers your taxes for Social Security and Medicare. If your business turns a profit, also plan on paying estimated tax -- the self-employed professional's equivalent to withholding -- four times a year. You can pay in equal quarterly installments or figure out your year-to-date income whenever a payment is due.
If you use your truck 100 percent for business, everything you spend on it is a tax deduction. To make sure you don't miss a write-off, keep receipts for everything you spend. That includes not only diesel fill-ups and maintenance costs but parking fees, tolls, inspections and registration fees. You can't deduct the cost of your truck itself, but every year you use it, you can depreciate part of the original purchase price.
Any time you travel away from your home base for more than a day, you can write off travel costs. If you catch some sleep at a motel, that's deductible; meals are deductible too, but only up to 50 percent of the cost. Communication -- mobile Internet, cell-phone charges, long-distance calls and sending faxes on the road -- are all deductible. If your expenses for lodging and meals are extreme -- dining on caviar, for instance -- the IRS may not allow them.
Being organized is a big part of tax planning. In addition to keeping records of your bills, sort them, so that you can total up your spending on meals, lodging, gas and licensing fees without too much trouble. If you use bookkeeping software, enter your income and expenses every week or month rather than doing a year's worth at once. Any time you think you might forget what a bill was for, make a note on the receipt so that you can explain it.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.