How to become a Sole Trader
A Sole Trader is one of the most common business structures in Ireland. If you decide to set up as a Sole Trader you will be setting up a business in your own name and you will be personally liable to pay any debts of the business.
There are fewer tax and accounting obligations when you set up as a Sole Trader versus a Limited Company and the overall registration process is easier.
In this guide, we’ll take you through the requirements for setting up as a Sole Trader, how to set up as a Sole Trader, and what you need to do to be compliant with Revenue and the Companies Registration Office (CRO).
1) Have a business plan
Writing a business plan is crucial for any business, no matter how big or small. Your business strategy will include how you expect your business to achieve its goals, satisfy customers and sustain a competitive advantage.
If you have plans to grow your Sole Trader business in the future – for instance, apply for a business loan, expand into other markets, or apply for government startup support, you should consider what that means for your business structure. You can always change from a Sole Trader to a Limited Company at a later stage but it’s worth understanding those requirements now in case you need to switch in the future.
2) Evaluate your expected level of income
Everything you earn as a Sole Trader is essentially your income and that income is subject to tax up to 55%. You can deduct any expenses that are directly related to your business which will save on your tax bill but you may need to plan for when you reach the higher tax rate.
We recommend that you consider the total business income versus what you actually need to spend. If you are making more money as a Sole Trader than you need as a salary, you should consider setting up a Limited Company. There are more tax-efficient ways to pay yourself as a director of a Limited Company. For instance, directors can take a salary, and dividends, and contribute to a company pension.
3) Have a Personal Public Service Number (PPSN)
A PPSN is a unique reference number that helps you access social welfare benefits, public services, and information in Ireland. Everyone living in Ireland should already have a PPSN but you may not have one yet if you have just moved to Ireland.
To get a PPSN, you have to show that you have a need for it. Your Sole Trader income tax registration in Ireland can be used as evidence of this.
Because you need to be a resident in Ireland to be a Sole Trader, you should visit your local Welfare office in order to apply for a PPSN.
4) Register for tax as a Sole Trader
(You will have access to Revenue’s eRegistration service if you have existing access to Revenue’s myAccount or ROS (Revenue’s Online System).
Usually, your Tax Reference Number (TRN) will be the same as your PPSN, but please note that your PPSN does not become your TRN until you register for tax.
If you already have an existing PPSN and you are registered for ROS / MyAccount you will usually get your TRN within 5 days. If you have only recently received your PPSN, you will have to submit the TR1, which can take 2-3 weeks to process.
Sole Trader tax
Income tax, PRSI and the Universal Social Charge
When you are registered with Revenue as a self-employed person, you pay income tax, PRSI and the Universal Social Charge under the self-assessment system.
Sole Traders must pay Preliminary tax on or before 31st October each year and it is a calculation of what you expect to pay for a tax year. This is essentially an advance payment on next year’s tax bill - i.e. tax on the income not yet earned. Make sure that over the year, you save for your Income Tax bill AND your Preliminary Tax liability.
Value Added Tax (VAT)
You will need to register for VAT if your business meets certain criteria. You don’t charge VAT or claim VAT back until you are VAT registered so this simplfies the invoicing process.
If you are employing people, you must register as an employer and operate payroll. An employer is responsible for deducting the appropriate PAYE tax, USC, and PRSI from your employees’ wages as well as maintain a Payroll Report which is reported to Revenue on a real-time basis.
Relevant Contracts Tax (RCT)
A principal contractor is someone who pays a subcontractor to carry out activities on behalf of their business. If you are a principal contractor, you will need to pay RCT. Subcontractors in construction, forestry, and the meat processing industry are expected to pay this tax. However, Revenue specifies that “you are not a principal contractor if the only construction work that you are involved in is on buildings or land for your own use or the use of your employees”.
5) Revenue's Online System (ROS) registration
Now that you are tax registered, you can register for ROS, if you are not already registered.
ROS allows you to view your current tax position, file tax returns and forms, and pay your tax bill.
When you outsource you an accountant, they can take care of your ROS account and ensure that your tax bill is filed on time.
Setting up on ROS for the first time
Apply for your ROS Access Number (RAN)
Apply for your Digital Certificate.
Save your Digital Certificate.
6) Register a business name
The Companies Registration Office (CRO) states that registration of a business name is required if “an individual uses a business name which differs in any way from his/her true surname. It makes no difference whether the individual’s first name or initials are added”.
For example, Sole Trader Anne O’Brien needs to register her business name if she traded as O’Brien Apparel but not if she traded as O’Brien or Anne O’Brien.
Keep in mind that someone else can use your business name even if it is registered. If you want protection around your business name, you should consider setting up as a Limited Company.
7) Consider taking out business insurance
Sole Traders are personally liable for all the debts of the business. This means that, as a Sole Trader, your personal assets, such as your family home, can be used to settle unpaid business debts.
It’s worth considering business insurance in cases of any misfortunes that could affect your business, such as fire, flood or theft, public, employer, product liability, or business interruption. Talk to your local insurance branch for more information on the types of cover they offer.
8) Have a bookkeeping system
Any expenses that are wholly and exclusively for the purpose of your trade can be deducted against your income. You can claim tax-deductible expenses in your Income Tax Return to save you on your tax bill at the end of the year.
It’s important that any expense receipts and computations (e.g. mileage) are correctly calculated and recorded so that your tax returns are accurate. Remember – you only file your tax returns once a year and doing regular bookkeeping will greatly benefit you when it comes time to file your taxes. On top of that, if you are VAT registered, you need to file VAT returns, and your receipts and invoices are also required to calculate how much you owe, and how much you can claim back.
9) Set up your business bank account
It’s best practice to keep your business income separate from your personal income through a specific business bank account.
To set up a business bank account in Ireland, you will generally need one form of ID verification; e.g. passport or driver’s licence, and two forms of address verification of home address in Ireland; e.g. electricity bill or current bank account statement.
10) Complete tax returns before 31 October each year
Finally, when you register as a Sole Trader, you are obliged to file Income Tax Returns before 31 October each year. Note that your first Income Tax return is due the following year after you set up – i.e. if you register as a Sole Trader in Ireland in 2022, your first tax return is due in 2023.
Income Tax Returns are self-assessed, which means that you need to calculate your own tax bill or outsource the requirement to an accountant. They are required even if you made a loss or your business had minimal trading and any late filings will incur fines and penalties.
Starting out as a Sole Trader
Setting up as a Sole Trader is straightforward and relatively quick when compared to setting up a Limited Company. There are certain risks involved with starting out as a Sole Trader and we advise that you learn about the difference between a Sole Trader and a Limited Company if you’re not sure which route to go down.
If you need specific advice about your situation, talk to our Client Services team via phone, email, video call, or live chat – we’re here to help you make the right decisions!
Kelly is the Marketing Manager at Accountant Online. Kelly is passionate about making the complexities around running a business simple to understand and accessible to the every-day person. Kelly holds a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Marketing from Dublin Institute of Technology.