Guidance for the Self-Employed and Sole Proprietors
are the cost of conducting a trade or business. These expenses are common costs of doing business and are usually tax-deductible if your business is for profit. For example, the costs of renting a storefront, business travel, and paying employees are all deductible business expenses.
are the costs of purchasing specific assets, such as property or equipment, that usually have a life of a year or more and increase the quality and quantity of products and services. For example, if you own a landscaping business and you purchase mowers and excavating equipment, these costs are capital expenses and do not qualify as deductible business expenses. However, you can recover the money you spent on capital expenses through depreciation, amortization, or depletion. These recovery methods allow you to deduct part of your cost each year. In this way, you are able to recover your capital expenses over time.
Figuring business expenses vs. capital expenses is not always clear cut. Consider taking advantage of free tax training opportunities offered by the IRS. If you have hired an accountant, you should also seek his or her advice regarding tax deductions.
The following information provides a brief overview of expenses that qualify as tax deductions, with links to resources that provide clear guidance on deducting and capitalizing your expenses.
Deducting Business Expenses
To be deductible, a business expense must be both “ordinary” and “necessary.” An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in your field of business. A necessary expense is one that is helpful and appropriate for your business.
Personal vs. Business Expenses
Generally, you cannot deduct personal, living, or family expenses. However, if you have an expense for something that is used partly for business and partly for personal purposes, divide the total cost between the business and personal portions. You can deduct the business portion. For example, if you borrow money and use 70% of it for business and the other 30% for a family vacation, you can deduct 70% of the interest as a business expense. The remaining 30% is personal interest and is not deductible.
Home Office Deduction
If you use part of your home for business, you may be able to deduct expenses for the business use of your home. These expenses may include mortgage interest, insurance, utilities, repairs, and depreciation. The home office deduction is available for homeowners and renters, and applies to all types of homes, from apartments to mobile homes. There are two basic requirements for your home to qualify as a deduction:
1. Regular and Exclusive Use. You must regularly use part of your home exclusively for conducting business. For example, if use an extra bedroom to run your online business, you can make home office deduction for the extra bedroom.
2. Principal Place of Your Business. You must show that you use your home as your principal place of business. If you conduct business at a location outside of your home, but also use your home substantially and regularly to conduct business, you may qualify for a home office deduction. For example, if you have in-person meetings with patients, clients, or customers in your home in the normal course of your business, even though you also carry on business at another location, you can deduct your expenses for the part of your home used exclusively and regularly for business. You can deduct expenses for a separate free-standing structure, such as a studio, garage, or barn, if you use it exclusively and regularly for your business. The structure does not have to be your principal place of business or the only place where you meet patients, clients, or customers.
Generally, deductions for a home office are based on the percentage of your home devoted to business use. So, if you use a whole room or part of a room for conducting your business, you need to figure out the percentage of your home devoted to your business activities.
Visit our page on Home Office Deductions for a full explanation of tax deductions for your home office.
Travel, Meals, Entertainment, and Gifts
Generally, you can deduct all of your travel expenses if your trip was entirely business-related. These expenses include the travel costs of getting to and from your business destination and any business-related expenses at your business destination, including tips, cab fare, and other “life on the road” expenses such as dry cleaning. Meals are the only exception. You can deduct only 50 percent of your meals while traveling.
If your business trip includes personal side trips or extended stays for a personal vacation, you can only deduct travel expenses used for business-related activities. For example, suppose you live in Atlanta, and then went on a 5-day business trip to New York. You spent 3 days in business meetings, and two days sight-seeing and visiting friends. You can only deduct the costs of the 3 days you spent on business activities.
If you take your family on vacation to Hawaii, and conduct business there, you can deduct any expenses that are directly related to your business. However, you may not deduct the entire cost of the trip as business expense.
Business Use of Your Car
If you use your car in your business, you can deduct car expenses. If you use your car for both business and personal purposes, you must divide your expenses based on actual mileage. Refer to the Car Expenses Section in IRS Publication 463, Travel, Entertainment, Gift, and Car Expenses. For a list of current and prior year mileage rates see the Standard Mileage Rates. Also, be sure to read Tax Deductions for Personal Vehicles Used for Business Purposes.
Other Types of Deductible Business Expenses
There are numerous other costs of doing business that qualify as deductions. These include but are not limited to the following:
- Employees’ Pay – You can generally deduct the pay you give your employees for the services they perform for your business.
- Interest – Business interest expense is an amount charged for the use of the money you borrowed for business activities.
- Retirement Plans – Retirement plans are savings plans that offer you tax advantages to set aside money for your own, and your employees’, retirement.
- Rent Expense – Rent is any amount you pay for the use of property you do not own. In general, you can deduct rent as an expense only if the rent is for the property you use in your trade or business. If you have or will receive equity in or title to the property, the rent is not deductible.
- Taxes – You can deduct various federal, state, local, and foreign taxes directly attributable to your trade or business as business expenses.
- Insurance – Generally, you can deduct the ordinary and necessary cost of insurance as a business expense, if it is for your trade, business, or profession.
- Business-Related Education – Such as seminars, classes, educational tapes or CDs, and conventions.
Deducting Capital Expenses
There are two ways to deduct capital expenses. You can “depreciate” them by deducting a portion of the total cost each year over an asset’s useful life; or you might be able to deduct the cost in one year as a Section 179 deduction.
If the property you acquire to use in your business is expected to last more than one year, you generally cannot deduct the entire cost as a business expense in the year you acquire it. You must spread the cost over more than one tax year and deduct part of it each year on Form 1040, Schedule C. This method of deducting the cost of business property is called depreciation.
What property can be depreciated?
You can depreciate the property if it meets all the following requirements.
- It must be the property you own.
- It must be used in business or held to produce income. You never can depreciate inventory because it is not held for use in your business.
- It must have a useful life that extends substantially beyond the year it is placed in service.
- It must have a determinable useful life, which means that it must be something that wears out, decays, gets used up, becomes obsolete, or loses its value from natural causes. You never can depreciate the cost of land because land does not wear out, become obsolete, or get used up.
- It must not be excepted property. This includes property placed in service and disposed of in the same year.
You cannot depreciate repairs and replacements that do not increase the value of your property, make it more useful, or lengthen its useful life. You can deduct these amounts on line 21 Form 1040, Schedule C or line 2 of Schedule C-EZ.
The method for depreciating most business and investment property placed in service after 1986 is called the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS). MACRS is discussed in detail in How to Depreciate Property (IRS Publication 946).
Section 179 Deduction
Purchasing such things as office equipment and computer software would seem like ordinary and necessary expenses, however, the IRS considers these costs to be capital expenses. Unlike assets that are acquired for the production of income (such as investment property), Section 179 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service Code gives you the option to deduct the costs of assets acquired for business use as expenses in the year you purchased the assets, instead of requiring them to be capitalized and depreciated. Eligible property is generally limited to tangible, depreciable property that is acquired for use in the active conducting of a trade or business. Section 179 deductions are subject to dollar amount and deductible limitations.
You must follow special rules and recordkeeping requirements when depreciating listed property. Listed property is any of the following.
- Most passenger automobiles.
- Most other property used for transportation.
- Any property of a type generally used for entertainment, recreation, or amusement.
- Certain computers and related peripheral equipment.
- Any cellular telephone (or similar telecommunications equipment).
Use Form 4562, Depreciation and Amortization, if you are claiming any of the following.
- Depreciation on property placed in service during the current tax year.
- A section 179 deduction.
- Depreciation on any listed property (regardless of when it was placed in service).
For clear and complete rules for deducting depreciation, refer to How to Depreciate Property (IRS Publication 946).
Where depreciation allows you to deduct the cost of an asset over the asset’s life, amortization is a method of deducting certain capital expenses over a fixed period of time. The IRS allows you to amortize costs associated with:
- Starting a Business, including the costs of researching a business idea and creating a legal entity
- Getting a Lease on Business Property
- Intangible Assets defined in Section 197 of U.S. Internal Revenue Service Code, including business licenses, permits, patents, trademarks, trade secrets, customer loyalty (goodwill); and the intangible value of physical items such as client lists and accounting and inventory records
- Oil and Gas Exploration
- Pollution Control Facilities
- Research and Experimentation