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Small Business Tips

Business Expenses You Can't Deduct

Marin Perez

One of the nice things about being a self-employed worker or a small business owner is your ability to deduct nearly all your business expenses. There are some exceptions to this, though. Let's go over business expenses you can't deduct.

What you can write off

If you're self-employed, the IRS allows you to deduct any "reasonable" business expense. This can include almost any expense as long as it's:

  • Ordinary and necessary
  • Directly related to your business
  • For a reasonable amount

The first requirement means it's common and appropriate for your profession or business. Think of a hammer for a carpenter or office supplies for your small business. Similarly, these expenses must be directly related to your business and can't be for an exorbitant amount.  There is a wide-ranging list of expenses that can fit into this category. This includes advertising costs, bank fees for your business accounts, health insurance costs, license fees, office utilities, wages and benefits you provide to your employees and much more.  Outside of those, there are a few exceptions of expenses you may think are related to your business but the IRS won't let you take a deduction.

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Business expenses you can't deduct

You are allowed to write off 50 percent of the costs of meals and entertainment related to your business. You must show all of the following to get this deduction:

  • The main purpose was to conduct business; the entire time doesn't have to be on business but it must be the main thrust.
  • You had some sort of business meeting: negotiation, deal, or the start of a deal.
  • You expect a specific business benefit or income from this meeting.

There are some specific expenses that you are prohibited from deducting as entertainment. For example, you may not deduct the cost of buying, leasing, or maintaining an entertainment facility for clients. This could include a yacht, hotel suite, car, hunting lodge or vacation home.  Additionally, you cannot deduct the costs of entertaining people who aren't related to business activity. If you're at a dinner or entertainment event with business and non-business participants, you can only deduct the business portions of those expenses.  If a client reimburses you for entertainment expenses, you give the client accounting of your expenses and comply with the accountable plan rules, you don't have to count the reimbursement as income. Aim for reimbursement if you can because this means you get 100 percent of your expenses paid for‚ your client will be able to deduct 50 percent of those costs.  Some other business expenses you can't deduct include:

  • Gifts: You can't deduct the entire cost of business gifts. But, you are allowed to deduct the first $25 worth of gifts to clients.
  • Penalties or fines: You cannot write off the costs of any penalties or fines, even if these are incurred during business activities. This includes parking tickets and traffic tickets.
  • Your commute: Driving to and from your home to your place of work is considered a commute. This is not deductible, even if you do business activities while commuting.

An exception to the commute rule

As you probably know, every business mile you drive can result in a large deduction. Wouldn't you like to be able to count that commute as part of it? Well, you can, but only if you have a qualifying home office.  The one exception is daily travel to and from a "temporary workstation outside the metropolitan area where you live. "Be forewarned that the term "metropolitan area" might be questionable by the Tax Court. The term "temporary" is generally accepted by the IRS as lasting a year or less.  If you can take the home office deduction, your rides from your house to your temporary workplace can be considered business mileage. The same applies for your ride back home at the end of the day‚ this is because you're technically driving between offices.  The IRS considers these circumstances on a case-by-case basis, so it's best to talk to your tax professional if you want to deduct travel expenses.

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