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Deducting Business Expenses: Separating Fact From Myth

When you’re filing your tax returns, what expenses can you deduct from business income? It’s a complex question. To start with, a business expense must be both ordinary and necessary to be deductible, according to the IRS. An ordinary expense is one that’s common and accepted in your trade or business. A necessary expense is one that’s helpful and appropriate for your trade or business; it doesn’t always mean an indispensable cost. Since only business expenses are deductible, they must be separated from other types of expenses: those that are included in the cost of goods sold, capital expenses and personal expenses.

The cost of goods sold is figured by valuing inventory at the beginning and end of each tax year. The total value is deducted from your gross receipts to figure your gross profit for the year. If you include an expense in the cost of goods sold, you cannot deduct it again as a business expense.

Such expenses as the cost of products or raw materials, freight, storage, and direct labor costs including contributions to pensions or annuities for workers who produce the products and factory overhead all go into figuring the cost of goods sold.

You must capitalize some costs rather than deduct them. These costs, part of your investment in your business, are called capital expenses and are considered assets in your business. Generally, there are three types of costs that you should capitalize:

  • Startup costs.
  • Assets.
  • Improvements.

Note that you can decide to deduct or amortize some business startup costs.

You cannot deduct personal, living or family expenses. But if you have an expense for something used partly for business and partly for personal purposes, divide the total cost between the business and personal parts and then deduct the business part.

What if you use part of your home for business? You may be able to deduct expenses for the business use of your home. These may include mortgage interest, insurance, utilities, repairs and depreciation. If you use your car for 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.

Other common business expenses include:

  • Employees’ pay — You can generally deduct the pay you give your employees for services they perform within your business.
  • Retirement plans — Retirement plans are savings plans offering tax advantages to set aside money for your and your employees’ retirement funds.
  • Rent expenses — Rent is any amount you pay for the use of property you don’t own. You can deduct rent as an expense only if the rent is for property you use in your trade or business. If you have or will receive equity in the title to the property, the rent is not deductible.
  • Interest — Business interest expense is an amount charged for the use of money you borrowed for business activities.
  • 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’s for your trade, business or profession.

This is just an introduction to a technical topic. Be sure to work closely with a qualified tax professional.

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American Institute of CPAs, Virginia Society of CPAs.