Tax season. Sigh.
My first thought is, “How much do I owe?”
Fortunately, my taxes haven’t been too high in recent years. That’s because I’ve become a pro at writing off what I can. I try not to miss any small business tax deductions.
During my few years in business, I tried to save money and tackle taxes on my own. Mistake. Big mistake. I missed out on a ton of tax deductions and ended up paying the government more than necessary.
After an unfortunate letter from the IRS (which was soon corrected), I hired an accountant. He taught me about small business tax deductions—and how to keep track of them in an organized manner. Looking back, he went above and beyond to save me money. Without his help, I’m not sure my business could have gotten off the ground.
That's why I want to pass on the knowledge to you!
So whether this is your first year doing taxes for your business or you just want to make sure you're getting every deduction possible, let's explore everything you need to know about small business tax deductions.
Uncle Sam knows starting a small business is hard. So the government offers ways for you to save money. These tax breaks are designed to help your business succeed—which in turn, can help America’s economy.
The problem is deductions are easy to miss if you’re not an accountant or working with one. Tax software can point you in the right direction, but if you memorize the deductions I’ve listed below, you can keep track of them throughout the year. Organization and planning make tax season easier and faster.
When it comes to small business tax deductions, it can be tough to know what can and can’t be claimed. While we’ll talk about some of the most common tax deductions in a moment, let’s take some time to talk about what the IRS considers to be a deductible expense.
In general, the IRS considers a business expense to be ordinary and necessary to running your small business. Let’s dive deeper into what that means:
Ordinary means that the expense is common and standard to your business type or trade
Necessary means that the expense is helpful and, again, common to your business type or trade
For example, if you’re a general contractor and you buy a small car as a business expense, the IRS might raise an eyebrow, as that’s not typically standard within your industry. If, however, you purchased a truck or a work van, you’d likely be able to claim it as a small business tax deduction without much hassle from the IRS.
Sole proprietors or business owners in partnerships, single-member LLCs, and S-corporations can get a new 20% deduction off of their net income. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 created this new tax break. But, keep in mind, it’s really dependent on your income and industry. Some business owners may not be eligible.
Do you work tucked away in a home office? Good news. You can write off a percentage of your mortgage or rent. It has to be a space completely devoted to your business—and nothing else. It can be a full room or part of a room; all you have to do is measure the square footage of the space and divide it by the size of your home. You can use this percentage when you write off utilities, home insurance, and other home expenses.
A quick tip: Talk to an accountant and do careful research on this deduction first. It can get complicated quickly, and you’ll want to avoid an audit.
If you rent space for a brick-and-mortar store or another small business location, you can deduct that amount. Keep your records handy.
Keep track of your heating bills, electricity charges, phone bill, and other utilities used for business. You’ll want to deduct these costs, as well.
If you work with a cleaning service or janitorial company to spruce up your location, remember to deduct the cost of their services. Just like with every other expense, keep your records handy.
If you’re traveling often, you can deduct gas, parking, mileage, tolls, and auto repairs. It helps to use an app to track your vehicle expenses and mileage, especially if your car is for personal and business use. Apps like Everlance can help. It automatically tracks mileage when the car is moving.
If you head to trade shows or conferences, you can deduct your travel expenses, including airfare, lodging, and meals. If you’re shipping trade show materials, you can also deduct these expenses. Keep all of your receipts and records.
Printer ink. Paper. Fax machines. Basically anytime you head to your local office supply store, file away that receipt. You can deduct all of these expenses, as long as they’re solely used for business.
Whether you’re a freelance writer using Microsoft Office, a graphic designer who relies on Adobe, or an architect working in CAD, you can write off any software program you use for your business. Think Salesforce, HubSpot, MailChimp, and any other sales software too.
If you’re buying new furniture for your office, like employee desks, chairs, and conference tables, you can write the costs off too. This is especially helpful because office furniture can have a big price tag. You can also deduct office equipment, like computers, projectors, and video conferencing devices.
For landscapers, builders, and restaurant owners, it might make sense to rent equipment rather than buying it outright. If that’s you, keep your records and remember to deduct these expenses at tax time.
The IRS considers tools different than equipment. Tools can be less expensive and include anything from hammers, to paint supplies, to mixers, and baking pans. Remember to track and deduct tools when you buy them.
Most businesses do some sort of advertising and marketing to secure customers. Track your expenses related to website hosting, business cards, flyers, billboards, and sponsorships. The only exception is political advertising; you cannot deduct this type of marketing.
If you’ve taken out a loan to start your business, you can deduct the interest you pay. But, this only applies to a loan for your business, not a personal loan.
If you’re fortunate enough to offer your employees stellar benefits, like childcare and education assistance, you can write off these expenses too.
No matter what type of work you do, business insurance is usually a good idea. It can cover you if there’s an accident, health issue, property damage, lawsuit, and more. As long as your insurance is considered “ordinary and necessary,” you can deduct the cost of premiums.
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When you own a small business, the market can be competitive. That’s why it’s so important to regularly attend seminars, conferences, workshops, and classes in your industry. Just remember, when it comes to tax time, you can deduct any education costs.
It can cost quite a lot to secure a copyright, trademark, or patent. Remember to deduct these expenses.
If generosity is part of your company mission, there’s good news. You can also deduct charitable donations. These need to be of monetary value though, as the IRS does not allow tracking the donation of your time.
Running a small business involves focusing on every expense going out the door, and managing them enough that you’re making money at the end of the day.
So when it comes to hiring an accountant to find your small business tax deductions, it makes sense that you may want to do it yourself.
Here’s the deal: I can’t recommend one option over the other, since you know your business best. But in general, the more complex your business, the more likely it is that you’ll need an accountant or other financial professional to help you with your tax prep.
Here’s why: small businesses tend to have a higher risk of getting audited by the IRS. According to IRS data, the average person’s audit risk is relatively low, at about 1%. But if you run a small business, that risk increases to about 2.5%.
It may not seem like much, but that tiny percentage increase reflects thousands of additional businesses getting audited. And if you happen to be one of these small businesses on the receiving end of an audit, it’s not exactly a comfort to know you’re a rarity!
For that reason, if you don’t feel confident taking small business tax deductions or you don’t trust tax software to help, it’s a good idea to seek out professional help with your taxes.
Plus, an accountant can help you find the deductions you didn’t even know you could take - and that could save you major money over the long run.
If you’re self-employed, you technically are a small business owner. However, the rules can be a little different for self-employed individuals, especially if you’re structured as a sole proprietor.
For the most part, self-employed individuals can claim many of the small business tax deductions as a larger business. However, you may be taxed differently as a sole proprietor than, say, a small business registered as an LLC.
You can learn more about the most common self employment tax deductions here. If you have additional questions about what you can claim on your taxes, it’s recommended that you reach out to an accountant or financial professional for help.
It’s tough to identify which exact signals could trigger an IRS audit, as they tend to keep that pretty secretive. However, there is enough data out there to suggest which deductions could increase the likelihood of getting that dreaded audit notification from the IRS.
Here are the deductions, mistakes, and other signals that could trigger an IRS audit:
Unfortunately, if you claim a home office, your odds of getting audited by the IRS are going to go up. That’s because it actually can be pretty complicated to calculate how much of your home office expenses should be deducted from your taxes, meaning many people tend to make mistakes on this one.
If you want to claim a home office, it’s recommended that you reach out to a financial professional for help. You can also look at home office deduction advice here.
If you’re claiming a lot of meal and entertainment expenses - especially in this past year, when much of business and client travel was shut down due to the pandemic - you may end up on the IRS’s radar. If you happen to entertain clients a lot or take them out to dinner, keep a very good track of your receipts in case of an IRS audit.
If your small business makes $100K per year but you claim $30K in charitable deductions, the IRS may want to take another look at your tax return. Make sure that your deductions are in line with your business expenses to avoid running the risk of an audit.
Unfortunately, if your small business has been audited in the past, you have a higher likelihood of being audited in the future. If that’s the case, keep track of all receipts, hire an accountant or financial professional, and stay calm - eventually, you’ll be left alone!
Yes! Many of today’s tax prep software can help small business owners manage their taxes, as well as identify deductions that they may be able to take. I’ve used tax software in the past that gave me helpful prompts to see if there were any deductions I could claim.
If you’re comfortable using tax software to find small business tax deductions, that works. However, it’s still recommended that you check with an accountant or tax preparation firm to ensure that you’re claiming everything your small business is entitled to.
Keep in mind, this isn’t the complete list of small business tax deductions—it’s just a few tips to help you learn what to track. When in doubt, keep your receipts, invoices, and other records. File them all away on your computer and in a locked filing cabinet. You’ll be thankful if the IRS ever audits you, as this can be an expensive and time-consuming process.
If you ever question if you can deduct an expense, or how to deduct it, seek a good accountant. A professional can walk you through the deductions above and help you find more areas to save money.
* Monthly payment calculations (i) do not include initial premium down payment and (ii) may vary by state, insurance provider, and nature of your business. Averages based on January - December 2020 data of 10% of our total policies sold.
I earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin at Madison (go Bucky). After realizing my first job might involve carrying a police scanner at 2 am in pursuit of “newsworthy” crimes, I decided I was better suited for freelance blogging and marketing writing. Since 2010, I’ve owned my freelance writing business, EST Creative. When I’m not penning, doodling ideas, or chatting with clients, you’ll find me hiking with my husband, baby boy, and 2 mischievous mutts.
This content is for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting, or financial advice. Please obtain expert advice from industry specific professionals who may better understand your business’s needs. Read our full disclaimer
*Harborway Insurance policies are underwritten by Spinnaker Insurance Company and reinsured by Munich Re, an A+ (Superior) rated reinsurance carrier by A.M. Best. Harborway Insurance is a trade name of Simply Business, Inc., which is a licensed insurance producer in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.