For small-business owners, there are few sweeter phrases than “small-business tax deductions.” But in most cases, business owners just aren’t aware of all the small-business tax deductions available to them — or they simply aren’t taking the time to keep detailed records, itemize expenses or crunch the numbers necessary to take advantage of these deductions.
21 Small-Business tax deductions
All of these deductions can be claimed by sole proprietorships, as well as C-corps and S-corps, partnerships and LLCs (although there might be different rules for each).
1. Startup and organizational costs
Our first small-business tax deduction comes with a caveat — it’s not actually a tax deduction. Business startup costs are seen as a capital expense by the IRS, since they are an investment in your business (the money hasn’t actually left the business, it was just transformed into an asset). Deductions for capital expenses typically occur over several years. This is known as amortization, and helps businesses accurately assess profitability year over year. You can check out chapters seven and eight of IRS Publication 535, which covers business expenses for more information.
Some inventory-based businesses will manufacture products or purchase them for resale. If this is your business model, you can deduct the cost of your inventory, or the cost of the goods you sell. You generally must value inventory at the beginning and end of each tax year to determine your cost of goods sold.
The following are types of expenses that go into figuring the cost of goods sold:
The cost of products or raw materials, including freight.
Direct labor costs (including contributions to pensions or annuity plans) for workers who produce the products.
Any utilities that you use for your business are fully deductible. This includes things like water, electricity, trash and telephone bills. However, if you have a home office and use a landline, the cost of the first landline is not deductible, but subsequent landlines are.
Most businesses will take out some form of insurance. The cost of the business owner’s health insurance, business continuation insurance and the business owner’s policy are all 100% deductible. Other types of deductible insurance policies include property insurance, liability coverage, malpractice insurance, workers’ compensation costs, auto insurance, business provided employee life insurance and business interruption insurance.
Note that with health insurance, a small business may also qualify for up to a 50% tax credit under the qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement (QSEHRA).
5. Business property rent
If you rent your business property, you can deduct your lease or rental payments from taxes. Alternatively, if you run your business from home, you can also run an eligibility test with the IRS to see if you are entitled to any deductions. Types of deductible home business expenses include mortgage interest, insurance, utilities, repairs and depreciation. You can learn more through IRS Publication 587.
6. Auto expenses
If you have a car for business purposes, you can usually deduct anything considered a car expense. However, you have to have records that prove business usage, as well as keep track of your miles. Conversely, you can rely on the IRS standard mileage rate, which is currently $0.58 cents per mile. If you use your car for both business and personal purposes, you must divide your expenses based on actual mileage. Refer to Publication 463 on travel, entertainment, gift and car expenses for more information.
7. Rent and depreciation on equipment and machinery
If you lease equipment or machinery for your business you can fully deduct these costs. This can be anything from printers and copiers, to vans and trucks. You can also claim depreciation on equipment and machinery. However, these costs must be deducted over several years. In order to do this, you must claim a Section 179 deduction, which allows business owners to deduct up to $1,020,000 from new or used property in service during the tax year.
8. Office supplies
Paper, boxes, pens, staples… they may be small, but they all cost money (which you can deduct from your taxes).
9. Office furniture
Office furniture is also considered a type of office supplies, and can, therefore, be deducted just as you would deduct printer paper or cleaning products.
10. Software subscription
If you’ve bought or downloaded software for your business, this can be deducted. These types of expenses can be claimed under “Other Common Business Expenses>Other Miscellaneous Expenses” on your Schedule C tax form.
11. Advertising and marketing
As long as you can prove they’re related to your business, you can claim back any money spent on ordinary advertising and marketing purchases. This includes things like billboards, business cards, Yellow Pages ads, as well as hiring a freelancer to design a business logo or sending thank you cards to clients.
12. Business entertainment
Entertaining clients with meals and events? This, too, can be deducted if necessary to your business. Note that most meal costs are only deductible up to 50%. But certain types of meals, such as a meal provided at an office party, are 100% deductible. Be sure to save your receipts and note the business purpose of the meal in order to maximize this deduction.
13. Travel expenses
If you’re frequently on the go, you should definitely look into deducting your travel expenses. For a business expense to qualify as travel, it must be away from the city or area in which you conduct business. You must also be away from your tax home for longer than a full workday. Types of deductible travel expenses include airfare, tolls, taxis and lodging.
If you have a small-business loan, you’ll make interest payments on what you’re borrowing from the lender. Those interest payments are usually fully tax deductible as long as the loan is used to cover business expenses. To claim this deduction, the business owner must be legally liable for the debt, and the business owner and the lender must have a “debtor/creditor” relationship. In other words, the loan must be through a traditional lender, and not a friend or family member.
15. Bad debt
If you’ve ever lent money to an employee or vendor without receiving it back, you can claim that back as ‘bad debt’. You just need to be able to prove that it was business debt, rather than personal debt. The IRS defines bad debt as “a loss from the worthlessness of a debt that was either created or acquired in a trade or business or closely related to your trade or business when it became partly to totally worthless.”
The following are examples of business bad debts (if previously included in income):
Loans to clients, suppliers, distributors and employees.
Credit sales to customers.
Business loan guarantees.
As strange as it sounds, the taxes you incur from just running your business are deductible. These taxes might be federal, state and local income, real estate or sales taxes. Your employer taxes, such as the employer share of FICA, FUTA and state unemployment taxes, are also fully deductible.
17. Employee salaries
In general, your employee wages are fully deductible. This includes bonuses and commissions. However, this deduction does not apply to sole proprietors, partners and LLC members, because these individuals are not considered employees.
18. Employee benefits programs
You can also deduct certain employee beneﬁt programs, like education assistance, dependent care assistance, life insurance adoption assistance or qualiﬁed retirement plan accounts. For self-employed individuals, contributions to their own retirement plans are personal deductions claimed on Form 1040.
19. Employee gifts
Employee gifts are 100% deductible up to $25 per year, per employee, according to IRS Publication 463.
20. Contracted labor
Do you use independent contractors or freelancers as a part of your labor force? The cost of hiring contracted labor is fully tax deductible. Note that you must issue form MISC-1099 to any contract worker receiving $600 0r more from you in a given tax year. If the employee is being paid via credit card or PayPal, the payment processor must issue the worker form 1099-K.
21. Legal and professional fees
If you ever need to hire a legal or accounting professional for your business, you can deduct 100% of their fees.
How to claim small-business tax deductions
To claim small-business tax deductions as a sole proprietorship, you must fill out a Schedule C tax form. The Schedule C form is used to determine the taxable profit in your business during the tax year. You then report this profit on your personal 1040 form and calculate the taxes due from there.
If you need assistance filing your taxes, many accounting services can pair you with a tax pro to assist with filing. For example, Bench users can be paired with a bookkeeper to perform financial reporting. You can also upgrade to Bench Tax for full tax filing.
A version of this article was first published on Fundera, a subsidiary of NerdWallet