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Top 10 Tax Write-Offs for Small Business Owners

Top 10 Tax Write-Offs for Small Business Owners

As a small business owner, tax season can be a stressful time. With all of those forms to mail to employees, expenses to track, and checks to write to the IRS, no-one could blame you for dreading the month of April. But beneath the bureaucratic onslaught, there is one shining beacon of hope: deductions, deductions, deductions. For the small business owner, deductions are a world of plenty.

Like everything to do with the IRS, the rules around deductions can be nuanced, so it’s important to do your research, talk with an accountant, and use a good tax calendar to stay on track of regulations and deadlines. Advises Austin-based Certified Public Accountant, David Coffman, “Make sure to keep good detailed records supporting your deductions for at least 6 years, and fill out the proper forms correctly and completely.”

Here are just a few deductions you won’t want to miss:

1. Travel Expenses

Rest assured that when you stay overnight at a hotel while conducting business away from home, that night will be fully tax-deductible. In fact, every night you spend away for business purposes will also be deductible, as will 50% of any meals you eat out (with or without a client in tow), any rental cars and plane tickets, and sometimes even transcription or translation services while traveling abroad.

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Thinking of extending your stay for a little vacation time? As long as the purpose of your trip is mainly for business, you can still deduct your travel costs to and from the destination. “However,” Coffman cautions, “expenses specific to the personal portion are not deductible.”

No matter what, just make sure to keep good track of your receipts regardless of the total (yes, even if it’s below $75).

2. Auto Expenses

Do you use your car for business? Do you own a company car? Some of the costs associated with gassing up and maintaining that car will be deductible. For 2012, you’ll be able to deduct 55.5 cents per each mile driven, as well as all business-related tolls and parking fees. Don’t just eyeball this, especially if you only own one car—it’s a red flag for IRS eyes. Keep track of the exact miles you drive, enter them into your accounting system or hand them to your bookkeeper, and include a detailed description for each recording.

3. Current and Capitalized Expenses

It’s easy to confuse current and capital expenses, so it’s worth defining them separately. Current expenses are things like rent and electricity bills—those ongoing costs that keep both your office and your business up and running. Capitalized expenses, on the other hand, are expenditures like equipment and vehicles. Current expenses are simply deducted from your business’ yearly gross income, while capitalized expenses must be deducted over a number of years. A general rule of thumb is this: if an item has a shelf life of longer than one year, it’s capitalized. That being said, many items such as office supplies and repairs can be deducted as current business expenses, but only after your business has opened its doors. Before that, they’ll be capitalized. Confusing? Maybe, but understanding these distinctions and filing accordingly will be well worth the effort in the end.

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4. Software and Subscriptions

Once upon a time, businesses looking for deductions in the area of software and subscriptions had to depreciate the cost of computer software over three years; see current vs. capitalized expenses. Now, however, computer and software expenses can be cited as expenses up front using the Section 179 election, just like magazine subscriptions.

5. Health Care Costs

Though exact amounts and procedures will differ based on the type of business filing you have, many health care costs are deductible for small business owners. For proprietorships, health insurance premiums are 100 percent deductible on Form 1040 as an adjustment to income, though that deduction can’t be more than your business’ net profit, and the deduction is void if you’re eligible for any other kind of health coverage—including those of your employed spouse. However, if your spouse worked for your business, then his or her premiums are also fully deductible.

Things will be a little different if you’re filed as a C-Corporation. In this case: “Health care costs, including out of pocket expenses, are deductible as a business expense under a health reimbursement arrangement,” says Coffman. You’ll want to contact accountant to get this set up at least in your initial year as a C-Corporation.

6. Bad Debts

It’s never any fun when a client doesn’t pay or a vendor doesn’t deliver, but if you’ve got a bad debt on your rolls, it may be deductible, but only for accrual basis rather than cash basis taxpayers (learn the difference here). Says Coffman, “If an accrual basis taxpayer has billed for his goods and services, he may write off as a bad debt any amounts not collected. A cash basis taxpayer may not write off uncollected fees for services or goods, but may write off the cost of the goods that were not paid for.”

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Unfortunately, this applies only to goods, not to services, which are a lot more difficult to quantify. Alas, you truly cannot recover lost time.

7. Home Office Deductions

Home office deductions are popular among small business people. If you work from home, you can deduct for depreciation, utilities, insurance premiums, mortgage interest and repairs. However, the deduction counts only for that space, and you must use the area regularly and exclusively for business. If you think this is a good excuse to get a break for all of that yard landscaping you’ve been paying for, think again: the rules around this deduction are strict, and it is often a trigger for audits, so learn them well before filing incorrectly.

8. Business and Professional Fees

If you’ve bought business books, paid any fees to lawyers, tax professionals and more, and their service is clearly related to this year’s activities, these all qualify as deductions. However, if these fees relate to future years, they’ll need to be deducted over the life of the benefit they provide.

9. Retirement Contributions

If you’re self-employed and contribute to a SEP-IRA or Keogh, these can all be deducted on your personal income tax return.

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Adds Coffman, “This is one of the few areas where you can claim a deduction in the current year for amounts paid in a later year. You get to see the effect of the deduction before you actually commit to it. Some plans, however, must at least be established prior to the end of the year.”

10. Phone Calls

Business-related phone calls are fully deductible, even if you conduct them on your personal cell phone or home phone. As with mileage, you just have to keep good records that separate the business calls from the personal ones. A good way to do this is to circle business calls and write a description on your bills, total them up and keep a copy to be added into your final returns. If you add a second line or buy a cell phone that’s dedicated primarily to business, you’ll be able to fully deduct any regular fees and charges associated with the line.

Take-Away

When tax season comes around, there’s a lot for small business owners to think about, and just as many deductions to benefit from as well. Do your research, keep abreast of the latest regulations, and contact a good accountant early in the year to get it done right. Don’t wait until the last minute, or you may miss out!

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Last Updated on December 3, 2019

7 Powerful Steps to Achieve Career Success

7 Powerful Steps to Achieve Career Success

I often hear people say, “I want to be successful but don’t know where to start” or “I’ve achieved career success yet I’m not happy.” And then I ask, “what does career success mean to you?” And many have a hard time articulating their response with much conviction.

It’s common that people lack clarity, focus, and direction. And when you layer on thoughts and actions that are misaligned with your values, this only adds to your misdirected quest to achieve your career success.

A word of caution. It’s going to take some time for you to think about and work on your own path for career success. You need to set aside time and be intentional about the steps you take to achieve career success. In my opinion, this step-by-step guide is apart of your life philosophy.

1. Define Career Success for Yourself

Pause. Give yourself time and space for self-reflection.

What does career success mean to you?

This is about defining your career success:

  • Not what you think you ‘should’ do
  • Not what people may think of you
  • Not adjusting to friends and family’s judgements
  • Not taking actions based on societal or community norms

“A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms” – Zen Shin

When you strip away all your external influences and manage your inner critic, what are you left with? You need to define career success that best suits your life situation.

There’s no fixed answer. Everyone is different. Your answer will evolve and be impacted by life events. Here are a few examples of career success:

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  • Work-life balance
  • Opportunities for growth and advancement
  • Feeling valued that my contributions had an impact

Now even as you reflect on the examples above, the descriptions are not specific enough. You’ve got to take it deeper:

  • What do you mean by work-life balance?
  • What do you consider to be opportunities for growth and advancement?
  • How do you like to be recognized for your work? How do you know if your contributions have had an impact?

Let’s take a look at some potential responses to the questions above:

  • I want more time with my family, and less stress at work
  • I want increased responsibilities, to manage a team, a higher income, and the prestige of working at a certain level in the company
  • I’d like my immediate leader to send me a thank-you note or take me out for coffee to genuinely express her or his gratitude. I’ll know I’ve made an impact if I get feedback from my coworkers, leaders and other stakeholders.

Further questions to reflect on to help narrow the focus for the above responses:

  • What are some opportunities that can help you get traction on getting more time with your family? And decrease your stress at work?
  • What’s most important for you in the next 12 months?
  • What’s the significance of receiving others’ feedback?

Now, I’m only scratching the surface with these examples. It takes time to do the inner work and build a solid foundation.

Start this exercise by first asking what career success means to you and then ask yourself meaningful questions to help you dig deeper.

What types of themes emerge from your responses? What keywords or phrases keep coming up for you?

2. Know Your Values

Values are the principles and beliefs that guide your decisions, behaviors and actions. When you’re not aligned with your values and act in a way that conflicts with your beliefs, it’ll feel like life is a struggle.

There are simple value exercises that can help you quickly determine your core values. This one designed by Carnegie Mellon University can help you discover your top 5 values.[1]

Once you have your top 5 values keep them visible. Your brain needs reminders that these are your top values. Here are some ways to make them stick:

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  • Write them on cue cards or notes and post it in your office
  • Take a picture of your values and use it as a screensaver on your phone
  • Put the words on your fridge
  • Add the words on your vision board

Where will your value words be placed in your physical environment so that you have a constant reminder of them?

3. Define Your Short-Term and Long-Term Goals

When writing your short-term and long term life goals, use the SMART framework – Specific Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Treat this as a brainstorming exercise. Your potential and possibilities are limitless.

How you define short-term and long-term is entirely up to you. Short-term can be 30 days, 90 days, or 6 months. Maybe long-term goals are 4 months, 1 year, or 10 years.

Here are a few self-reflection questions to help you write your goals:[2]

  • What would you want to do today if you had the power to make it the way you want?
  • If no hurdles are in the way, what would you like to achieve?
  • If you have the freedom to do whatever you want, what would it be?
  • What type of impact do you want to have on people?
  • Who are the people you most admire? What is it about them or what they have that you’d want for your life or career?
  • What activities energize you? What’s one activity you most love?

Remember to revisit your core values as you refine yours goals:

  • Are your goals in or out of alignment with your core values?
  • What adjustments do you need to make to your goals? Maybe some of your goals can be deleted because they no longer align with your values.
  • How attainable are your goals? Breakdown your goals into digestible pieces.
  • Do your short-term goals move you towards attaining your long-term goals?

Get very clear and specific about your goals. Think about an archer – a person who shoots with a bow and arrows at a target. This person is laser focused on the target – the center of the bullseye. The target is your goal.

By focusing on one goal at a time and having that goal visible, you can behave and act in ways that will move you closer to your goal.

4. Determine Your Top Talents

What did you love doing as a kid? What made these moments fun? What did you have a knack for? What did you most cherish about these times? What are the common themes?

What work feels effortless? What work do you do that doesn’t seem like work? Think about work you can lose track of time doing and you don’t even feel tired of it.[3]

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What are your desires? Try it out. Experiment. Take action and start. How can you incorporate more of this type of work into your daily life?

What themes emerge from your responses? How do your responses compare to your responses from the values exercise and your goals?

What do you notice?

5. Identify ‘Feeling’ Words You Want to Experience

Do you have tendencies to use your head or heart to make decisions?

I have a very strong tendency to make rational, practical, and fact-based decisions using my head. It’s very rare for me to make decisions using my emotions. I was forced to learn how to make more intuitive decisions by listening to my gut when I was struggling with pivotal life decisions. I was forced to feel and listen to my inner voice to make decisions that feel most natural to me. This was very unfamiliar to me, however, it expanded my identity.

Review this list of Feeling Words. Use the same technique you use for the values exercise to narrow down how you want to feel.

Keep these words visible too!

Review your responses. What do you observe? What insights do you gain from these responses and those in the above steps?

6. Be Willing to Sit with Discomfort

Make career decisions aligned with your values, goals, talents and feelings. This is not for the faint hearted. It takes real work, courage and willingness to cut out the noise around you. You’ll need to sit with discomfort for a bit until you build up your muscle to hit the targets you want.

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Surround yourself with a supportive network to help you through these times.

“These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them” – Rumi

7. Manage Your Own Career

Not to be cynical, but no one can make you happy but yourself. If you don’t take control of your career and manage it like your own business – no one will.

Discern between things that you can control and what you can’t control. For example, you may not be able to control who gets a promotion. However, you can control how you react to it and what you’ve learned about yourself in that situation.

Summing Up

For many who have gone through a career change or been impacted by life events, these steps may seem very basic. However, it’s sometimes the basics that we forget to do. The simple things and moments can edge us closer to our larger vision for ourselves.

Staying present and appreciating what you have today can sometimes help you achieve your long-term goals. For example, if you’re always talking about not having enough time and wanting work-life balance, think about what was good in your work day? Maybe you took a walk outside with your co-workers. This could be a small step to help you reframe how you can attain work-life balance.

Remember to take time for yourself. Hit pause, notice, observe and reflect to achieve career success by getting deliberate and intentional:

  1. Define Career Success for Yourself
  2. Know Your Values
  3. Define Your Short-Term and Long-Term Life and Goals
  4. Determine Your Top Talents
  5. Identify ‘Feeling’ Words You Want to Experience
  6. Be Willing to sit with Discomfort
  7. Manage Your Own Career

“When you stop chasing the wrong things you give the right things a chance to catch you.” – Lolly Daskal

Good luck and best wishes always!

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Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

Reference

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