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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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Published on January 7, 2021

How To Train Yourself When You Lack Attention To Details

How To Train Yourself When You Lack Attention To Details

Some people see the trees for the forest, and some see only the forest, meaning they lack strong attention to detail. But even if you’re one of the people who take a macro rather than a micro view, true professionalism requires balancing both.

If focusing on the fine points is not your forte, you will benefit from training yourself to pay attention to details. You will profit by saving yourself time, effort, money, and credibility.

Why Training Yourself in Attention to Details Pays Off

You add value to your organization when you make the effort to ensure that you performed your work thoroughly and effectively. This is why job postings often list “attention to details” among the required skills.

When you present your supervisor or client with well-completed, high-quality work the first time, it maximizes your value and minimizes wasted time. Detail-oriented people are also more adept at catching mistakes that could lead to costly blunders.

Moreover, attention to detail is an indicator of possessing other in-demand employee qualities, such as organization, thoroughness, and focus. In some professions, such as accounting, engineering, medical research, and more, you can only excel if you have trained yourself to pay attention to details.

In other professions, possessing strong attention to detail is the very quality that will get you promoted to a position where you will be asked to consider the big picture.

Finally, if you are the “go-to” details person, everyone else on the team can relax a bit. They know the project is in good hands and will likely throw you more projects as a reward. This will ultimately lead to your advancement.

3 Important Aspects of Becoming More Detail-Oriented

Here are the 3 important things you need to learn if you want to remedy your lack of attention to detail:

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  1. Respect deadlines
  2. Understand the work-flow plan
  3. Build in time to mess up

1. Respect Deadlines

Deadlines lend all projects a finish line. One smart idea is to take the given deadline and work backward from it, calculating when your piece of the project is due. Then, if you stick to the proscribed schedule for completing the mini-projects that you have, you will never miss a deadline.

One important note on this: It is smarter to stick to the deadline and turn in work that merits a “B+” than to blow the deadline with “A” work. Chances are, through revision and suggested changes from others on the team, you can bring up your B+ work to an A later. But if you disregard deadlines, you will lose the respect of your boss and fellow teammates.

2. Understand the Work-Flow Plan

Your team is developing work in conjunction with other teams who have projects and deadlines of their own. When you grasp the whole work-flow plan, you may be able to either add insight to the greater project or to your own smaller piece of it that others at the firm will consider valuable.

3. Build in Time to Mess Up

You can expect that “what can go wrong will go wrong.” Don’t overpromise on deadlines. Something likely will mess up, but when it does if you built in the time to fix it, those around you won’t freak out.

Chances are, you already give your attention to several details. Take heart. You can do this! You can overcome your lack of attention to detail and become more detail-oriented.

For starters, consider this: Most people take the time and put in extra effort into the activities or undertakings that matter to them most. Training yourself to become more detail-oriented can mean adopting a similar pattern of behavior.

Apply the same attention you give to your appearance. Are you a meticulous dresser? Do you pay attention to how you pair patterns and colors, and how you accessorize a particular outfit?

This is the same system to use when you lack attention to detail with your work. Give every item careful consideration so that each one contributes to the perfectly pieced-together whole.

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Assemble the ingredients the way you do when you cook. Cooking and baking from scratch require close attention to details as you measure and add each ingredient in sequence, and you time everything so that the meal comes together at the same time.

Similarly, your work product requires you to gauge whether all the ingredients have been added and that your final product is delivered on time.

Organize your business network like you do your social contacts. If you follow a broad base of friends and acquaintances on social media, you can apply similar skills to stay up-to-date on details associated with business acquaintances.

When you meet somebody who could be influential to your career or a resource for improving your skills, follow that person on social media. Respond to their posts to keep the lines of communication flowing.

12 Tips to Help You if You Lack Attention to Detail

Teaching yourself to take note of important details involves sharpening your perceptions and thinking ahead. The following tips will help you adopt these practices. Master these habits when training yourself to become detail-oriented.

1. Learn to Listen Well

You will pick up relevant information and needed nuance when you apply the skills of active listening. In conversations, train yourself to make eye contact, give your undivided attention to the speaker, and ask pertinent follow-up questions.

Training yourself to pay better attention to details in conversations includes learning to fully concentrate on what others have to say. If you find it hard, there’s no harm in taking notes on what they say.

2. Pay Attention to Social Cues

Make a point of noticing body language and facial expressions that provide insights into how others perceive a situation. Social cues offer details that give you an understanding of how words and actions impact others. The infamous character Michael Scott of the television show “The Office” epitomizes the consequences of not paying attention to others’ body language.[1]

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3. Follow Rules

Rules and protocols usually come about from lessons learned and are put in place to avoid further mishaps—whether from a safety or efficiency standpoint. If you’re given step-by-step procedures to follow, check them off as you go. Also, return to the rules at the project’s end just to make sure you adhered to them all.

4. Take Notes

Note-taking is a way to boost your retention and gives you something to refer back to when you need to keep track of pertinent details. You will also heighten your focus as you listen for relevant information. Review your notes shortly after the meeting or conversation and highlight the content that you intend to apply.

5. Prioritize What Needs Your Attention Now

When you have a full slate of work that demands your attention, take a few moments to sort assignments from most to least urgent. Keep a calendar, spreadsheet, or project planning software up-to-date with schedules and deadlines to help you stay organized.

As you tackle each urgent assignment, give it your full attention so no details are missed. Give yourself ample time—especially if you tend to be someone who waits until the last minute—as rushing can make you overlook important details.

6. Have a Detail-Oriented Assistant Check Your Work

If you lack attention to detail, then it makes sense to seek help from someone detail-oriented. If you have this option, take advantage of it. Two sets of eyes are better than one. Just be sure to credit your assistant for their help once the project is completed.

7. Learn the Rules of Writing Well

English is a difficult language, and grammar, punctuation, and spelling can all sabotage you unless you pay attention to detail. When in doubt, look it up. Free to use website services such as Grammarly can help.

8. Proofread Before You Hit Send

Nothing is perfect in its first draft. If you lack attention to detail, then put in the extra effort before submitting things. Before you send off any written work, check carefully not only for misspellings and incomplete sentences but also for improper tone, inappropriate colloquialisms, and inconsistent formatting. When your written communications are error-free, they will have their intended impact.

9. Minimize Distractions

It is impossible to stay focused when colleagues carry on conversations nearby or your mobile notifications ding you throughout the day. Do your best to limit distractions.

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If you are working where there is a lot of noise or side activity, try wearing noise-canceling headphones or seeking out a quiet corner. Disable your notifications when you need to focus, and resolve to only check them after you have completed your assignment.

10. Take Breaks

It may sound counter-intuitive to stop and take a walk, but it’s necessary. Walk away from the screen. Moving from one task to the next across the span of your workday is a recipe for brain fatigue. Give your brain a recess time when you come to a natural stopping place or after you complete one project and before you start the next. These short pauses are necessary for sorting through all the details needed for coming up with successful solutions.

11. Make Time for Reflection

At the end of a workday, take a few minutes to go over the day’s events in your mind. What was said or relayed in conversations? What is the status of the projects you worked on? What else occurred that you should pay attention to? Could there have been any details you might have missed that you should address tomorrow?

12. Keep a Detailed To-Do List

This simple organizational tool is your best ally for getting your work done on time and for paying attention to the details. If you are pressed for time (and who isn’t?), write your list to coordinate with dayparts.

Allot a certain number of hours to complete each task, do it, and then check it off. Nothing feels more rewarding than completing all the tasks on your list. But if you can’t finish them, then carry them over to the following day.

Final Thoughts

Details may seem small, but they can become a lot larger when they are overlooked. If you know you lack attention to detail, commit to training yourself to embrace the many facets that can help you consistently excel in the tasks you set out to accomplish.

When you begin to catch your mistakes in advance or apply the tidbits of information you gathered from paying close attention, you will know that you have trained yourself in the fundamentals of becoming detail-oriented. After that, you should start hearing the phrase “Great job!” more often.

More Tips on Boosting Your Attention to Detail

Featured photo credit: Cristina Gottardi via unsplash.com

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