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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 May 20, 2020

What Are Analytical Skills (And How to Strengthen Them For Success)

What Are Analytical Skills (And How to Strengthen Them For Success)

Everybody makes bad decisions. Some people, however, are more capable of making better decisions that inch them closer to success.

These individuals are not ruled by emotions, desires, or hunches. Rather, they depend on their analytical skills to overcome challenges regardless of urgency or complexity.

What Are Analytical Skills?

According to Richards J. Heuer Jr., a former veteran of the CIA,[1]

“Thinking analytically is a skill like carpentry or driving a car. It can be taught, it can be learned, and it can improve with practice. But unlike other skills, it is not learned by sitting in a classroom and being told how to do it. Analysts learn by doing.”

Analytical skills can be considered as one of the critical life skills that are not taught in schools. It comprises of visualization, critical thinking, and abilities for gathering and processing information.

Here’s a closer look at some of these abilities:

Visualization

Also tied to a person’s creativity, visualization is the ability to predict the possible outcomes of strategies and actions. In a professional setting, visualization involves the analysis of data – often through illustrations like charts, graphs, and detailed lists.

Critical Thinking

Simply put, a person’s ability to think critically can be measured by his or her consistency in creating reasonable decisions. It pertains to the ability to evaluate information, siphon what’s useful, and draw conclusions without being swayed by emotions.

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As a critical thinker, you’ll find yourself challenging assertions and finding loopholes in proposed solutions.

Computing

Whether you like it or not, you need to be comfortable with numbers if you want to sharpen your analytical skills. Bear in mind that computing encompasses other skills like cost analysis, budgeting, and performing general calculations.

In business, you need to use computations when weighing the risks and benefits of any given strategy.

Problem-Solving

Remember that analytical skills are used not just to understand problems, but also to develop the most suitable course or courses of action. This relates to your goal-setting skills, which involve breaking down and prioritizing between objectives.

Resource Management

Lastly, analytical skills involve some degree of resource management depending on the task at hand.

For example, professionals with a tight schedule must know how to effectively manage their own time – also known as one of the most important resources in the world.

Business leaders, on the other hand, must know how to manage company resources, including cash and manpower. Take note that the definition of analytical skills may change to match the requirements of a specific situation.

For example, upon hiring a web developer, analytical skills may refer to the ability to determine the needs of online users, understand web analytics for optimization, and identify visual elements that can match a company’s brand.

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The skillset above, however, should be applicable in most if not all scenarios.

Develop Your Analytical Skills for More Growth Opportunities

There’s no question that the right decisions lead to positive results. It doesn’t matter if you’re running a business or simply trying to climb the corporate ladder. By training your analytical skills, you position yourself for more growth opportunities while staying away from negligible actions you will regret.

For example, you plan to launch a new startup in your local community – but struggle to decide the niche you want to enter. Since you’ve been a technophile your whole life, part of you desires to invest in a gadget store. If you’re passionate about your business, success will come – right?

If you have sharp analytical skills, you begin to see your plans in whole new dimensions.

What are the possible outcomes of this venture? Does the local market have a need for a new gadget store? How much do I need to get started – and how much should I sell to make a profit?

Depending on your findings, you can determine the feasibility of your business idea without letting your emotions get in the way.

6 Ways to Strengthen Your Analytical Skills

There are several approaches when it comes to developing an individual’s analytical skills. For instance, psychologists agree that reading fantasy stories as a child can help sharpen critical thinking.[2]

Research also suggests that undergoing traditional education has a positive effect on a person’s IQ and analytical skills.[3]

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But as an adult, such opportunities to hone your analytical skills no longer apply. That’s why you need to devise a more deliberate, active approach yourself.

Below are a few strategies to get you started:

1. Ideate Business Ideas

Developing a profitable business idea, whether you pursue them or not, involves numerous challenges. You need a ton of research, computations, and problem-solving to create a tangible business plan.

You can organize your ideas with a note-taking tool like Microsoft OneNote or Evernote. Doing so will allow you to delve deeper into your analysis, organize your findings, and stay focused on roadblocks as well as how to solve them.

2. Leverage Analytical Tools

Aside from note-taking tools, you can also leverage other software that can help with analytical tasks. A money management app like Mint, for example, makes it easy to track your spending habits as well as manage your budget with visual tools. When it comes to prioritizing goals, you can use simple task management apps like Trello or Wunderlist.

3. Have a Personal Learning Library

Thanks to the internet, there’s a colossal amount of resources you can utilize to learn new skills, expand your vocabulary, and train your visualization muscles.

Social media networks like SlideShare and YouTube, for example, offer mountains of tutorials you can access to your heart’s content.

For a personalized learning library, you can download Instagram videos or GIFs from educational accounts like NASA Goddard and the American Mathematical Society. But if you prefer specific, technical skills, then a good place to start would be online learning platforms like Coursera, edX, and Alison.

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4. Participate in Online Communities

The internet is a great place to share experiences, opinions, and sometimes intellectual discussions with like-minded individuals. Reddit, for example, has a place or “subreddit” dedicated for every topic imaginable – from technology to entrepreneurship.

For structured debates, you can head to websites like Debate.org and let other users choose the winner via votes.

5. Seek Mental Stimulation

To keep your mind sharp, make it a habit to engage in mentally stimulating activities, such as chess, puzzles, and brain training apps. A great resource would be Lumosity, which contains dozens of cognitive games designed by teams of scientists and game designers.

6. Keep a Personal Journal

Finally, keeping a personal journal allows you to take a second look at everything that happened in your day.

Remember that writing about learning experiences lets you focus on the lesson rather than the emotion. It will help you analyze how you made your decisions, why you came to certain conclusions, and what you can do to improve in the future.

Here’s How to Create a Habit of Writing in a Journal.

Bottom Line

As an adult, you are required to face a myriad of challenges on a daily basis. Work, school, business, relationships – the list goes on when it comes to the sources of life’s problems. With analytical skills, you can confront and overcome any obstacle standing between you and your goals.

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Featured photo credit: Campaign Creators via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] M. S. Ramaiah University of Applied Sciences: Analytical Thinking?
[2] KD Novelties: Why You Should Read Classic Tales to Your Children
[3] Economic Inquiry: The Effect of Education on Cognitive Ability

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