It costs money to make money, and much of what business owners spend on their companies — their business expenses — can be deducted from their gross income to reduce their taxes. The list of deductible small business expenses includes obvious ones like office rent, salaries and computers, but might also include water bills and window cleaning.
Read on to find information about deductions that can help your business save on taxes.
List of Business Expense Categories
The IRS says a business expense must be ordinary, necessary and directly related to running a company to be deductible. Most small business expenses fall into specific categories. Schedule C, the IRS form which sole proprietors use to report their income, has a business expenses list with 20 broad categories that include:
- Car and truck expenses
- Commissions and fees, contract labor
- Depreciation and section 179 expense deduction
- Employee benefit programs
- Insurance, interest
- Legal and professional services
- Office expense
- Pension and profit-sharing plans
- Rent or lease
- Repairs and maintenance
- Taxes and licenses
- Travel and meals
Categorizing expenses is an important part of keeping good business records. The IRS wants business expenses accounted for and reported in the correct categories so it can determine if the deductions are legitimate. Categorizing expenses correctly will also mean a smaller bill from your accountant at tax time.
General Business Operation Expenses
Some deductible business expenses are universal — all small business owners incur them. These expenses include wages and taxes. As companies grow, they’re likely to have more expenses and, in turn, deductions. The following are some common business expense examples.
Utility Expenses for Small Business Owners
If a small business owns its premises, it pays for electricity, gas, water and trash collection. For renters, unless the landlord covers those charges, the business is responsible for paying them. In either case, these are just business expenses examples that might be deducted from your taxes.
Rent or Mortgage Payments
Small businesses that rent might be able to deduct their monthly payments to the landlord. And those who own their premises might deduct mortgage interest. However, the principal on the mortgage is not deductible.
Home Office Costs
People who run businesses out of their homes might be able to deduct some of the expenses for their houses or apartments. But to qualify for the deduction, home offices or businesses must meet IRS criteria. For example, the space where the business is conducted must be dedicated exclusively to business purposes. A corner of a playroom or any space doubles for personal use won’t qualify. And the home must be the principal place where business is conducted. IRS Publication 587, “Business Use of Your Home,” explains the requirements and the benefits — including the ability to deduct a portion of home maintenance costs.
Website and Software Expenses
The accounting software subscription you pay for each month or year and your website domain name registration could all be deductible expenses. The fees you pay to the service that hosts your website could also be a deduction.
Business Licenses and Permits
In the case of a trade or business, especially those catering to consumers or doing construction work, owners must get federal, state and/or local licenses or permits. These can be expensive to obtain and renew and may include the costs of being trained and certified to qualify for a license. However, as long as the costs don’t exceed your profit for the year, they may be deductible.
Bank Fees and Interest Payments
There are a variety of fees and expenses you might incur as a small business, and some are tax-deductible. Bank fees, interest on credit cards and loans, financing costs and depreciation are all part of the cost of doing business. As long as they don’t exceed your profit for the year, you may be able to deduct them. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017 limits how much interest a business can deduct, but many small businesses whose revenue has averaged up to $25 million over three years may be able to deduct all their interest.
Professional Fees and Business Services
You may be able to deduct business services expenses, including the money you pay your lawyer, accountant and consultant for advice about business decisions, taxes, complying with government regulations and other legal or financial matters. This tax deductible expense does not apply to payments made to companies that provide ordinary and usual business-related services such as cleaning and administrative services.
The costs of taking clients or customers to entertainment or sporting events are generally no longer deductible under the TCJA. That’s a disappointment to owners who use golf games or concerts to build relationships with customers. While these expenses are, for the most part, not tax-deductible, they may still be worthwhile investments in goodwill. However, since you’ll likely not get reimbursed from the government, you’ll need to apply some business expense management and maybe buy seats in the balcony or upper deck.
Business Meals and Travel Expenses
Owners may be able to deduct costs for business meals — for example, taking a client out to dinner — but the IRS caps the deduction at 50% of the bill. That’s the case whether the restaurant is near your office or the meal takes place during business travel. However, it’s important to note that with the Consolidated Appropriations Act (2021), food and beverages bought for business meals will be 100% deductible if purchased from a restaurant in 2021 and 2022. This deduction is temporary and will revert back in 2023.
The government also puts a 50% limit on car, airfare or other transportation expenses. You can learn more about travel expenses from IRS Publication 463, “Travel, Car and Gift Expenses.”
Equipment, Materials and Supplies
Any small business owner knows it takes equipment, materials and supplies to run their company. These are typically considered both fixed expenses or operating expenses. Some are deductible.
Furniture, equipment and machinery deductions
Small businesses that own furniture, equipment, tools, and machinery will make regular asset purchases over the years. They might also make one-time purchases like computers and monitors for the office or point-of-sale systems for cash registers and checkout systems. Typically, these types of purchases should be broken down into costs and listed as business assets, not expenses.
Owners also must decide whether to deduct the entire cost of an asset in your first year of owning it, using what’s known as the Section 179 deduction, or deduct its cost as a depreciation expense. The IRS has established rules for both cases.
There are limitations on the deduction of costs for some furniture, equipment, and machinery used in your business. When you calculate depreciation each year, you must either deduct the entire cost of an asset in the year you bought it or, in most cases, deduct part of it under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS).
Owners should be aware that Congress has been known to approve special, or bonus, depreciation rules. Small businesses need to consider short-term and long-term needs and goals in deciding how to deduct equipment costs. They should consult a tax professional before making a big purchase.
Office Supply Expenses
Office supplies as small as paper clips, rubber bands and pens could be deductible. And cleaning products and break room and restroom supplies fall into the same category of office expenses. Owners must have receipts for these purchases.
Marketing and Advertising
Many of the costs of marketing, advertising and even networking to build a business could be deductible. But owners need to be sure that the purpose of getting together with people has business purposes.
Advertising and Marketing Deductions
Whether it’s business cards, your website and domain names or radio and TV commercials, the money you spend to advertise or promote your small business could be tax-deductible. The costs of creating advertising, marketing, brands and logos are also possible deductions. Because it includes such a broad category of expenses, this deduction allows small businesses to take a very large deduction much faster than other expenses. To qualify for the deduction, expenses must be both ordinary and necessary business expenses.
Many business owners belong to trade or industry groups and professional associations; they’re a great resource for networking and getting referrals. The cost of membership, such as dues, initiation fees, assessments, might be deductible because these groups have business purposes. But social organization and country club dues are generally considered non-deductible.
Auto and Vehicle Expenses for Business
The IRS recognizes that many business owners use their personal vehicles for company purposes. Owners might be able to deduct a portion of what they spend to lease and maintain the vehicles — cars, SUVs, pickup trucks — but they must keep accurate records of the amount of travel done for business purposes. The IRS gives two options for computing the deduction at tax time. One is its standard mileage rate set annually. Alternatively, calculate the percentage of travel for business purposes, say, 50%; you can then deduct half of what you spend on:
- Garage rent
Business and Health Insurance Premiums
Business insurance premiums can be expensive, but they could be tax-deductible, which may help an owner decide to buy more comprehensive coverage to protect their company. And offering health insurance can help in recruiting and retaining staffers.
Companies can potentially write off business insurance premiums for a wide range of coverage: property and casualty, workers compensation, disability insurance, health insurance and liability insurance. And coverage aimed at specific industries or professions, such as malpractice insurance, may also be deductible.
Self-employed business owners who don’t buy health insurance for staffers can deduct the cost of their own health insurance premiums under the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. The amount you can deduct depends on whether you are a single person or have a family, and it’s adjusted annually.
Employers have a wide range of deductions for the costs of having a staff. Many are standard, like payroll and benefits expenses, but Congress occasionally creates temporary deductions and/or credits during economic crises such as the Great Recession or the COVID-19 pandemic.
All forms of employee compensation are deductible — wages, salary, bonuses and commissions. Whether the people working for you are full- or part-time staffers or independent contractors who receive 1099 forms from you rather than W-2s, their pay is a deduction.
Many taxes that business owners pay are deductions. Owners may have to pay local property taxes, and if they’re employers, payroll taxes. All are deductible. Owners should take care that all state and local taxes, including income tax, property taxes and excise taxes, are listed on their tax returns. The payroll taxes that employers must pay include Social Security and Medicare, and both are deductible business expenses.
Employers who offer health or life insurance and contributions to retirement plans to staffers may be able to get a deduction for these expenses, in most cases. Those who offer adoption assistance payments or dependent care benefits might also get deductions.
Training and education
Employers who require or recommend education or training for staffers can deduct the cost of classes under certain circumstances. The business must have an employee education or educational assistance plan in place. It must aim to improve staffers’ job skills and experience, and the employee must be working in the field of study during the training. So, having a staffer take courses to upgrade their computer skills may be deductible, but sending a marketing department staffer to law school probably isn’t.
What Expenses Aren’t Deductible for a Small Business?
While the IRS permits a wide range of business deductions, there are many exceptions and prohibitions. These can change with the passage in Congress of new tax laws. Before an owner takes a deduction for any expense, they should consult the IRS website and talk with a tax professional.
Taxes are an important and inevitable part of running a business, but owners, particularly those who are just starting up, need to avoid what accountants call “the tax tail wagging the dog.” In other words, don’t make business decisions based on how many deductions you might be able to take — spend money primarily because it makes good business sense.
Next Steps: Want to learn more? Sign up for the Small Biz Ahead newsletter to receive a weekly roundup of the latest tools, trends, and resources.