Let’s begin by defining what a small business expense is.  You spend money on your small business simply to carry on your business.  In other words, in order to trade whatever it is you trade, it costs you money.  If your business is designed to make a profit, the cost of operating your business is often deductible in the preparation of your tax return.

According to the IRS, a business expense is deductible if it is “ordinary and necessary.”  If your trade normally has a certain expense, for instance, a quilt maker’s fabric, then the cost of fabric is considered an ordinary expense.  If your business needs to spend money on something that is helpful to your trade, for instance, it helps if you advertise your quilts, then those advertising costs would be considered appropriate and helpful to your business, and necessary.

If you produce goods to be sold, you have expenses involved to produce those products.  Again, if you produce quilts, you have fabric, batting, and thread.  However, along with these raw materials, you may have the freight it costs you to receive your materials, costs to store your materials, factory costs, and possibly even labor costs.

There are complicated rules for determining what costs can be deducted as direct expenses.  Depending on your business, you may have indirect costs to consider such as rents, interests on loans, handling costs, and even administrative services.  Your tax accountant will sit down with you and make these determinations by reviewing the current laws and regulations of the IRS.

Some costs to your business are not considered “expenses” – at least when it comes to a simple deduction on your income taxes.  Capital expenditures fall under three classifications:

  • Start up costs
  • Assets
  • Improvements

These three classifications make sense when you take a look at the items you have to create and maintain your business.  Getting back to the quilting business, you have sewing machines and tables, for instance.  You can see that those items are not going to go out the door to make you money. These items will not be deducted as expenses, but rather as a capital expenditure on an amortization schedule.

Business Expenses v. Personal Expenses

Small business owners often operate a portion of their business in their own home, using their own income, their own time, and their own car.  You cannot deduct your personal or family expenses, but you are allowed deductions for those costs that are exclusive to your business, even if those expenses occurred in your home. Two common examples follow:

  • Business Use of Your Home – There is a strict division between personal and business expenses, and you must prove your square footage, utility bills, maintenance, and rent or mortgage, used for business purposes.
  • Business Use of Your Car – Many small business owners use their own family car for business. If this is the case, the actual mileage must be tracked in order for the business mileage costs to be deductible.

There are many deductible expenses that fit within these direct expenses categories.  You’ll need to sit down with your tax accountant to work through the differences between business expenses to be deducted directly and those expenditures that should be capitalized.  Follow your accountant’s advice, keep good records, and tax time should go smoothly.