There is a “Seinfeld” episode where Kramer kept advising Jerry that he can use his personal expenses as “write-offs”. Finally Jerry, after hearing Kramer talk off the top of his head about taxes and obviously not actually understanding the topic, says credulously, “You don’t even know what write-offs are, do you Kramer?” Kramer then looks down, sheepishly, and nods his head “no”.
Kramer’s reaction is actually pretty typical. Most people, even though well meaning, have no idea what is a “tax write-off” and what isn’t. They may think something, such as a business meal or an office equipment purchase, are tax write-offs and thus it means they will pay less in business income taxes. But, that may a mistake…a very costly mistake.
So, to keep expectations down, help you to make better small business buying choices and to keep the IRS off your back, here are Five Tax Write-Offs that Require More Scrutiny:
- Business Clothing: Generally, to be deductible, clothing must be required for work and not appropriate for every day wear. Uniforms required for work and protective clothing are obvious examples. Less obvious are items such as polo branded shirts with the Company Logo which may be considered company “uniforms” and deductible as such. Clothing such as blue jeans even though functional as work clothes are not deductible since they are not part of a uniform and are appropriate for every day wear.
- Business Meals & Entertainment with Clients: This one is the most-abused and most misunderstood. Business meals or an entertainment event are tax-deductible if – (i) you are meeting with a client or potential client and (ii) business is discussed before, during or after the meal or entertainment event. More over only 50% of the expense is allowable as a deduction.
- Cell Phone Expense: This one seems to be a definite tax write-off to many small business owners. How can it not be, right? Well, the IRS considers cell phones to be both business and personal use. Only the business part of the expense can be written off, so you have to calculate the percentage of business calls and deduct only that cost. There is also an alternative view – if a cell phone is an absolute necessity to your business – then having the phone could be considered an ordinary and necessary business expense for your business – and the deminimus personal use considered an inconsequential working fringe.
- Business Vehicle Use: Many small business owners use their personal vehicle for meeting clients, traveling to job sites and attending company meetings. A vehicle can be used for thousands of miles in a fiscal year. However, only the business mileage can be deducted. If you have your office outside of your home, commuting to work is considered personal mileage and not deductible. It is a good idea to keep a mileage log for every business trip so you can be accurate in your business expense records. (There are several apps that can be used for just such record keeping.)
- Charitable Organizations: Unfortunately, not all non-profits are equal. That is, they have not been designated by the IRS as a “tax-exempt organization”. (We covered how an organization can become tax-exempt in a previous blog.) There are some social and civic charities which are not 501 c (3), for whatever reason, so any donation to them is only out of your generosity and cannot be counted as a tax write-off. Be sure to check that the organization is tax-exempt before donating to them. Most national charities are known by their brands and are tax-exempt (i.e. The Salvation Army, March of Dimes, etc.) but you can find out on their website or by checking at charitycheck101.org.
There are even more supposed “tax write-offs” we can cover in another blog. Just be sure to call a licensed tax professional or do your own research before assuming your small business expense is going to save you money on your next year’s tax returns. You may be making a serious and expensive mistake.
For more information and experienced business and personal tax advice, contact a professional tax advisor at A. K. Burton, PC, at (301) 365-1974 for more information or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.