Looking for an easy way to know exactly what you can and cannot deduct on your income tax return? Knowing what is deductible and what isn’t deductible has mystified self-employed people for decades. This post should help you see the big picture.
What’s deductible? Believe it or not, anything is deductible. Anything? Yes, anything. Let me explain.
Anything is deductible, provided that it is specifically mentioned in the tax code as deductible. It’s as if Uncle Sam is saying, with a big smile on his face, “This particular item is deductible, no doubt about it.”
Anything is deductible, provided that it is not specifically mentioned in the tax code as non-deductible. There are deductions that are specifically disallowed. Again, imagine Uncle Sam (this time with a frown) telling you, “Sorry, but this particular item is not deductible, no doubt about it.”
But what most taxpayers do not realize (and the IRS is in no hurry to tell you this) is that most deductions are not specifically mentioned anywhere in the tax code. By that I mean this: most allowable deductions are not said to be deductible or non-deductible.
Getting confused? Bear with me….
For example, where does it say in the tax code that paper clips used in your office are deductible? Guess what – it doesn’t. How about staples? Same thing — there isn’t really a specific reference to that either. But neither does it say that paper clips (or staples) are non-deductible.
Then how do we know what is deductible and what isn’t? Because the tax code does provide some general rules about what is deductible, and these general rules can be boiled down to this famous statement: Anything is deductible, provided that it is an ordinary and necessary business expense. Any expense that meets that two-part requirement is deductible. Let’s unpack that concept.
Here’s how the IRS defines these two requirements: By “ordinary”, the tax code simply means an expense that is “common and accepted” in your type of business. Is it common for an office to use paper clips in the normal course of business? Obviously. How about staples (not to mention the stapler)? Of course.
Not only are basic office supplies commonly used in virtually every business, but it is an accepted practice for these items to be a normal part of a typical business, right? I think you get the idea. And you should also now see why the tax code doesn’t specifically mention paper clips or staples in it’s list of legitimate business deductions.
By “necessary,” the tax code means an expense that is appropriate and helpful for your business. Now apply that concept to office supplies. Are paper clips and staples appropriate and helpful? Naturally.
One more key concept: An expense does not have to be indispensable to be considered necessary.
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