Whether you’re in the thick of tax season or planning for the year ahead, tax deductions are one of the easiest ways to save your business money. And the best way to maximize tax deductions is to itemize your expenses.
Heads up: When it comes to itemizing your expenses, the most powerful tool at your disposal is thorough bookkeeping; only accurate, up-to-date financial records let you track and record deductions. We recommend Bench for small business bookkeeping—you’ll get a team of bookkeepers who’ll make sure your records are complete at year-end.
First time itemizing expenses? Don’t worry—first, we’ll cover the basics, so you understand exactly how itemized deductions work. Then, we’ll dive into the most popular—and money-saving—tax deductions for your small business.
To file itemized expenses, you compile a list of all your deductible expenses for the year and report them. The IRS subtracts the total amount from your gross income, then taxes you on what’s left—your net income before taxes.
As well as itemizing, you have the option to choose the standard deduction.
If you don’t feel like itemizing deductions, or you don’t have the bookkeeping records and receipts necessary (more on that in a bit), you can opt for a standard deduction.
The standard deduction lets you subtract a single lump sum from your gross income. The amount is determined based on your income bracket, marital status, and number of dependents.
In some cases, a standard deduction can save you as much—maybe even more—money than an itemized deduction will. But until you do the math, there’s no way to know how. That’s why it’s important to have a complete record of your deductible expenses for the year.
Not everyone qualifies for the standard deduction.
If you’re a non-resident alien, you must itemize all your deductions. The standard deduction is not an option.
And if you’re a married couple filing separately, you both have to choose the same type of deduction—either standard or itemized.
Here are the most popular deductions for small businesses. As you complete your taxes for the year, go back through your business records and add up these expenses. They may save you significantly more than a standard deduction would.
The cost of advertising and promoting your business is 100% deductible.
Business meals are 50% deductible. This includes meals purchased for employees. Be sure to hang on to any receipts for business meals, making note of the occasion—who the meal was purchased for, and, if it was a business meeting, what you discussed.
A few requirements:
If you use your vehicle entirely for business, you can deduct 100% of the cost of operating it. If you use it only partially for business, you can deduct an equivalent portion of operating costs.
These costs don’t include the cost of commuting between home and your place of business.
There are two ways to calculate car expenses. You’re welcome to choose the one that saves you the most on taxes:
Premiums you pay for business insurance are deductible. This insurance may cover:
Any fees you pay to contractors you hired in the past year are tax deductible.
When you purchase large assets, you’re typically required to deduct the expense gradually, over the course of the assets’ useful lives. Examples of such assets include vehicles or machinery necessary for running your business.
If you would rather write off the expense entirely the year you bought it, rather than depreciating it over multiple years, the IRS gives you options for doing so.
Depreciation is complicated, and it can have huge consequences for your tax bill; it’s a good idea to talk to an accountant before making any major decisions.
When education increases your professional expertise and adds value to your business, the cost is tax deductible.
However, if you’re taking a class in order to change careers, it isn’t business deductible. Qualifying education expenses must be relevant to your current line of business.
There are two ways to deduct the cost of your home office:
The area you use for your home office must meet two requirements:
Note: If you use the standard method for calculating your home office deduction, you’ll need to file Form 8829 along with your Schedule C.
The cost of hiring lawyers, tax advisors, accountants, bookkeepers (like Bench), or other “back office” professionals is tax deductible.
Thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, non-military individuals are no longer able to deduct the cost of moving from their taxes. Luckily, businesses still can. The cost of moving all inventory, equipment, and supplies is fully deductible.
If you rent a business location, or equipment essential to your business, you can deduct the cost of it.
However, if you have a home office and pay rent, deduct the cost of rent as part of your home office expense. Don’t deduct it a second time under the “rent” category.
Certain taxes at the state level, as well as the cost of business licenses, are tax deductible. These may include:
If cell phone and internet use are key to running your business, you can deduct the cost of each.
However, if you have a landline, even if you use it exclusively for business, you cannot deduct the expense. Only if you have a second landline devoted to business are you able to claim it.
You can only deduct the percentage you used for business from phone and internet bills. For instance, if one quarter of the time you spend using the phone is spent doing business tasks, you can deduct 25% of your phone bill for the year. The same goes for internet service.
Be sure to keep itemized records and bills on file in case of an audit.
If this is your first year claiming deductions, be happy: Once you’re familiar with the deductions you commonly claim, it’s easier to track them. Next year will be easier.
The most thorough way to track deductible expenses is with help from professional bookkeepers, and Bench is a great choice. But you can make tax season even easier with BenchTax. When you sign up for BenchTax, your bookkeeping team will hand off your records to tax professionals who complete your filing for you. So your deductible expenses aren’t only tracked, they’re guaranteed to be filed accurately and on time.