Any expense that is considered "ordinary, necessary, and reasonable" and helps the business to generate income
Over 1.8 million professionals use CFI to learn accounting, financial analysis, modeling and more. Start with a free account to explore 20+ always-free courses and hundreds of finance templates and cheat sheets.
A tax deductible expense is any expense that is considered “ordinary, necessary, and reasonable” and that helps a business to generate income. It is usually deducted from the company’s income before taxation. According to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS), in Publication 535, Business Expenses, “An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in your industry. A necessary expense is one that is helpful and appropriate for your trade or business.”
Any business, regardless of industry, incurs a wide range of expenses. From starting a business to maintaining it, various expenses keep the operation running smoothly. However, many expenses are deductible and can lower tax liabilities. Sole proprietors can reduce not only the regular income tax, but also the self-employment tax. As for incorporated businesses, deducting expenses will enable them to lower business taxes.
For home-based businesses, owners can include some expenses on insurance, property taxes, rent or mortgage, electricity, and maintenance. However, business owners need to keep in mind that all expenses incurred within a fiscal year should be claimed against the income generated in that same year.
Not all expenses are tax deductible; some may only be partially deductible. Specifically, allowable expenses include:
One common problem that arises is determining whether an expense is personal or partly related to conducting business, especially for freelancers or sole proprietors who work at home. How will you know the deductible amount that is spent on rent, insurance, heat, and electricity?
You can find the percentage of the square footage of a home office vs. that of the entire home. Once you get the percentage, you can use it to determine the business portion of certain expenses in such a way that a portion of the expenses will be part of the home office deduction, while the rest will be considered for personal use. For example, if your home office occupies 20% of your home, then you may deduct 20% of your mortgage/rent and utility expenses.
From the same IRS document (Publication 535, Business Expenses), specifically on the section about personal versus business expenses, the agency generally prohibits deducting personal, living, or family expenses. However, an individual can deduct the business part of an expense that is incurred partly for personal purposes and partly for business.
Keeping Track of All Business-related Tax Deductible Expenses
One important thing to remember is to always maintain records of all expenses, whether they are personal or business-related. You can then go back to all the receipts or invoices and ask your accountant which expenses are tax deductible. This can be done the traditional way by keeping a ledger or envelope containing all receipts. However, to make the process more convenient, business owners can use accounting software programs or apps that are designed to help track income and expenses.
Many of the online accounting tools available today are pretty easy to use and understand, though it is still essential to spend some time making sure that you use the right categories of expenses. The programs also enable you to generate profit and loss reports, making it easier to understand the amount of money that comes in, together with expenses. Should you consider hiring a tax accountant, your accounting reports will come in handy when preparing tax returns.
Thank you for reading CFI’s guide to Tax Deductible. To keep advancing your career, the additional CFI resources below will be useful:
Learn accounting fundamentals and how to read financial statements with CFI’s free online accounting classes.
These courses will give the confidence you need to perform world-class financial analyst work. Start now!
Building confidence in your accounting skills is easy with CFI courses! Enroll now for FREE to start advancing your career!
Take your learning and productivity to the next level with our Premium Templates.
Upgrading to a paid membership gives you access to our extensive collection of plug-and-play Templates designed to power your performance—as well as CFI's full course catalog and accredited Certification Programs.
Already have a Self-Study or Full-Immersion membership? Log in
Access Exclusive Templates
Gain unlimited access to more than 250 productivity Templates, CFI's full course catalog and accredited Certification Programs, hundreds of resources, expert reviews and support, the chance to work with real-world finance and research tools, and more.