Material Participation Tests

Assessment tests that the IRS uses to determine if a taxpayer materially participated in an income-providing activity

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What are Material Participation Tests?

Material participation tests are a set of criteria that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) uses to determine if an individual actively participated in a business, trade, or other income-producing activity. A taxpayer must pass at least one of the several material participation tests to be considered a material participant.

Material Participation Tests


  • Material participation tests refer to assessment tests that the IRS uses to determine if a taxpayer materially participated in an income-providing activity.
  • A taxpayer is required to pass at least one of the several material participation tests to be considered a material participant.
  • A taxpayer who qualifies as a material participant can claim losses incurred from the business from their tax return.

Understanding Material Participation Tests

The IRS conducts material participation tests on an individual taxpayer every tax year using seven different tests. If a taxpayer passes one of the seven tests, they qualify as a material participant. Participation must be continuous, regular, and substantial. A taxpayer who passes the material participation tests can deduct any losses incurred in the business from their tax return.

However, if the taxpayer does not meet at least one of the material participation tests, passive activity rules apply. A passive activity is the opposite of material participation, and it means that the taxpayer’s participation in the income-producing activity is not regular, continuous, and substantial, and it limits their ability to deduct passive losses on the reported tax returns.

Therefore, a business owner who does not materially participate in the business cannot deduct losses at the same level as a business owner who materially participates in the business or trade.

Material Participation Tests - How It Works

How to Determine Material Participation

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sets rules to determine if a taxpayer materially participated in a business or trade during the tax year. The entity runs multiple tests to determine material participation in a business, trade, or other income-producing activity, based on the type of work and the amount of time worked. The tests only apply to individual owners of businesses, and not business entities such as limited partnerships and S corporations whose participation is considered passive.

The two main factors used to determine material participation include:

1. Amount of time worked

An individual taxpayer is considered to have materially participated in an income-producing activity if they worked on a regular, continuous, and substantial basis for at least 100 hours in the tax year. The business should not have any party other than the taxpayer who receives compensation or works more hours in managing the business.

2. Type of work

The type of work that the individual taxpayer participates in should be work done by the business owner on a day-to-day basis in the regular management of the business. The taxpayer should find ways to establish their participation in the business to meet the requirements set by the IRS. The taxpayer can prove their participation by providing their work calendar, work logs, or an appointment book to show their level of participation in the business during the tax year.

Reporting Losses on the Tax Return

When a business reports losses during the tax year, they can deduct the loss from their return depending on the existing situation in the business. The IRS provides the following two main rules for determining whether or not a taxpayer can take a loss in the tax year:

1. At-risk rules

An active loss incurred by the taxpayer is deductible from the tax return but subject to at-risk rules provided by the IRS. At-risk rules are rules that guide the number of allowable deductions an individual can claim for engaging in at-risk activities that can effectively result in financial losses.

A taxpayer can be deemed to have a risk in their business based on the investments they have put into the business or loans that they have borrowed or pledged personal assets as collateral.

The Internal Revenue Code states that a taxpayer cannot deduct more than the amount of money at risk during the tax year. At-risk rules came into effect with the enactment of the Tax Reform Act of 1976, and it was intended to provide a guarantee that losses claimed were valid and were not an attempt to reduce tax returns.

2. Passive activity rules

Passive activity rules are IRS rules that are used to prevent taxpayers from deducting passive losses from ordinary income. It also prevents investors from using passive losses to offset active incomes from income-producing activities they were materially involved in.

Therefore, passive losses can only be offset by passive income. Examples of passive income include income from leasing construction equipment, income from a limited partnership, and rental income from real estate properties.

Passive Activity vs. Passive Losses

A passive activity is an activity where the taxpayer took a non-material role in a business or trade. For an activity to be considered passive, the taxpayer’s participation should be irregular and non-substantial. Examples of passive activities may include equipment leasing, real estate rentals, sole proprietorship, limited partnerships, S-corporations, and limited liability companies. It is important to note that there are exemptions in such activities, and an activity qualifies if the taxpayer did not have material participation.

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