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 ~ Tax Game Plan ~

for a Home-Based Business

An Upbeat Look at the Tax Advantages of a Home-Based Business

by ElJay, the World's First Web-Dancing Frog, Ph.d., M.S., B.S., X,Y & Z!   

 "Any one may so arrange his affairs that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which will best pay the Treasury; there is not even a patriotic duty to increase one's taxes .."   Supreme Court Justice Learned Hand .

. . . It's not exactly fun living with home and business under one roof. Sometimes the living room looks the packing room at the Sears warehouse.  But just in case you didn't know it, there are big-time tax advantages to owning your own business, - yes indeed. 

Qualifying equipment bought and placed in service in 2002, may be expensed up to $24,000.  This means you can 'expense' your new computer, radial arm saw, and other business use equipment up to $24,000 in the first year, instead of depreciating it.

Back when cars were depreciated on a three-year basis, our little truck did double duty on two family businesses. We had another vehicle for pleasure, so we were able to depreciate the whole value of the truck over three-years.

The depreciation time period is now different, six years, but it’s the same idea. Even if we use the truck for personal use, too, we still can depreciate the percentage which is used for business.

If we choose to depreciate a truck or a car, we can also deduct the actual out-of-pocket expenses, such as gas, oil, maintenance, repairs, insurance, tolls, registration, etc.

Another option, instead of deducting car expenses and depreciation, would be to use the flat-rate mileage allowance, (which was 36.5 cents per mile for tax year 2002.)

The choice of using the allowance or depreciation should be made in the first year you place your vehicle in service for business travel. If you do not use the allowance in the first year, you may not use the allowance for that car in any other year.*

Supposing I drive 15,000 miles this year, of which 12,000 was for business? The percentage of business use is 80%, (12,000 divided by 15,000 = 80%.) My actual car expenses (gas, insurance, oil, repairs, etc.) were $1,000, of which $800 (80%) is deductible. If I had a car loan, 80% of the interest would also be deductible. That’s awesome.

(Whether we take split-use depreciation, or the flat-rate mileage allowance plus expenses, -documentation of my actual mileage and the dates and purpose of each trip is mandatory.)

I like this game; I can make the rules work for me. Let's see: what else can be depreciated? Do I need a computer? Tools? A copier? A new kiln?

Better yet, - the law says I can expense them. That means we can write the cost of this equipment off in one year instead of depreciating it over a period of six years. Theoretically, we could even expense the car, depending on the price.  Look up the guidelines for the current year.

Take Your Tax Deduction NOW

Our motto: Never put off until tomorrow the tax deduction we can take today. Who knows? They may change the rules again, and we could lose it.

Last year, tax year, we were allowed to expense up to $18,000, all in one year!

That means that if we didn't earn that much money, we could deduct up to $18,000 worth of capital equipment expenses and end up with a loss.

Since we have other income, under certain conditions, losses from my business can be deducted from that income. September or October is the time to compute your income to see if you should buy new equipment immediately, or defer purchases until next year. Get your paperwork together and see your tax advisor.

You could spread out depreciation over a five year period to balance the possibility of increased income as your business grows, …but what do you do with a car, (copier, computer, etc.) after it is totally depreciated? Why you turn it over to family use instead of selling it and owing Uncle Sam salvage value against the depreciation you took. Is it legal? You bet.


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What else? Let's see: -the telephone. That's always good for laughs. Struggling with the phone bill every month to allocate business long distance calls is a pain. A second line makes sense under certain conditions: if you make lots of long distance business calls, or if business and personal calls are interfering with each other, get a separate line for your business;it's a business expense and is tax-deductible.  With a business phone, you have a free listing in the Yellow Pages.  This is a form of advertising.  It gives you visibility and helps your business grow. 

The least expensive way to have two lines may be to have basic service for one line, and unlimited local dialing for the other. Then you may deduct not only the long-distance calls, but the monthly base rate of the business line, (ours is over $30). If you call Ma Bell and ask questions about the different types of residential contracts, and also costs for business lines, you'll know if the expense can be justified in your particular case.

Other benefits: you'll always have a free line, - and if you have a computer, you'll have a line to hook up to the modem and fax machine, and another line for voice calls. 

Under most conditions, depreciating a portion of your home for business use is not a good idea, but if you have 7 rooms, and use one for business only, you may deduct 1/7th of your heat, garbage removal, mortgage interest, insurance, electric, etc.

If the 7th room which you use only for business, is very large, and makes up 35% of the square footage of your house, -why it's to your advantage to deduct 35% of your household expenses, based on the square footage, instead of 1/7th of your expenses as in the previous example.


Your Microbusiness: Is it a Hobby or a Business?

What's the Difference?

As long as you are presumed to be operating with a profit motive, it's a business.*

The law presumes that you are in an activity for profit if you can show a profit three years out of five.

With a hobby, when expenses exceed income, expenses are deductible only up to the amount of your income, and the rest is disallowed if they would make a loss.

 If you have other income, such as another job, or if your spouse has income, losses from your micro-businesses may be deductible against that second income! In an audit, to be considered a business you must be able to prove that you were trying to make a profit by spending considerable time in the activity, by keeping business-like records, relying on expert advice, advertising, etc.

Your business cards and lists of upcoming shows that you have on your display as 'pick-ups' are a form of advertising, - as is your yellow-page listing, which is usually free when you have a business telephone line.

Even if you have a loss in more than three years out of five, if you can prove a profit motive, your loss will be allowed.

 Do Your Own Taxes?

My spouse is an accountant with years of tax experience, but it’s many years since he made a point of keeping up with all the changes in tax law .

I've taken H & R Block Tax Awareness courses through the years to maintain my real-estate license. These courses are only an overview, although very complete for that purpose. We have someone else do our taxes .

Getting the information on the right form is only half the battle : as soon as you learn the game, the IRS changes the rules. We have too many other things to do than spend time trying to keep up with their games .

We do a quick-total of income and expenses before the end of the year and save tax dollars by shifting income or expenses from this year to the next, or vice-versa. As one of the greatest jurists of all time, Judge Learned Hand said :

"Any one may so arrange his affairs that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which will best pay the Treasury; there is not even a patriotic duty to increase one's taxes."

So, it is all a game: income, expenses, depreciation, and deductions. Play according to the rules, and have a professional explain the plays; create a strategy and you’ll come out ahead.

When you pay a professional to do your taxes, it’s a tax-deductible expense, and he’ll probably save you more money than his fee costs.

There are tax advantages to having a business, -expecially if you take time to learn the rules.    (Wanna’ play?)

*Recommended: (tax deductible, of course) J. K. Lasser's Your Income Tax2010 and beyond."

**Even if it's a hobby, you must have a sales tax certificate and collect sales tax if you live in a state where this is the law, (e.g. New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, etc.)


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