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Tax Tips: The Most Overlooked Deductions for Small Businesses

1. Startup Expenses

Once your business is up and running, expenses such as office supplies, equipment repairs, utilities, and advertising can be deducted as operational costs or current business expenses—but not until your business is officially off the ground.

The cash you spend getting your business started is considered a “capital expense,” and if you are in process of opening a new business, you will want to utilize your capital expenses as deductions.

Here is the catch: in your first year of business, you are allowed do deduct a maximum of $5,000 in capital expenses, however, you can continue to deduct your start-up costs over a 15-year period, so long as you amortize your balance. “Amortize” essentially means to gradually write off the initial cost of a new asset over a period of years.

Submit your intention to amortize any additional startup costs at the end of your first business year, otherwise you will not be able to deduct these expenses until you sell or liquidate your business.

2. Auto Expenses

If you use your car for business purposes, or if you maintain a separate vehicle for your business, then you can deduct a portion of your repairs, maintenance, parking fees, and fuel. Similar to claiming a home office, understanding the rules that pertain to an auto expense deduction can be tricky, but it is absolutely worth it.

There are two methods for recording and claiming your deductions: the “actual expense” method, and the “standard mileage rate” method. Most business owners use the standard mileage rate, which as of 2012 is 55.5 cents for every mile driven, to deduct auto expenses. The actual expense method can yield a higher deduction, but it requires a lot of careful accounting: you must keep track of every penny spent on driving, parking, and repairs.

3. Entertainment

Many small business owners shy away from claiming meals and outings as “business expenses.” Why? According to the IRS, you can legally deduct up to 50% of the cost of any meals and entertainment associated with your normal business activities. The fine print stipulates that expenses must be either directly related to your business, for example, a catered meeting at your office, or they must be associated with current or potential business affairs, such as a lunch immediately before or after a business discussion.

Make notes on the receipt or bill, or maintain a spreadsheet where you record names, dates, and the purpose of each meeting. If you ever feel hesitant deducting a meal or event, just ask yourself if you would feel comfortable explaining the expense to an IRS agent.

In the best of all possible worlds, you keep careful receipts and the IRS leaves you alone, but of course you’re better off preparing for the worst!

Author:

Marshall Walker Lee graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Michigan's Honors College with degrees in Writing and Philosophy. As a freelance writer and designer he has developed branding strategies and programming for J. Walter Thompson, Nike, the Kellogg Foundation, Spike TV, Sony Films, and General Motors. He is the co-founder and director of Poor Claudia, a 501(c)3 non-profit publishing enterprise based in Portland, Oregon.