More Tax Tips for Small Businesses
5: Section 179
Section 179 is a rock star deduction. Not that you can actually deduct the cost of leather pants and sunglasses, but this is just the kind of deduction that small business owners scream for. To understand why it's cool, you should understand how most expense deductions work -- very slowly. A lot of expenses are subject to depreciation, meaning that you can only write off their cost over a certain number of years. So sure, you can deduct the full price of that laser printer, but only over the course of its five-year life-span -- which is all fine and good if you're looking to lower your taxes a little every year.
But what if you want to deduct the full price that year? Section 179 lets you. Well, it lets you deduct up to $25,000, provided the equipment you're expensing meets the requirements. Off-the-shelf computer software counts; land doesn't. There are a lot of exceptions and rules for the Section 179 deduction, so do read up on it to discover if there are loads of deductions you can write off all at once.
4: Charitable Stock Donation
You're a good person, right? That's probably why your small business donates to charity. You want to help the kids, the animals or the Earth. So you hand over a check, and then you giddily deduct the amount from your taxes. (You want to help the kids, the animals and the Earth, but you also want to help yourself out. No shame in that.)
Consider going about it a different way. Instead of giving away a check or cash, you might want to think about donating stock. While it may seem pretty fancy for a small business owner, it's a smart idea. You can deduct the current worth of the stock on your taxes rather than what you paid for it. Does that actually work out to be a good deal? It absolutely could be, if you plan it right. Say you bought stock a year ago for $250. You donate a share of that stock to a charity. By tax time, the share has doubled -- and you can write that doubled value on your tax return.
3: Small Business Jobs Act Credits
In 2010, President Obama signed the Small Business Jobs Act into law. The act provided a whole slew of benefits for small businesses, like providing more money for small business loans and incentives for exporters [source: Lamoreaux]. It also introduced some new tax cuts for small business owners.
The cuts run the gamut, and it's wise to look through the list to make sure you're taking advantage of every program you can. For instance, certain small business investments are subject to zero capital gains taxes. Self-employed people can deduct health insurance costs. Even something as simple as the fact that cell phones -- formerly seen as "listed property" and deductible with certain recordkeeping -- are now much easier to write off for small businesses. Even relief from a penalty for tax errors is included in the act: It's based on a percentage of taxes now, not a flat dollar amount [source: Lee].
2: Home Office Deduction
The home office deduction is a little controversial. Not because anyone doubts that it's amazing: No one can argue that writing off a part of your home's Internet bill or heating feels like you're getting away with a tax crime. But there's a persistent rumor that deducting a home office is akin to writing "Audit, Please" on top of your return -- and then adding neon yellow highlighter to the heading for good measure.
Here's the thing: If you do qualify for the home office deduction, take it. It's unlikely that it leaves you any more vulnerable to an audit, and loads of people don't write off home office spaces even if they have them [source: Eisenberg]. But do know that the requirements are strict, and you certainly aren't doing yourself any auditing favors if you make false claims.
The key is that you must use the office space for regular and exclusive business use. (That means no trying to write off the family den, where the kids play computer games and you occasionally check your work email.) However, there are lots of intriguing exceptions for things like storing inventory or meeting clients, so check out the rules and see if you might find one more deduction for your small business.
1: Be Vigilant About Employees and Vendors
The IRS defines "vendor" pretty broadly; it's basically any person you pay for rent, services or even prizes and awards. The list also includes materials and equipment, so long as you paid an individual or partnership. Here's something the IRS is super strict about: If you're paying these vendors over $600 throughout the course of the year, you're going to have to send in a 1099 form. It might be prudent to collect a W-9 from all the vendors you work with -- regardless of how much you're anticipating paying them -- just so you have their mailing information and tax IDs [source: Kohler]. You're subject to penalties if you don't send the 1099 -- and you can be dinged even if you're a little late.
It's also important that you don't attempt to classify employees as independent contractors. Trying to avoid payroll taxes or withholding is not going to endear you in the eyes of the IRS. Check out the IRS for some simple ways to determine if you need to start identifying your workforce as employees [source: IRS].