© 2013 Elena Fawkner
For those of us in the U.S., tax time is here again. For those
of you elsewhere, tax time is always around the corner. Oh
joy, I hear you say. Well, if you're contemplating an online
home-based business, it may be just that. Really. Here's
Are you ready to start making money with, say, affiliate
programs or by creating your own information product, but
haven't really got off the ground yet because you're stuck
in the stage of thinking you have to learn everything there
is to learn about internet marketing before you can start?
(Which you don't, but that's a whole other article.) How
much money have you spent on e-books and other
information products in your quest for the holy grail? How
much money are you spending on your ISP every month?
How much money have you spent on what appeared to
be promising online business programs only to see them bite
the dust? And what about ALL that software you've bought
but never used?
Well, even if you haven't made a dime yet, if you have a
"genuine profit motive", start thinking outside the paradigm
of the *would-be* online business owner and start thinking
from the perspective of one who is *already* in business.
What does that have to do with tax? Everything.
If you have a *genuine* profit motive for what you're doing,
then you're in business. If you're in business, you can
deduct business-related expenses against business and (if
you're a sole proprietor), personal, income. Including ISP
fees, including information products, including "secret marketing
site" membership fees. All of it.
See where I'm going with this?
Even fees for what turn out to be bogus programs can be
deducted if you incurred them in pursuit of business profit.
And while we're on the subject of being hoodwinked, let's
just get that one out of the way right here. We're ALL
suckered into falling for at *least* one - it's called the
school of hard knocks - so don't dud yourself out of a
righteous deduction just because you're feeling ever so
slightly foolish for having been suckered, against your
usually MUCH better judgment, into believing that what
sounded too good to be true wasn't. Even though it was.
Repeat after me - a deduction is a deduction is a deduction.
All that's required is that you incurred the expense with the
motivation to make a profit.
Now, a word of caution here. You can't deduct expenses
incurred in pursuit of illegal activities so I wouldn't try and
claim an investment in a pyramid or ponzi scheme on your
tax return. But if all you did was fall for a sales pitch for a
program that, if successful, would not have been illegal,
and it was a business-related expense, go for it. So long as
you had a genuine profit motive when you handed over the
It gets even better. (By the way, this is all U.S. stuff we're
talking here. Check your local tax laws. Many countries will
have something similar to what I'm about to talk about.)
Here's where it gets interesting. If you work your business
out of your home, in a room or a part of a room that you use
*exclusively* and *regularly* for your business AND that area
is also your principal place of business, you may qualify for the
home office deduction. Even if you also work at a job outside
And when I say "exclusively" I MEAN exclusively - no children
using your computer for their homework or to play computer
games, no personal papers in your work desk, no late-night
chatrooms (or less savory online pursuits if you get my drift),
no online affairs, no television in the room.
You may not be able to apply the home-office deduction
against *this* year's income (as we'll see in a minute) but you
will be able to apply it against profits generated in future
So, why all the emphasis on "genuine profit motive"? The
movement towards easily-started online businesses has
sprouted an industry of so-called tax experts who would
have you believe that anyone can reap the benefits of home
business tax breaks simply by starting a "home based
business". They basically try and convince you that
anyone can pretend to be running a home-based business
and thus qualify. Not so. You need to be running a real
business, not engaging in a hobby or a sham. What
distinguishes a real business from a mere hobby? You
guessed it - a profit motive.
Believe me when I tell you, if you're planning on taking
business deductions, you'd better be able to prove to the
IRS that you have a genuine profit motive. How do you do
that? By keeping proper books and records. By keeping
business and personal expenses separate. By keeping business
and personal income separate. By running a genuine business,
in other words.
Here's how it works.
Let's say you have a spare room in your house that you
use exclusively as a home office. Over the past 12 months,
you've bought a computer, desk, chair, printer and fax
machine. You've decided that you want to start a home-
based online business on the side while you continue to work
in your job. You spend several hours a day researching
ideas for your new business and you spend a small fortune
on your high-speed internet connection, and various
information products relevant to your area of interest.
Because you're running a business, one of the first things
you're going to want to do is get a system for your business
records set up.
Keep a record of all expenses as they're incurred so that
when tax time comes around, everything is at your
fingertips. I use Excel spreadsheets for this - one
spreadsheet for every expense category. Here are the
categories I use (use whatever categories make sense for
your business though):
Advertising and promotion
Web Hosting and Domain Name Registration Fees
ISP/Cable Modem Fees
Content Subscription Fees
Books and Magazines
Home Office Deduction
* Usually has to be depreciated over several years unless
it's software that needs to be updated frequently such as
** You can either depreciate these items over time or you
can write off 100% during the year of acquisition up to a
maximum of around $20,000.
*** If you only have one phone, you'll need to apportion
expenses between personal and business. On the other
hand, if you have a second line exclusively for you business,
you can write off 100% of expenses for the second line.
Every time I pay a business expense, I enter the details
in the appropriate spreadsheet. Very easy.
Then, when the time comes to file your tax return, you
just need to prepare a Schedule C (for individual taxpayers).
If your business makes a loss (i.e., the expenses you
pay out are more than the revenue you bring in from your
business), that loss is deducted from your income from all
sources, thereby reducing your taxes.
But, best of all, if you qualify for the home office deduction,
you can take a proportionate share of your mortgage or rent
payments and your utilities and apply them as a deduction
against your business profits, but only to the point where the
profit from your business equals zero. In other words, the
home office deduction cannot be used to create a loss
situation. But even if you can't deduct it this year (because
your business has already made a loss), it's not lost. You
can carry it forward to future years to be applied against
So, as you can see, even if you're only in the information-
gathering/learning stage of your business, if you have a
profit motive you're nonetheless in business and you can
and should be writing off your business expenses even if
you're yet to start generating revenues.
Make sure you keep proper records and substantiate all
expenses though. The IRS is, of course, well aware of the
potential for abuse of home business tax deductions and
will be paying close attention. That's fine though. If you
have a profit motive, you ARE running a business and
you're *entitled* to take any legitimate deductions that
are available to you. To do anything less is to leave money
on the table.
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Elena Fawkner is editor of Home-Based Business Online.
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Tuesday, 11-May-2021 23:48:37 CDT