How to save money with a small business tax deductions checklist

Insureon Staff.
There are a number of business tax deductions that can help you save money. Learn about which deductions your small business could be eligible for this year.
A closeup of a calculator, a computer, and someone writing on a paper.

Introduction

Taxes are a fact of life for small business owners. But tax deductions can help you keep more of the money you work so hard to earn.

No matter what your business does or what industry you’re in, there are plenty of tax deductions available to claim. You might be surprised to learn that simple business expenses like your cellphone bill or your new computer can be deducted from your taxable income.

Use this checklist to determine what small business tax deductions you can take advantage of for the 2021 tax season.

1. Home office

Since the start of the pandemic, many small businesses have gone fully remote. If you operate your business out of a home office, you are allowed to deduct the cost per square foot of your dedicated office space.

According to the IRS, taxpayers who work from home can deduct $5 per square foot of space that is used as a home office, up to 300 square feet. That equals a maximum deduction of $1,500.

The home office deduction also includes the cost of utilities, such as heat, electricity, and Wi-Fi, so those expenses can’t be deducted separately.

To qualify for the home office deduction in 2021, your workspace must meet the following three requirements:

  • The workspace has clearly defined boundaries. It should be a separate room or portion of a room. That means working from your bedroom doesn't count.
  • It must be the regular, or normal, place where you work. If you typically work at a nearby co-working space, but you work from your kitchen table occasionally, you probably couldn't claim the deduction.
  • You must engage in regular and important business from your home office. For example, if you are a medical provider who sees patients in a hospital, but you do paperwork and billing at home, that likely would not qualify.

2. Office supplies

Whether you work from home or in an office, you need certain items to keep your business running. That’s why the IRS allows small business owners to write off the cost of office supplies from their taxes.

Examples of office supplies that qualify as deductible business expenses include:

  • Printer paper
  • Markers, pencils, and other writing utensils
  • Computer software that is essential to your business

3. Business insurance premiums

Having the correct small business insurance is key to maintaining the financial health of your company. Some types of business insurance are required if you want to sign a lease on office space or obtain a business license. Fortunately, business insurance premiums are tax-deductible.

Here are some of the policies that usually qualify for a tax deduction:

Compare small business insurance quotes

4. Office rent

Small business owners who rent office space can deduct the monthly payment from their taxable income. In addition to the cost of rent for the physical building space, you are also allowed to deduct the cost of rent for a business parking garage.

One important note is that the rent deduction is different from the home office deduction. This deduction only applies to a business owner who pays rent on a physical space that is outside of their home.

If you pay rent on your home or apartment, and you work from home full-time, you should claim the home office deduction instead.

5. Relocation expenses

If you are one of the seven million Americans who moved to a different county in 2020, you might have taken your business with you.

For 2021, small business owners are allowed to deduct 100% of their business relocation expenses from their taxes. This includes the cost of moving your business property, like equipment, furniture, and supplies, from one office to another, whether you hire movers or rent a U-Haul.

However, keep in mind that the relocation expense deduction does not apply to home offices. So, if you run your business out of your home and you move into a new house, you would not be able to claim this tax credit.

6. Internet and phone bills

The IRS will allow you to deduct the cost of your internet and cellphone plan from your 2021 federal income taxes. The only qualification is that your phone and internet use must be essential to your business’s ability to operate every day.

In addition, you can write off the cost of Wi-Fi that you have to purchase for work purposes, such as while traveling on a plane or staying at a hotel.

With this deduction, though, things get a little complicated when the phone and internet you use for work are also used for personal purposes. According to the IRS, you can only deduct the percentage of the cost that is used to conduct your business.

7. Continuing education

If you took a continuing education course in 2021, you might be able to deduct the cost from your taxes. Work-related educational expenses are tax-deductible for self-employed business owners if they meet these qualifications:

  • The program maintains or improves the skills necessary for your current job
  • You must legally take the course to keep your salary or job
  • The program can't be used to help you learn skills for a new trade or business

Some examples of continuing education costs that are tax-deductible include:

  • Classes and workshops (online or in-person) in your field
  • Subscriptions to professional publications relevant to your business
  • Seminars and webinars that apply to your business

8. Marketing and advertising

The cost of marketing and advertising your business can be written off as a 2021 tax deduction. It doesn’t matter how big or small your campaign is.

You can write off 100% of your marketing and ad spend for the taxable year, up to the maximum of $5,000. Examples of expenses that would qualify for this deduction include:

  • Printing a batch of business cards or fliers
  • Hiring a social media marketer
  • Running Facebook or Google ads
  • Marketing software subscriptions
  • Website hosting
  • Working with an SEO consultant
"If (your) vehicle is used solely for business purposes and never used for personal travel... you can deduct 100% of the cost of operating and maintaining the vehicle."

9. Business vehicles

Business vehicles are a tax write-off. If your business vehicle doubles as your personal vehicle, calculating the deduction can be tricky.

For instance, self-employed individuals who drive their personal cars for business purposes may be looking to write off expenses from their hired and non-owned auto insurance policy (HNOA). In this case, the deduction should be based on the amount of time you use the car for business purposes. Track each business-related trip you make and submit that mileage cost as your deduction. Another option is to use the standard mileage rate, which is 56 cents per mile for the 2021 taxable year.

If the vehicle is used solely for business purposes and never used for personal travel, such as a work van, you can deduct 100% of the cost of operating and maintaining the vehicle.

Almost every car expense you can think of qualifies for the deduction, including:

  • Gas
  • Maintenance and repairs
  • Car insurance
  • Registration fees
  • Lease payments
  • Tolls
  • Parking fees
  • License fees

10. Business meals

Are you the kind of business owner who likes to wine and dine your clients? Or maybe you like to take your staff out for occasional work lunches at the local watering hole.

Good news—if you’ve spent money on business-related meals during the taxable year, you can deduct 100% of the cost from your business income. In previous years, you were only allowed to deduct 50%.

The caveat with this tax deduction is that the meal needs to be work-related. So, for example, if you and an employee get a drink before a sporting event, and you have no intention of discussing business, the cost is not deductible.

If you want to claim the business dining tax deduction, it’s important to keep a log of:

  • The price of the meal
  • The date and location
  • The business relationship of the people who were there

11. Business travel

Business travel has become less common during the pandemic. However, if you went on any business trips in the last year, the entire cost is tax-deductible.

Like many other business tax deductions, the IRS has strict rules for who can claim this deduction. In order to write off your business travel expenses, your trip must meet the following criteria:

  • The trip must be overnight
  • You must travel at least 100 miles from home
  • The expenses must be ordinary and necessary

To claim this deduction, make sure to keep a record of all associated expenses from your trip. The receipts will be essential when it comes time to file your taxes. Some of the covered costs include:

  • Airfare
  • Train tickets
  • Hotels
  • Taxis and rideshare services
  • Dry cleaning
  • Shipping items, such as to a tradeshow

If you are a consultant who travels for clients, deducting taxes is just one of a few opportunities available to help you manage you travel expenses. Learn more about great tips for consultants who travel for clients.

12. Employee salaries and benefits

One of the biggest tax deductions for small business owners is the cost of employee wages and employee benefits. However, you can only claim this deduction if you employ someone other than yourself. It doesn’t apply to sole proprietors, partners, or LLC members.

In addition to employee salaries, you are also allowed to deduct an employee’s paid time off and commission or bonuses, as well as employment taxes related to payroll.

13. Business credit card and loan interest

Interest paid on business credit cards or a business loan can be deducted from your federal taxes. For the 2021 tax year, you can only deduct interest paid that equals 30% or less than your taxable income.

The IRS has the following rules for business owners who want to claim this deduction:

  • You must be legally liable for the debt
  • Both you and your lender must expect the debt to get repaid
  • You and the lender have a true debtor/creditor relationship

14. Independent contractors

Do you rely on contractors or freelancers to provide services for your business? If so, the money you pay them can be written off your taxes. The only rules for this deduction are:

  • The contractor must not be an employee of your business
  • The services provided must be for your business, not you as the business owner personally

If you work with freelancers or contractors on a regular basis, just remember that you are required to send them a Form 1099-NEC if you pay them more than $600 during the tax year. If you get audited and it’s found that you did not provide a Form 1099 to a contractor, you could face a penalty fee.

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15. Business bank fees

A business bank account is a smart investment for all small business owners. And if your bank charges monthly service fees, overdraft fees, or wire transfer fees, you’re allowed to deduct those costs from your taxes.

In addition, if your business sells products and uses a third-party payment vendor, like PayPal or Square, you can deduct those fees, too.

With this small business tax deduction, the only caveat is that it doesn’t apply to fees related to your personal bank account. That means if your business profits get deposited into your personal checking account, you aren’t eligible for the deduction.

16. Startup business expenses

Millions of businesses were created during the pandemic. If you recently started a new business, the IRS will allow you to deduct 100% of your startup expenses, up to $5,000.

To qualify as a startup expense, the cost must be a normal deduction for an established business. But in this case, it’s a cost that you incurred before the business officially started operating.

There are many startup expenses that may qualify for this deduction, such as:

  • Working with a business consultant
  • Traveling to conferences
  • Attending training events in the industry
  • Launching a marketing campaign
  • Building a website

17. Business losses

If your business lost money during the taxable year, the IRS allows you to write off the loss. For sole proprietors and LLC owners, you can write off the losses in full from your personal tax return.

There is no limit to the amount of money you can write off. And if your business experiences losses for several consecutive years, you won’t get penalized.

18. Legal and professional fees

The cost of working with professionals, such as a lawyer, accountant, CPA, or bookkeeper, is a small business tax write-off. As long as the professional provided services that were necessary and relevant to your business, it counts.

19. Charitable contributions

Charitable donations increased in 2020, in part because of financial hardship related to the pandemic. If your business donated money to a charitable organization during the last taxable year, you can use it to lower your tax liability.

For the 2021 tax year, you can write off 100% of your donations if they benefit a qualifying charity and you made a cash contribution.

If your business is structured as a sole proprietorship or LLC, the IRS recommends writing off charitable donations on your personal taxes. However, if your business is set up as an S corporation, you should take the deduction on your business tax return.

20. Retirement plan contributions

If you’re like many small business owners, you probably make 100% of your own retirement plan contributions. The IRS recognizes this and allows you to deduct your contributions from your income taxes if you have one of the following retirement accounts:

  • Roth IRA
  • Traditional IRA
  • Keogh plan
  • Solo 401(k)

21. Depreciation

If you own assets that are essential to your business operation, you might be able to write off the depreciation from your income taxes. Examples of depreciating business assets include:

  • Real estate (i.e. your office, if you own a commercial building)
  • Computers and electronic equipment
  • Machinery
  • Business use vehicles
  • Office furniture and appliances

For the 2021 tax year, small business owners can deduct a maximum of $1,050,000 in depreciation for qualifying assets. If you want to claim a depreciation tax deduction, you must file Form 4562 with your tax return.

When it comes to deducting depreciation, however, there are some restrictions. For example, you can only write off the depreciation for computers and cars over a five-year period. For furniture and appliances, you can write off the depreciation over a seven-year period.

If you are planning to take the depreciation tax deduction, consider talking to a tax professional or your personal tax preparer. They can help you understand what assets qualify for this tax credit, how much you can write off based on the tax laws, and what tax forms you need.

22. Health insurance premiums

Small business owners who are sole proprietors typically pay for their own health insurance benefits. Fortunately, you are allowed to deduct the cost of your health insurance premiums from your tax bill.

In addition, LLC members, partners in partnerships, and S corporation shareholders can also take advantage of this deduction. There's no limit to the amount of money you can deduct from your tax bill.

Adding it up

To claim small business tax deductions, it’s important to track and log your expenses throughout the tax year. When you keep meticulous records, it makes your life easier during tax time, and if you were ever audited, you would have proof of those expenses.

When you go through the small business tax deduction checklist and file your business taxes, it’s a good time to take inventory of your business insurance coverage. An annual review will ensure you have the appropriate policies and the right amount of coverage for your business's needs in 2022.

Whether the last year was one of growth, loss, or simply staying the course, you might be able to find additional insurance savings. For example, if you moved to a new state or downsized your business, make sure to get new insurance quotes to see if you can get a lower premium.

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