The Top Tax Deductions for Your Small Business

These small business tax deductions (tax write-offs) can save you money in 2023-2024.

By , J.D., USC Gould School of Law
Updated by Amy Loftsgordon, Attorney (University of Denver Sturm College of Law)

The more small business tax deductions your business can legitimately take, the lower its taxable profit will be. In addition to putting more money into your pocket at the end of the year, the tax code provisions that govern deductions can also yield a personal benefit: a nice car to drive at a smaller cost or a combination business trip and vacation.

So, it's advantageous to pay careful attention to IRS rules on just what is—and isn't—deductible. Claiming all of the small business tax deductions (tax write-offs) to which you're entitled can ultimately save your business a lot of money.

How Can Small Businesses Reduce Taxable Income?

By claiming tax deductions, small businesses can significantly reduce their taxable income and, ultimately, the taxes they owe. You owe tax only on the amount left over after your business's deductible expenses are subtracted from your gross income. The more deductions you take, the lower your net profit will be and the less tax you will have to pay.

What Deductions Can a Small Business Claim?

When you're totaling up your business's expenses at the end of the year, don't overlook these important business tax deductions.

  1. Auto expenses. The cost of driving your car for business.
  2. Going into business. Investigative and other costs of starting a business.
  3. Books and fees. Professional books and accounting and legal fees
  4. Insurance. Liability and other business insurance.
  5. Travel. Costs of leaving home overnight for business purposes.
  6. Interest. The costs of business loans.
  7. Equipment. Cars and other vehicles, computers, and other equipment.
  8. Charitable contributions. Deductible by regular C corporations or individually deducted by business owners.
  9. Taxes. Sales taxes and other taxes your business pays.
  10. Education expenses. Only for education to maintain or improve skills required in your present business.
  11. Advertising and promotion. Google ads, websites, giveaway items, and other promotions and advertising
  12. Pass-through deduction. A special 20% deduction for sole proprietors, partnerships, S corporations and most limited liability companies
  13. Employees. Salary, benefits, and other employee costs.
  14. Independent Contractors. Cost of hiring nonemployees to help in your business.
  15. Home office. The cost of a space in your home you use regularly and exclusively for business.

1. Auto Expenses

If you use your car for business or your business owns its own vehicle, you can deduct some of the costs of keeping it on the road. Mastering the rules of car expense deductions can be tricky but well worth your while.

The two methods of claiming expenses are:

  • Actual expense method. You keep track of and deduct all of your actual business-related expenses and deduct an amount for depreciation each year.
  • Standard mileage rate method. You deduct a certain amount (the standard mileage rate) for each mile driven, plus all business-related tolls and parking fees. For tax year 2023, the standard mileage rate is 65.5 cents per business mile. For the 2024 tax year, the standard mileage rate is 67 cents per mile.

If your auto is used for both business and pleasure, only the business portion produces a tax deduction. So, you must keep track of how often you use the vehicle for business and add it all up at the end of the year.

Certainly, if you own just one car or truck, no IRS auditor will let you get away with claiming that 100% of its use is related to your business. GPS-based apps are available that allow you to keep track of your driving, or you can use a paper logbook.

2. What Expenses of Going Into Business Can I Claim?

Once you're running a business, expenses such as advertising, utilities, office supplies, and repairs can be deducted as current business expenses—but not before you open your doors for business. The costs of getting a business started are capital expenses, and you may deduct $5,000 the first year you're in business; any remainder must be deducted in equal amounts over the next 15 years (180 months).

If you expect your business to make a profit immediately, you might be able to work around this rule by delaying paying some bills until after you're in business or by doing a small amount of business just to officially start.

However, if, like many businesses, you'll suffer losses during the first few years of operation, you might be better off taking the deduction over five years so you'll have some profits to offset.

3. Books and Legal and Professional Fees

Business books, including those that help you do without legal and tax professionals, are fully deductible as a cost of doing business.

Fees you pay to lawyers, tax professionals, or consultants generally can be deducted in the year incurred. But if the work clearly relates to future years, they must be deducted over the life of the benefit you get from the lawyer or other professional.

4. Insurance

You can deduct the premiums you pay for any insurance you buy for your business as a business operating expense, including:

  • medical insurance for your employees
  • fire, theft, and flood insurance for business property

  • credit insurance that covers losses from business debt
  • liability insurance
  • professional malpractice insurance—for example, medical or legal malpractice insurance
  • workers' compensation insurance that state law requires you to provide to your employees
  • business interruption insurance
  • life insurance covering a corporation's officers and directors if you're not a direct beneficiary under the policy, and
  • unemployment insurance contributions (either as insurance costs or business taxes, depending on how they're characterized by your state's laws).

5. Travel

When you travel for business, you can deduct many expenses, including the cost of plane fare, costs of operating your car, taxis, lodging, meals, shipping business materials, cleaning clothes, and tips.

What about combining business and pleasure? It's okay, as long as business is the trip's primary purpose. But if you take your family along, you can deduct only your own expenses.

6. Interest

If you use credit to finance business purchases, the interest and carrying charges are fully tax-deductible. The same is true if you take out a personal loan and use the proceeds for your business.

However, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, if your business profit is more than $25 million, you'll only be able to deduct 30% of your interest expenses. Real property businesses with more than $25 million in gross receipts may elect out of the 30% limitation by agreeing to depreciate their real property over a somewhat longer period.

Be sure to keep good records demonstrating that the money was used for your business.

7. Equipment

Most small businesses are able to deduct the cost of equipment using bonus depreciation, expanded Section 179 expensing, and the $2,500 de minimis deduction. These deductions may be used for tangible personal property and computer software, but not real property, which must be depreciated over many years.

Bonus Depreciation

For used or new personal business property placed in service from September 27, 2017 through December 31, 2022, 100% of the cost may be deducted in a single year through bonus depreciation.

In later years, the first-year bonus depreciation deduction amount goes down as follows:

  • 80% for property placed in service during 2023
  • 60% for property placed in service during 2024
  • 40% for property placed in service during 2025
  • 20% for property placed in service during 2026
  • 0% for property placed in service in 2027 or later.

Section 179 Expensing

In addition, under Section 179 of the Internal Revenue Code, you can currently deduct up to an annual threshold amount of the cost of equipment and certain business assets you purchase and place in service that year and use over 50% of the time for your business (not personal use). The Section 179 annual limit is $1,160,000 for 2023 ($1,220,000 for 2024).

In addition to the annual limit, a phase-out applies to how much property can be deducted under Section 179 that starts when a business purchases more than $2.7 million in business property in a year. Once this annual investment limit is reached, the amount you can deduct under Section 179 is reduced dollar for dollar by the amount your purchases exceed the limit.

De Minimus Safe Harbor

Finally, using a provision of the tax law called the "de minimis safe harbor," a business may deduct in a single year any tangible personal property that costs $2,500 or less, as stated on the invoice. You must file an election with your tax return to use this deduction.

8. Charitable Contributions

If your business is a partnership, a limited liability company, or an S corporation (a corporation that has chosen to be taxed like a partnership), your business can make a charitable contribution and pass the deduction through to you, to claim on your individual tax return (but only if you itemize your personal deductions). If you own a regular (C) corporation, the corporation can deduct the charitable contributions.

If you've got some old computers or office furniture, giving it to a school or nonprofit organization can yield goodwill plus a tax benefit. But if the equipment has been fully depreciated (written off), you can't claim a deduction.

9. Taxes

Taxes incurred in operating your business are generally deductible. How and when they're deducted depends on the type of tax:

  • Sales tax on items you buy for your business's day-to-day operations is deductible as part of the cost of the items; it's not deducted separately. However, tax on a big business asset, such as a car, must be added to the car's cost basis.
  • Excise and fuel taxes are separately deductible expenses.
  • If your business pays employment taxes, the employer's share is deductible as a business expense. Self-employment tax is paid by individuals, not their businesses, and so isn't a business expense.
  • Federal income tax paid on business income is never deductible. State income tax can be deducted on your federal return as an itemized deduction, not as a business expense. But the annual personal itemized deduction for state and local taxes is limited to $10,000.
  • Real estate tax on property used for business is deductible, along with any special local assessments for repairs or maintenance. If the assessment is for an improvement—for example, to build a sidewalk—it isn't immediately deductible; instead, it is deducted over a period of years.

10. Education Expenses

You can deduct education expenses if they're related to your current business, trade, or occupation. The expense must be to maintain or improve skills required in your present business. (The cost of education that qualifies you for a new business or trade isn't deductible.)

11. Advertising and Promotion

The cost of ordinary advertising of your goods or services—websites, business cards, Google Adwords, and so on—is deductible as a current expense.

Promotional costs that create business goodwill—for example, sponsoring a peewee football team—are also deductible as long as a clear connection exists between the sponsorship and your business. For example, naming the team the "Southwest Auto Parts Blues" or listing the business name in the program is evidence of the promotion effort.

12. What Is the 20% Small Business Tax Deduction?

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act created a new tax deduction for individuals who earn income through pass-through businesses, such as a:

  • sole proprietorship (a one-owner business in which the owner personally owns all the business assets)
  • partnership
  • S corporation

  • limited liability company (LLC), or
  • limited liability partnership (LLP).

Such individuals may deduct an amount up to 20% of their net income from each pass-through business they own. This deduction is in addition to all their other business deductions.

The pass-through deduction is a personal deduction pass-through owners can take on their returns whether or not they itemize. This deduction is scheduled to last from 2018 through 2025.

Limitation for People Whose Business Provides Personal Services

But this deduction is limited for people whose business is providing personal services, including people providing services in the fields of health, law, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, athletics, financial services, brokerage services, investing and investment management, trading and dealing in securities or commodities, or any business where the principal asset is the reputation or skill of one or more of its owners (but there is an exception for architects and engineers).

A business owner who provides such services is entitled to the 20% pass-through deduction only if their 2023 taxable income from all sources after deductions is less than $364,200 if married filing jointly, or $182,100 if single. The deduction is phased out if income exceeds these limits. It disappears entirely for marrieds filing jointly whose income exceeds $464,200 and for singles whose income exceeds $232,100

Limitations for Those Not Involved in Providing Services

If you're not involved in providing services, you can still qualify for a pass-through deduction if your business income exceeds these amounts, but it is subject to a special limit: Your deduction can't exceed:

  • 50% of your applicable share of the W-2 employee wages paid by the business, or
  • 25% of your share of W-2 wages, plus 2.5% of the original purchase price of the long-term property used in the production of income—for example, the real property or equipment used in the business.

This deduction is scheduled to end on January 1, 2026.

13. Employees

Employee salaries are fully deductible by the employer. Also deductible is the employer's share of payroll taxes.

Many employee fringe benefits are also deductible for the employer and tax-free for the employee—for example, employee health insurance.

14. Independent Contractors

When you hire an independent contractor—that is, a person who is not your employee—to perform services for your business, the cost is deductible as well. For example, you may deduct the cost of hiring a bookkeeper to do your books or a custodian to clean your offices.

15. Home Office

You qualify for the home office deduction if you use a space in your home regularly and exclusively for your business. It can be your principal place of business, a place you meet clients or customers, or a place you use for administrative tasks. It can be all or part of a room or rooms in your home or a separate structure.

The amount of the deduction is based on the percentage of your home you use for your business office. The deduction includes the home office percentage of your rent or mortgage, utilities, depreciation if you own your home, insurance, home maintenance, and other home expenses. Expenses just for your home office are 100% deductible—for example, painting your home office or adding a carpet.

Additional Write-Offs: Easily Overlooked Business Expenses

Here are some additional routine deductions that many business owners miss:

  • bank service charges
  • business association dues
  • business gifts (limited to $25 per gift)
  • business-related magazines and books
  • casual labor and tips
  • casualty and theft losses
  • coffee and beverage service
  • commissions
  • consultant fees
  • credit bureau fees
  • office supplies
  • parking and meters
  • petty cash funds
  • postage
  • seminars and trade shows, and
  • taxi, bus, and Uber-type fares.

Read More Articles

Find out about IRS audit rates and the odds of being audited in What Are the Triggers of IRS Tax Audits?

Learn how much time most people spend doing business taxes.

Get information about common tax deductions for individuals.

Get More Information

For more information on this and other tax issues for small businesses, get Deduct It! Lower Your Small Business Taxes, by Stephen Fishman (Nolo).

If you need more help, talk to a tax professional, such as a certified public accountant or a tax attorney. A tax professional can prepare tax returns or provide tax information, guidance, or representation before the IRS.

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