Business or Hobby? What’s the tax difference?

For federal tax purposes, the determination of “business” or “hobby” is a matter of deduction. If your new venture is considered a business, you can deduct losses against other income.

However, when the activity is classified as a hobby, the “hobby loss” rules limit the amount you can write off. Expenses you incur might be deductible only if you itemize – or they might even be nondeductible.

The distinction affects the amount of tax you owe. So how can you prove you’re trying to run a money-making business despite several years of losses?

One test you’re probably familiar with is the general rule of earning a profit in three of the past five years. If your business has more income than deductions in three of five consecutive taxable years, the IRS generally accepts that you have a profit motive. (The time frame is two years in seven for certain horse-related activities.)

Unable to meet that test? Additional factors play a role as well. For instance, the Tax Court agreed that a volleyball consulting service with multiple loss years qualified as a business, in part because of a businesslike manner of operation. Among other items, the Court mentioned the maintenance of a separate bank account and accurate records as support for a profit motive.

Positive indicators of your profit-making intentions also include your expertise in the activity, the time and effort you put into your new business, and your success in other ventures.

If you’d like a complete list of the IRS “business vs. hobby” criteria, please contact us. We’ll be happy to review the guidelines with you.

 

About Brenda J. McGivern, CPA

Brenda McGivern started her own certified public accounting and management consulting firm in October 2001. The full service CPA firm provides tax and accounting solutions to meet the needs of today's small business and individual. Brenda McGivern has become a trusted advisor and valuable resource her clients rely on for timely, accurate assistance when they need it. Before starting the firm, she worked as an accountant for three years at a local firm and prior to that five years at a large international CPA firm in Boston. She has performed the following tax services: federal, state and local tax planning, international tax planning, estate and succession planning, mergers and acquisitions, capital retention and IRS representation. She has also coordinated assurance engagements, such as financial statement audits, reviews and compilations from the planning phase through the reporting phase. She has prepared and reviewed regulatory filings for numerous regulatory agencies including the Security and Exchange Commission. Prior to these positions she was selected from over 2,000 candidates into an eight-person intensive financial management program at an international technology company. The program consisted of graduate level classroom study and two six-month rotational assignments in financial operations. She graduated cum laude from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and holds a Bachelors Degree in Business Administration with a concentration in accounting. McGivern also holds a license in Massachusetts as a Certified Public Accountant and is a member of the American Society of Certified Public Accountants and the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants. She resides in Stoughton, Massachusetts with her husband Brian, and their sons Sean, Ryan and Conor and their dog, Davis.
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