Legalities & Tax Advantages in a Home Business
Every year, several thousand people develop an interest in “going
into business.” Many of these people have an idea, a product or a
service they hope to promote into an income producing business
which they can operate from their homes.
If you are one of these people, here are some practical thoughts
to consider before hanging out the “Open for Business” sign.
In areas zoned “Residential Only,” your proposed business could
be illegal. In many areas, zoning restrictions rule out home
businesses involving the coming and going of many customers,
clients or employees. Many businesses that sell or even store
anything for sale on the premises also fall into this category.
Be sure to check with your local zoning office to see how the
ordinances in your particular area may affect your business
plans. You may need a special permit to operate your business
from your home; and you may find that making small changes in
your plan will put you into the position of meeting zoning
Many communities grant home occupation permits for businesses
involve typing, sewing, and teaching, but turn thumbs down on
requests from photographers, interior decorators and home
improvement businesses to be run from the home. And often, even
if you are permitted to use your home for a given business, there
will be restrictions that you may need to take into
consideration. By all means, work with your zoning people, and
save yourself time, trouble and dollars.
One of the requirements imposed might be off street parking for
your customers or patrons. And, signs are generally forbidden in
residential districts. If you teach, there is almost always a
limit on the number of students you may have at any one time.
Obtaining zoning approval for your business, then, could be as
simple as filling out an application, or it could involve a
public hearing. The important points the zoning officials will
consider will center around how your business will affect the
neighborhood. Will it increase the traffic noticeably on your
street? Will there be a substantial increase in noise? And how
will your neighbors feel about this business alongside their
To repeat, check into the zoning restrictions, and then check
again to determine if you will need a city license. If you’re
selling something, you may need a vendor’s license, and be
required to collect sales taxes on your transactions. The sale
tax requirement would result in the need for careful record
Licensing can be an involved process, and depending upon the type
of business, it could even involve the inspection of your home to
determine if it meets with local health and building and fire
codes. Should this be the case, you will need to bring your
facilities up to the local standards. Usually this will involve
some simple repairs or adjustments that you can either do
personally, or hire out to a handyman at a nominal cost.
Still more items to consider: Will your homeowner’s insurance
cover the property and liability in your new business? This must
definitely be resolved, so be sure to talk it over with your
Tax deductions, which were once one of the beauties of engaging
in a home business, are not what they once were. To be eligible
for business related deductions today, you must use that part of
your home claimed EXCLUSIVELY AND REGULARLY as either the
principal location of your business, or place reserved to meet
patients, clients or customers.
An interesting case in point: if you use your den or a spare
bedroom as the principal place of business, working there from
8:00 to 5:00 every day, but permit your children to watch TV in
that room during evening hours, the IRS dictates that you cannot
claim a deduction for that room as your office or place of
There are, however, a couple of exceptions to the “exclusive use”
rule. One is the storage on inventory in your home, where your
home is the location of your trade or business, and your trade or
business is the selling of products at retail or wholesale.
According to the IRS, such storage space must be used on a
REGULAR Basis, and be separately identifiable space.
Another exception applies to daycare services that are provided
for children, the elderly, or physically or mentally handicapped.
This exception applies only if the owner of the facility complies
with the state laws for licensing.
To be eligible for business deductions, your business must be an
activity undertaken with the intent of making profit. It’s
presumed you meet this requirement if your business makes a
profit in any two years of a five-year period.
Once you are this far along, you can deduct business expenses
such as supplies, subscriptions to professional journals, and an
allowance for the business use of your car or truck. You can also
claim deductions for home related business expenses such as
utilities, and in some cases, even a new paint job for your home.
The IRS is going to treat the part of your home you use for
business as though it were a separate piece of property. This
means that you’ll have to keep good records and take care not to
mix business and personal matters. No specific method of record
keeping is required, but your records must clearly justify and
deductions you claim.
You can begin by calculating what percentage of the house is used
for business, Either by number of rooms or by area in square
footage. Thus, if you use one of the five rooms for your
business, the business portion is 20 percent. If you run your
business out of a room that’s 10 by 12 feet, and the total area
of your home is 1,200 square feet, the business space factor is
An extra computation is required if your business is a home day
care center. This is one of the exempted activities in which the
exclusive use rule doesn’t apply. Check with your tax preparer
and the IRS for an exact determination.
If you’re a renter, you can deduct the part of your rent which is
attributable to the business share of your house or apartment.
Homeowners can take a deduction based on the depreciation of the
business portion of their house.
There is a limit to the amount you can deduct. This is the amount
equal to the gross income generated by the business, minus those
home expenses you could deduct even if you weren’t operating a
business from your home. As an example, real estate taxes and
mortgage interest are deductible regardless of any business
activity in your home, so you must subtract from your business
gross income the percentage that’s allocable to the business
portion of your home. You thus arrive at the maximum amount for
home-related business deductions.
If you are self-employed, you claim your business deductions on
SCHEDULE C, PROFIT(or LOSS) for BUSINESS OR PROFESSION. The IRS
emphasizes that claiming business-at-home deductions does not
automatically trigger an audit on your tax return. Even so, it is
always wise to keep meticulously within the proper guidelines,
and of course keep detailed records if you claim business related
expenses when you are working out of your home. You should
discuss this aspect of your operation with your tax preparer or a
person qualified in the field of small business tax requirements.
If your business earnings aren’t subject to withholding tax, and
your estimated federal taxes are $100 or more, you’ll probably be
filing a Declaration of Estimated Tax, Form 1040 ES. To complete
this form, you will have to estimate your income for the coming
year and also make a computation of the income tax and
self-employed tax you will owe.
The self-employment taxes pay for Social Security coverage.
If you have a salaried job covered by Social Security, the
self-employment tax applies only to that amount of your home
business income that, when added to your salary, reaches the
current ceiling. When you file your Form 1040-ES, which is due
April 15, you must make the first of four equal installment
payments on your estimated tax bill.
Another good way to trim taxes is by setting up a Keogh plan or
an Individual Retirement Account. With either of these, you can
shelter some of your home business income from taxes by investing
it for your retirement.
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