Tips for Tax Season

A recent report in Newsday suggests that small businesses and home-based workers could be missing out on some key tax deductions and quotes Eva Rosenberg, author of Small Business Taxes Made Easy (McGraw-Hill; $16.95) and publisher of Northridge, CA-based, an online tax resource, who notes, "Many small businesses are cheating themselves out of at least $2,000 to $3,000 worth of tax benefits a year by not knowing the deductions and credits available to them.”

The report continues that this is particularly true for businesses that may be doing their own taxes. While it's always prudent to consult with a tax professional, here are some deductions independent travel agents shouldn't miss out on:

Automobile. There are two ways to deduct business-related car expenses: the standard mileage allowance or the actual expense method, which allows you to deduct the out-of-pocket costs for operating your car for business, plus an allowance for depreciation if you own the car. For 2008, the mileage rate was 50.5 cents for the first half of the year and 58.5 cents for the second half. Be sure to keep good records (mileage, purpose of trip).

Entertainment and travel.
General business travel and travel to attend trade shows or courses are deductible. Business-related meals and entertainment expenditures that are not reimbursed have a 50 percent deductible limit.

Business gifts. The limit on tax-deductible gifts is $25 per recipient per year. That doesn't include "incidental costs" such as engraving on jewelry, gift wrapping, etc.

Leasehold improvements. If you make qualified leasehold improvements to your office, you may be eligible to write off 50 percent of those costs in the first year and depreciate the rest over a 15-year period.

Equipment and/or machinery. For 2008, businesses can write off the first $250,000 worth of machinery and equipment purchases provided they were put into use before year-end. There are certain limitations, including that the deduction cannot create a net operating loss.

Start-up costs. You can deduct up to $5,000 in business start-up costs (investigating the business, surveys, travel), providing start-up expenses don't exceed $50,000. The excess over $5,000 must be amortized over 180 months.

Home office. If you use a portion of your home for business, you may qualify for a home office deduction. Expenses that you may be able to deduct for business use of the home may include the business portion of real estate taxes, mortgage interest, rent, utilities, insurance, depreciation, painting and repairs. You can claim this deduction for the business use of a part of your home only if you use that part of your home regularly and exclusively:

    • As your principal place of business for any trade or business
    • As a place to meet or deal with your patients, clients or customers in the normal course of your trade or business

Generally, the amount you can deduct depends on the percentage of your home that you used for business. Your deduction will be limited if your gross income from your business is less than your total business expenses. Visit for more information.

Ongoing costs of doing business. This includes utilities, shipping, office supplies, advertising and marketing, rental and lease payments, telephone and Internet charges, according to the National Federation of Independent Business in Washington, D.C.

Keeping your hands clean.
Keeping good books and records is key for any small business. For one, it helps you keep track of expenses. A lot of businesses short themselves by overlooking business expenses paid for in cash. They either lose the receipt or forget to record it. Beyond that, good record-keeping is important if your return is ever called into question. Try to keep a separate credit card just for business to track expenditures.

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