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Do You Have a Hobby or a Business?


Caterer? Cupcake baker? Craft jeweler? Maybe even a glassblower? Your passion may have led to income. You should know about the special rules and limits for deductions.

To start with, is your passion a business or a hobby? The IRS says people start a business to make a profit, whereas a hobby can be engaged in as a sport or for recreation. Here are some factors to help you decide:

  • Do you carry on the activity in a businesslike manner — for example, keeping track of your finances with complete and accurate records?
  • Does the time and effort you put into the activity indicate that you intend to make it profitable?
  • Do you depend on income from the activity?
  • Are your losses due to circumstances beyond your control?
  • Do you have the knowledge to carry on the activity as a successful business?
  • Have you made a profit at this in the past?
  • Can you expect to make a future profit from the appreciation of the assets used in the activity?

The answers you give should be based on facts and circumstances, the agency states. If you have determined that you have an expensive hobby, can you deduct any of your expenses? With the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the short answer is no.

If you're legitimately in a business, you can deduct expenses for that business and possibly take a loss if your business isn't profitable. If you're not in business to make a profit, the IRS considers that your activity is not for profit and says you cannot deduct expenses to get a loss to offset other income.

Many legitimate businesses start out with a loss in their first few years. However, the IRS expects that a legitimate business is set up with the intention to make a profit. Let's take the example of an artist who wants to claim expenses. The artist has to show that he or she is following good business practices and intends to make a profit.

A legitimate business, according to the IRS:

  • Has a primary purpose to make income or profit.
  • Is engaged in with continuity and regularity.

In general, although there may be exceptions, the IRS will let you call what you have a business if you earn a profit during any three out of five consecutive years.

Being able to show that you employ good business practices should help, too. These include:

  • Setting up a separate business account.
  • Keeping business and personal expenses separate.
  • Maintaining a good business recordkeeping system.
  • Registering the business with a state as an LLC or partnership.
  • Complying with state and federal tax laws, including collecting sales taxes and paying annual state business renewal fees or franchise taxes.
  • Having regular business hours or maintaining a business website.

Are you unsure about what you have on your hands? Or do you want to explore turning a hobby into a business? Get qualified legal and financial advice to make sure you're following the rules — and not missing out on any tax breaks you're entitled to.

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Our firm provides the information in this e-newsletter for general guidance only, and does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services, investment advice, or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional tax, accounting, legal, or other competent advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation. Tax articles in this e-newsletter are not intended to be used, and cannot be used by any taxpayer, for the purpose of avoiding accuracy-related penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer. The information is provided "as is," with no assurance or guarantee of completeness, accuracy, or timeliness of the information, and without warranty of any kind, express or implied, including but not limited to warranties of performance, merchantability, and fitness for a particular purpose.
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