Business or Hobby...What Would the IRS Call YOUR Business?


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One thing we know for sure… direct sellers start their businesses for a wide variety of reasons. Some want to build a dynasty, some want the tax benefits, some do it to buy and share a product they believe in, while others are simply looking for a way to have fun and make a little money on the side.

Taking time to define your business purpose and goals is critical. Why? Because the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has different rules for each level of interest you take in your business. You want to be familiar with these rules, as they have a dramatic impact on your ability to take deductions or even losses on your tax return. To determine how the IRS views your business, we will focus on the flags and warnings that traditionally separate the serious business builder from those that do not demonstrate a clear motive to make a profit.

Why is motive so important? Because in many ways, it determines the deductions you can legitimately take with regard to your business. There are two primary actions that are viewed by the IRS as evidence of a lack of profit motive. They are:

  1. Sales to others at your wholesale price

  2. Little time or effort invested in the building of your business

If either of these describe you, realize that it could be argued that you are not running your business with intent to make a profit and therefore could be categorized as a hobby, not a business. This, in turn, could result in the disallowing of otherwise legitimate business deductions. Now that we have your attention, let’s look at how you can meet the criteria that secures your status as a home-based business? Keep in mind that “saying" you are doing the following is not enough. You will need to provide proof that you are practicing legitimate business procedures in the event the IRS ever challenges your business status.

Following is a Four-Point Quick Check list for assessing whether your business would be deemed a hobby or a legitimate business.

  1. I work my business regularly. This work should be at least 45 minutes per day at least 4 out of 5 days in the week. Alternatively, you could work at least one full day per week in your business.

  2. I document all my business activity. This means you should keep an appointment book showing all your business activities. You should keep a mileage log for business miles and you should keep your receipts filed and well organized.

  3. I use my home office exclusively for business. This means you should protect your home office deductions by only using it for business. The only exception to exclusive use is inventory storage. You are allowed to deduct the portion of a space where you keep your inventory.

  4. I keep a separate set of books and maintain good tax records. All serious business professionals need to keep records. You are in business to make money – you simply won’t know how you’re doing unless you keep good records. Another advantage to this is that you can see areas where you can change what you’re spending and/or focus on the products that are bringing in the most revenue.

So how did you do? Are you able to say with confidence that you practice each of these four things on a regular basis? If your answer is yes – congratulations! You are well within the guidelines of a legitimate business and can very likely report any losses on your Schedule C tax form without worry of the IRS calling your business a hobby. Perhaps your response is not quite so confident. Perhaps your intention is to do these things but you don’t have evidence that you do so on a consistent basis. If this is true for you, you just might be in jeopardy of having your business be considered a hobby and lose all the fabulous tax benefits as a result. If you answered “no" to any of these questions you may be on the verge of being classified a hobby and denied your right to deduct certain expenses as well as business losses.

If your intention is to build a profitable business, you must make some changes by taking these important steps:

  • Maintain proof of sales at the retail price

  • Spend more time on your business each week

  • Document all business-building activities thoroughly

While all these steps take time and effort, they are absolutely necessary in order to protect your status as a business and your right to report losses on your Schedule C without worry of the IRS denying your deductions. OK, despite your best efforts, let’s imagine that you cannot meet the requirements set forth by the IRS and your business is categorized as a hobby – what then? The answer may surprise you and serve as a motivator to work a little harder.

Expenses incurred as a result of your hobby are shown as miscellaneous deductions on a Schedule A and are subject to the 2%-of-adjusted-gross-income limit. You can list them in the following order:

  • Category 1 Regular deductions for Schedule A, such as mortgage interest, taxes, etc. are deductible as non business deductions

  • Category 2 Ordinary business deductions to the extent of business income – such as advertising, insurance premiums, interest, etc. (This category does not include depreciation)

  • Category 3 Depreciation and amortization to the extent of any remaining business income

Have more than one business? Each will have to be evaluated separately for profit motive and each can be treated differently on your tax return. For example, you may sell decorative items for the home to friends and family (schedule A – no losses allowed), while your other business, which involves health and wellness products, is the one where you focus your profit intent (Schedule C – losses allowed with proper documentation) The lesson learned here is clear –it makes good business sense to carefully track your expenses as well as your business activity so that you don’t lose out on potentially thousands of dollars in tax savings available to you as a legitimate home based business owner.

About The Author

This article has been provided by Vicky Collins, The Financial Center Director for the Direct Selling Women’s Association. The Association offers a community web site where direct sellers enjoy 24-hour access to industry specific information and resources designed to help them successfully manage their direct selling business. Discover this one-of-a-kind, all-inclusive business-building resource at or contact them at .


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