Generally, start-up expenses include all expenses incurred to investigate the formation or acquisition of a business or to engage in a for-profit activity in anticipation of that activity becoming an active business. To be eligible for the election, an expense must also be one that would be deductible if it were incurred after the business actually began. An example of a start-up expense is the cost of analyzing the potential market for a new product.
As with most tax benefits, there is always a catch. Congress put a cap on the amount of start-up expenses that can be claimed as a deduction under this special election. Here’s how to determine the deduction: If the expenses are $50,000 or less, you can elect to deduct up to $5,000 in the first year, plus you can amortize the balance over 180 months. If the expenses are more than $50,000, then the $5,000 first-year write-off is reduced dollar-for-dollar for every dollar in start-up expenses that exceed $50,000. For example, if start-up costs were $54,000, the first-year write-off would be limited to $1,000 ($5,000 – ($54,000 – $50,000)).
The election to deduct start-up costs is made by claiming the deduction on the return for the year in which the active trade or business begins, and the return must be filed by the extended due date.
Qualifying Start-Up Costs – A qualifying start-up cost is one that would be deductible if it were paid or incurred to operate an existing active business in the same field as the new business and the cost is paid or incurred before the day the active trade or business begins. Not includible are taxes, interest, and research and experimental costs. Examples of qualified start-up costs include:
- Surveys/analyses of potential markets, labor supply, products, transportation facilities, etc.;
- Wages paid to employees and their instructors while they are being trained;
- Advertisements related to opening the business;
- Fees and salaries paid to consultants or others for professional services; and
- Travel and other related costs to secure prospective customers, distributors, and suppliers.
For the purchase of an active trade or business, only investigative costs incurred while conducting a general search for or preliminary investigation of the business (i.e., costs that help the taxpayer decide whether to purchase a new business and which one to purchase) are qualified start-up costs. Costs incurred attempting to buy a specific business are capital expenses that aren’t treated as start-up costs.
Toby Mathis, is a founding partner of Anderson Law Group and current manager of Anderson’s Las Vegas office. He has helped Anderson grow its practice from one of business and estate planning to a thriving tax practice and national registered agent service with more than 18,000 clients. In his work as an attorney, he has focused exclusively in areas of small business, taxation, and trusts. In addition, Toby was the past director and host of the longest-running local business radio program on KNUU in Las Vegas “The BOSS Business Brief”. He sits on the board of directors for several companies and was recently appointed to the local board of Entrepreneurs’ Organization, a worldwide association of owners of successful businesses. He has authored more than 100 articles on small business topics and has written several books on good business practices, including first and second editions of Tax-Wise Business Ownership and 12 Steps to Running a Successful Business.