How the IRS Decides If Your Hobby Is a Real Business

How the IRS Decides If Your Hobby Is a Real Business

It appears your business isn’t generating profit for you. And you are aware that the IRS will not accept your business deductions if your business is perceived as a hobby. But what should we actually believe?

It is crucial that we are able to differentiate between hobby and business because a legal business can deduct its expenses and possibly take a loss if it is not profitable. However, if the IRS thinks you are running a hobby, you will not be able to deduct expenses to get a loss to offset other income.

We’ll be considering the requirements employed in determining if an activity is a hobby or a business by the IRS.


How To Tell If You Have a Business or a Hobby

To be able to properly estimate taxes, the IRS must be able to differentiate between a hobby and a legitimate startup. They look at businesses as a venture that prioritizes profit-making, while hobbies are not geared towards profits.

The IRS specifically stated that a legitimate business has a key purpose of “income or profit” and is involved in a profit or income-seeking activity with “regularity or continuity.” 


Here Are The IRS Nine Factors Test You Should Know

There are nine factors enlisted by the IRS to determine if a business is a legitimate business or hobby. Considering each case on its own merits.

i. Do you run your activity like a legit business – keeping accurate business records with a business checking account?

ii. Do you have a marketing strategy for growing your business and other considerations to increase customers.

iii. Do you survive from the profits from this activity?Do your business have losses that are beyond your control?

iv. Do you put in necessary adjustments to your operations that are targeted at increasing profits?

v. Do you have the required expertise for your business and also employ competent hands?

vi. Have you ever succeeded in similar ventures before now?

vii. Do you make a profit in some years and how much?

viii. Do you have a projected profit figure in the future over your activity?

Some income types such as dog breeding, fishing, writing, craft sales, photography, and horse racing among others, have greater potential as hobbies, and the IRS takes a close look at them.

The tax return has no place for you to designate the tax deductions from your activity as a hobby or business. You claim deductions on your business tax return for a year, and the IRS determines if your deductions can be permitted as the result of an audit.


Business vs. Hobby Rules for Business Types

Small businesses formed as partnerships, sole proprietorships, or limited liability companies (LLCs) are subject to the business-vs-hobby rules.


How Businesses Or Hobbies Can Deduct Expenses

An entrepreneur can choose to deduct the required business expenses totally from the business. And if the business has a loss, it can be harnessed to offset other earnings of the owner’s personal tax return.

Previously, hobbyists could decide to deduct the expenses that are as much as the amount of their hobby income. But that’s no longer applicable. From the 2018 tax year, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act erased the possibility of hobbyists deducting non-business expenses as miscellaneous expenses on Schedule A of Form 1040. The business owner is still expected to provide a report on the hobby income on their tax return.


IRS Determination Postponement on Your Business Case

Possibly, you may desire that the IRS postpone determining the profitability of your activity to acknowledge if it is a for-profit or not-for-profit through an election to offer you a long time to build profit. Consider Form 5213 to achieve this.

The election should be made within 36 months after the due date of your return for the first tax year you get involved in the activity. This means that if you begin your business in 2020, the election must be made before the end of 2023.

The positive angle to making this election is that your business will not be questioned immediately by the IRS if it is for-profit or not-for-profit. So, you’ll have two more years to reveal a profit. However, if you do not have the needed years of profit, the limit can be retroactively applied to any year with a loss in five years.


Ways To Improve Your Position as a For-Profit Business

There are ways you can be seen as a legitimate business. And it would be helpful if you can reveal that you stick to the right business practices. Some of the practices include:

– Putting in place a separate business checking account.

– Separating personal expenses from the business.

– Registering your business as an LLC in your state.

– Adhering to all necessary federal and state tax laws, including paying franchise taxes and annual state business renewal fees, and also collecting sales taxes.

– Keeping a solid business website and regulating business working hours.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


How often does the IRS audit to see whether an entity is a business or a hobby?

There is really no specific pattern of regulating tax auditing to achieve this kind of goal. However, the IRS audits if it sees potential concerns about the individual’s activity – whether it is a hobby or a legitimate business.

Possible triggers of tax audit could include: 

– If there is little to no income generated from the activity.

– If the activity provides a huge benefit to the taxpayer.

– If losses from the activity are subject to offset other income on the tax return.

– If there is no profit on record for the past years.

The tax auditor the different factors that determine hobby and business activity and considers them on a case-by-case basis.

How many years of losses can I have before the IRS declares my business a hobby?

The IRS takes an activity to be different from a hobby and profitable if it has made profits within at least its past three of its five years of running. And if it doesn’t, the IRS can decide to review the situation of the business to determine if it’s a for-profit or not.

Other things to put into consideration is if the business operates in a proper business structure, with promotional activity and marketing in place to encourage sales. And also if the profit is what you depend on for livelihood. Every situation is reviewed differently as determined by each case.

– How do I calculate AGI for a hobby loss?

AGI, also known as Adjusted Gross Income, is gross income on tax return minus adjustment.

It often includes capital gains, wages, business income, and dividends. After filing your business tax return for a year, the IRS may decide to do a tax audit if they are unclear if it is a hobby or a legitimate business.

And if they determine that it is a hobby, you cannot offset other income to calculate your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI). The income generated from this activity must still be reported.

In 2017 the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act removed the deduction of expenses that was possible on Schedule A of Form 1040 as miscellaneous deductions.


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