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Hobby or Business? IRS Offers Tips to Decide

IRS Small Business Week Tax Tip 2017-04, May 3, 2017


Millions of people enjoy hobbies that are also a source of income. From catering to cupcake baking, crafting homemade jewelry to glass blowing -- no matter what a person’s passion, the Internal Revenue Service offers some tips on hobbies.

Taxpayers must report on their tax return the income earned from hobbies. The rules for how to report the income and expenses depend on whether the activity is a hobby or a business. There are special rules and limits for deductions taxpayers can claim for hobbies. Here are five tax tips to consider:

  1. Is it a Business or a Hobby?  A key feature of a business is that people do it to make a profit. People engage in a hobby for sport or recreation, not to make a profit. Consider nine factors when determining whether an activity is a hobby. Make sure to base the determination on all the facts and circumstances. For more about ‘not-for-profit’ rules, see Publication 535, Business Expenses.
     
  2. Allowable Hobby Deductions.  Within certain limits, taxpayers can usually deduct ordinary and necessary hobby expenses. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted for the activity. A necessary expense is one that is appropriate for the activity.
     
  3. Limits on Hobby Expenses.  Generally, taxpayers can only deduct hobby expenses up to the amount of hobby income. If hobby expenses are more than its income, taxpayers have a loss from the activity. However, a hobby loss can’t be deducted from other income.
     
  4. How to Deduct Hobby Expenses.  Taxpayers must itemize deductions on their tax return to deduct hobby expenses. Expenses may fall into three types of deductions, and special rules apply to each type. See Publication 535 for the rules about how to claim them on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions.
     
  5. Use IRS Free File.  Hobby rules can be complex and IRS Free File can make filing a tax return easier. IRS Free File is available until Oct. 16. Taxpayers earning $64,000 or less can use brand-name tax software. Those earning more can use Free File Fillable Forms, an electronic version of IRS paper forms. Free File is available only through the IRS.gov website.

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