Recently someone asked me if he could write off his iPad as a business expense. Now for that guy—the answer was a resounding, “Yes!” But I knew all of the circumstances and I knew he had an audit proof reason for the iPad. For most people though—deducting the iPad purchase is a resounding, “Maybe.”
First, you need to consider if the purchase of your iPad would be an “ordinary and necessary” expense for your business? Now in the case of my iPad guy, he’s a computer programmer and he had been hired to develop some apps specifically for the iPad. Although he felt confident that he could develop the apps without an iPad, he thought it might be useful to own one. (Okay, duh! I think he just wanted me to okay his iPad purchase to his wife.)
But you don’t need to be a programmer to justify the expense; there are plenty of really good uses of an iPad for your business. I could just set up a video camera and let my husband do a 20 minute infomercial about why every business person in America needs an iPad. He actually bought his for fun and found that it’s great for his business; he uses it all the time. I think many businesses would pass the “ordinary and necessary” requirements for the write off of a tool like that.
Second, you need to consider how much you’d use it for business. This is really important because the iPad counts as “listed property.” Listed property is the fun stuff. Cameras, computers, and stereo equipment—basically the fun stuff that you can get at Best Buy. Cars are also considered to be listed property.
So here’s the deal—if you buy business equipment that is not listed property—like a file cabinet, and then you quit using it—the IRS doesn’t really care too much about that. But if you buy some fancy video equipment “for business” and then don’t use if for business—well the IRS has some ideas about that and those ideas will all cost you some money! Basically, anytime your business use of listed property falls below 50%—then you’re going to have to “recapture” (that means pay tax) on the deduction that you took earlier on your next tax return. Yuck!
Let’s take that iPad for example. A new iPad costs $500. You buy it this year and you take the Section 179 deduction for it and write off the whole $500 as a business expense for your sole proprietorship. (A Section 179 deduction is what you call it when you buy a piece of equipment and expense the whole thing instead of depreciating it. Depreciation is where you buy something expensive and write off the expense over a couple of years—it depends upon the equipment to determine how long the write off is for.)
That’s all fine and dandy if you use the iPad 100% for business and you keep using it for business. But let’s say you buy it, write it off, and then next year you give it to your daughter for school. Now it’s not a business tool anymore. If you do that—the IRS will make you “recapture” the unused depreciation. So next year, you’d have $400 of extra income to pay tax on. (Because they’d let you keep the $100 expense deduction for the year you used the iPad for business.)
Now I realize that I’m oversimplifying things—but that’s the basic gist of it. It’s okay to buy cool stuff for your business. It’s okay to write it off. But if you’re not going to be using it for the full term of its use (most things are 5 years) then you might want to think twice before writing off the whole thing.