Deducting Your Starbucks Coffee on Your Income Tax Return

December 17, 2013 by Jan Roberg · 2 Comments
Filed under: Business, Business Expense, Small Business, Taxes 
Starbucks coffee as a business expense

Meeting for coffee is a deductible business expense.

If you deduct business expenses on your tax return, then you probably already know that if you meet someone for a meal that you can deduct 50% of the bill as a “meal and entertainment” expense. You can’t deduct the cost of just yourself going to lunch, since you have to buy your own lunch anyway. For example: if I go to McDonald’s by myself this afternoon and get a Big Mac; even though I go during my business lunch hour–it’s not a deductible expense at all. But if I take Mike, my employee, to McDonald’s for lunch and I pay for his meal as well–then I can claim 50% of the bill as a business expense because we’ll be talking shop.

This is where Starbucks comes in. I suspect that more business is conducted at Starbucks coffe shops than anywhere else. It’s sort of every small business owner’s “office away from home”–neutral networking territory. If you do the whole networking thing, certainly you’ve had the “Let’s meet for coffee” meeting.

Coffee meetings are safe. Generally you’re not billing for time at a Starbucks meeting. Being an accountant, I think some people are afraid to come to my office. They think that if they walk though my door I’ll put the meter on and start billing them. (I’m not that bad, really!)

Many small business owners don’t have offices, so Starbucks is a good place to hold a meeting. I know some small business owners who spend hours at Starbucks. For the price of a cup of coffee you also get a table to work at and an internet connection.

So, how do Starbucks coffee receipts fit into your tax return? I’ve got two ways:

  1. 1. You meet a business acquaintance for coffee and you pick up the tab for both of you. Keep track of the meeting and you easily meet the 50% deductible rule.

  1. 2. You meet a business acquaintance for coffee but you only pay for your own coffee. (This is pretty common.) You can still probably claim this as a business expense but you have to be a little more careful. There’s an old 1953 court case (Sutter v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue http://www.leagle.com/decision/195319121ttc170_1172) that states that you can’t deduct entertainment expenses just for yourself if you’re paying what you normally pay for something.

So — If you’re going to Starbucks everyday and picking up a latte whether you’ve got a meeting or not– that’s a normal expense for you so a Dutch Treat Starbucks coffee isn’t a deductible business expense for you.

On the other hand, if you’re not buying gourmet coffee unless you’re at a business meeting, then you’d be allowed to claim that expense. The whole key here is to document, document, document.  For me–I pay a $30 fee to my office manager so that I may have coffee at work. At one cup a day, that works out to $1.50.  At Starbucks, my coffee costs $4.50;  so clearly, I’m not normally spending $4.50 on coffee unless I’m having a meeting.

Under the Sutter rules, I don’t have to subtract my normal coffee cost from what I spend, I can deduct 50% of the whole cost. I just have to be able to prove that my normal coffee cost is less than $4.50.

Does the IRS really go back to 1953 tax court cases when they audit returns? Yes, as a matter of fact, they do. Even though there have been significant changes to tax law since that case, Sutter is still invoked in audit cases with high entertainment expenses.

Personally, given how many people use Starbucks for their meeting rooms and internet connections, I think the IRS should allow a 100% deduction for Starbucks as a rent and computer expense. But don’t try that, it won’t fly with the IRS. The best you’ll get is a 50% deductible meals and entertainment expense.

Sole Proprietor: You Gotta Have a Home Office

June 1, 2012 by Jan Roberg · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business, Deductions, Small Business 
Home Office

Photo by f.x.l. at flickr.com.

Right now, I’m sitting in my comfy chair in the corner by the window of my home office and drinking a freshly brewed cup of coffee from my favorite mug.  The dog has done her security patrol of the perimeter, deemed me to be safe from the local deer and bunny rabbits, and has settled in for her morning nap. I’m having one of those, “This is why I’m doing this,” kind of moments and it’s nice.

As a tax person who specializes in small businesses, I get asked a lot of questions about different business practices–Should I set up an LLC?  I always answer, “That depends.”  Should I lease a car or buy it?  That depends.  Should I set up as a sub-chapter S corporation?  That depends.  You get the picture.  But when people ask me about a home office I always say, “Yes!  Every small business owner who files a schedule C should have a home office.”  My answer has nothing to do with the comfy chair and coffee either.  As usual with me–it’s all about the money.

 

A home office is good for your tax return.  First, you get to use a portion of your living expenses (that you would already be paying anyway) to offset your self employment income.  Remember–your self employment income is taxed at 13.2% more than your regular income tax so even something like your mortgage interest-which is already deductible, is a better deduction when it goes against your self employment income.  Kaching!

a home office is foThe other reason you want r your mileage.  Yes, you read that right–you want the home office deduction to claim mileage.  Here’s the deal–let’s say you’re a contractor, you drive to jobs all over town.  You probably put close to 20,000 miles on your truck a year for business.   You claim that on your tax return and get audited.  (Side note:  claiming exactly 20,000 business miles on your tax return will get you audited it’s a red flag.)  Anyway, you go through the audit process and the IRS disallows all 20,000 miles because you’re commuting to those job sites from your home and commuting miles are not tax deductible.  That’s over $3800 worth of tax money that you just lost right there.  Add the fines and penalties and you’re well over 5 grand in tax debt.

But if you had a home office–all of that mileage becomes deductible because ou’re traveling from your office to a job site.

But what if I don’t really have a home office? Seriously, you need to set something up.  It doesn’t have to be a whole room–it can be a corner of a room (like my comfy chair spot although most people have a desk or table.)  You can’t just say you have a home office on your tax return and not really have one.  (You’ve heard of fraud, right?)  Be be realistic.  If you have a small business–you’ve got something–files, or a computer, or make up, or something–and it needs to be put someplace.  You need a spot to make phone calls from, pay the business bills, do your adminsitrative work–that’s your home office.

Aren’t I more likely to get audited if I claim a home office? To be honest, I keep hearing that, but my experience says no.  The only time I’ve seen home office expenses audited was when they really were wrong and it was part of a broader audit.  (Oh yeah, and when I redid those numbers correctly the taxpayer got a bigger home office deduction.)  Be honest about it and you’ve got nothing to worry about.

But what if I have a real office in a business building that I go to every day? Can I still have a home office?  Yes you can.  You make your home office your administrative office.  Like I said, pay bills, balance the business check book.  I never meet clients in my home office, they always come to my “business office” location.  My business office doesn’t prevent me from having an “administrative” office at home.

If you’d like more information about claiming a home office, try this link:  http://robergtaxsolutions.com/2010/09/can-you-claim-a-home-office-deduction/ It has more information about the rules and what the IRS is looking for.  But seriously, if you’re a sole proprietor, you need a home office.

 

 

 

How to File an Extension for Your Sub-Chapter S Corporation

March 9, 2012 by Jan Roberg · 9 Comments
Filed under: Business 

Form 7004

Sub-Chapter S Corporation tax returns (1120S) are due on March 15th. Are you done yet? If not, you might need to file for an extension. Here’s how:

First, make sure you really are a Sub-S Corp. I know that sounds silly, but every year (really, every year) I run into someone who thinks they have a Sub-S Corporation and doesn’t. It’s really important not to file paperwork for an entity that you’re not. If you’re an LLC that wants to be a Sub-S and you’re filing a “Whoopsie, I forgot to do the right paperwork clause,” you can’t file an extension, you’ve got to get your stuff in by March 15th.

But if you’re already a Sub-S corporation, then you can file for an extension if you need to. What you want is Form 7004. Here’s a link to it: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f7004.pdf.

It’s easiest to just file it online and be done with it. But if you don’t have access to the software, you can paper file. Here’s the official list of mailing addresses: http://www.irs.gov/file/article/0,,id=177836,00.html . Basically, if you’re east of the Mississippi you’ll mail it to:

Department of the Treasury
Internal Revenue Service
Cincinnati, OH 45999-0045

If you’re west of the Mississippi it will go to:

Ogden, UT 84201-0045

For some reason Florida and Louisiana are listed with the “west of the Mississippi states.” Anyway, Florida and Louisiana get mailed to Ogden. Also, any Sub-S with income of over $10 million sends its extension to Ogden no matter where the business is located. (Any Sub-S with income of over $10 million should have an accountant that can file the extension for them and you shouldn’t be reading a how-to blog about it. Seriously.)

You’ll have to check with your state to determine if you are required to file a separate extension for your state. Here in Missouri, your federal extension will serve as your state extension – you’ll just attach a copy of your Federal 7004 to your Missouri 1120S when you file it. You only need to file a MO 7004 if you have a franchise tax liability.

Why should you care about filing an extension? Money! If you don’t owe any money on your tax return, the penalty for filing late is $195 for each month (or part of a month) that the return is late, multiplied by the number of shareholders. So let’s say you and a buddy have a Sub-S corporation and you forget about the March 15th deadline and file on April 15th instead. You’ll owe a $390 penalty on a tax return with no balance due. That stinks. Of course, if you totally blow things off and file in August, the penalty will be $1,560 – on a tax return with a zero balance due! See why it’s important to file that extension?

Sub S corporations generally don’t pay tax with their corporate form, but if you do owe money for some reason the penalties are even higher.

Even though extensions are fairly simple forms, you still might not want to do it yourself. This is one form that Roberg Tax Solutions can prepare for you over the phone for $25. You’ll need your business name, address, EIN number and a credit card and we can do it while you’re on the phone with us. It’s that easy. You have no reason not to get your extension in on time.

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