Is it a Business or a Hobby?

Question
How do you distinguish between a business and a hobby?

Answer
In making the distinction between a hobby or business activity, take into account all facts and circumstances with respect to the activity. A hobby activity is done mainly for recreation or pleasure. No one factor alone is decisive. You must generally consider these factors in determining whether an activity is a business engaged in making a profit:

  • Whether you carry on the activity in a businesslike manner and maintain complete and accurate books and records.
  • Whether the time and effort you put into the activity indicate you intend to make it profitable.
  • Whether you depend on income from the activity for your livelihood. Whether your losses are due to circumstances beyond your control (or are normal in the startup phase of your type of business).
  • Whether you change your methods of operation in an attempt to improve profitability.
  • Whether you or your advisors have the knowledge needed to carry on the activity as a successful business.
  • Whether you were successful in making a profit in similar activities in the past.
  • Whether the activity makes a profit in some years and how much profit it makes.
  • Whether you can expect to make a future profit from the appreciation of the assets used in the activity.

You may find more information on this topic in section 1.183-2 (b) of the Federal Tax Regulations.

Additional Information
Publication 535, Business Expenses

Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax for Individuals
Category: Small Business, Self-Employed, Other Business
Sub-Category: Income & Expenses

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.

Additional IRS Resources:

Publication 525, Taxable and Nontaxable Income
Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions
Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax

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