Is Your Sideline Activity a Business or a Hobby?
Do you have a sideline activity that you think of as a business?
From this sideline activity, are you claiming tax losses on your Form 1040? Will the IRS consider your sideline a business and allow your loss deductions?
The IRS likes to claim that money-losing sideline activities are hobbies rather than businesses. The federal income tax rules for hobbies have been anti-taxpayer for years, and now an unfavorable change enacted in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) made things even worse for 2018-2025.
If you have such an activity, we should have your attention.
Here’s the deal: if you can show a profit motive for your now-money-losing sideline activity, you can classify that activity as a business for tax purposes and deduct the losses.
Factors that can prove (or disprove) such intent include:
- Conducting the activity in a business-like manner by keeping good records and searching for profit-making strategies.
- Having expertise in the activity or hiring advisors who do.
- Spending enough time to justify the notion that the activity is a business and not just a hobby.
- Expectation of asset appreciation: this is why the IRS will almost never claim that owning rental real estate is a hobby, even when tax losses are incurred year after year.
- Success in other ventures, which indicates that you have business acumen.
- The history and magnitude of income and losses from the activity: occasional large profits hold more weight than more frequent small profits, and losses caused by unusual events or just plain bad luck are more justifiable than ongoing losses that only a hobbyist would be willing to accept.
- Your financial status: “rich” folks can afford to absorb ongoing losses (which may indicate a hobby), while ordinary folks are usually trying to make a buck (which indicates a business).
- Elements of personal pleasure: breeding race horses is lots more fun than draining septic tanks, so the IRS is far more likely to claim the former is a hobby if losses start showing up on your tax returns.