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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.

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