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Business Expenses: 25 Common Ones (Plus Which Are Tax-Deductible)

By Jon Steiert Reviewed By Ann Cornell
By Jon Steiert
By Jon Steiert Reviewed By Ann Cornell

Whether you run a sandwich shop or a four-generation law practice, there’s at least one common experience every business owner encounters: expenses.

Business expenses are the daily costs of operating your company, from conventional utilities such as electricity and water to employee wages to federal and local taxes. They are a part of your income statement and deducted from revenue to determine your net income.

So, let’s review these expenses and their categorization, how the IRS defines them and what’s eligible for deductions. Here are the most common expenses and how to stay on top of your costs so you can run your organization.

What Is Considered a Business Expense?

Although these expenses can eat into an organization’s working capital, many of them can be written off as tax deductions.

So, what constitutes tax-deductible expenses? According to Section 162 of the Internal Revenue Code, these expenses must be considered both “ordinary and necessary” to be included among business tax deductions. Ordinary expenses are costs that are common and widely accepted in your industry or business, while necessary expenses are costs viewed as helpful and appropriate for your trade or business.  Examples include employee benefits, rental fees, local, state and federal taxes, business loan interest and insurance.

These expenses are often referred to as “the cost of doing business” and are tax-deductible, in most cases. For example, business meals, home offices and employee benefits are all tax-deductible business expenses.

What Is a Capital Expense?

While these expenses are representative of day-to-day operational costs, capital expenses are the costs a business incurs for specific assets that will provide benefits beyond the tax year in which it’s purchased. For instance, if you own a manufacturing business and you buy lathes and 3-D printers, these purchases should be recorded as capital expenses and, therefore, can’t be deducted as business expenses.

Even though you can’t deduct capital expenses, you can recoup the money you’ve spent through depreciation, amortization or depletion. These methods enable you to subtract a portion of each capital expenditure each year, allowing you to recover your costs over time.

Types of Business, Capital and Personal Expenses

When determining deductions, the IRS recommends segmenting expenses into the following categories:

Business Expenses

  • Expenses used to determine your COGS (cost of goods sold)
  • The cost of products or raw materials, including freight
  • Direct labor costs (including contributions to pensions or annuity plans) for workers who produce the products
  • Factory overhead
  • Storage

Capital Expenses

  • Start-up costs
  • Company assets
  • Business improvements

Personal Expenses

  • Housing
  • Vacations
  • General living cost

Indeed, many of your capital and personal expenses can be intertwined. To determine which ones can be full business tax deductions and which should be divided, refer to IRS Publication 535.

A woman speaks on a cell phone while completing work for her business.

 The 25 Most Common Business Expenses List

While specific expenses can vary by industry — for example, a restaurateur versus a barber — there are some financial obligations that overlap for all business owners, including building, promotional and material costs. With that in mind, here are 25 of the most common expenses:

Facility Costs

Building Costs

  • Mortgage
  • Lease
  • Home business location (dedicated space inside the home)

Utilities

  • Electricity
  • Gas
  • Water
  • Sewer
  • Trash hauling

Materials, Equipment and Supplies

Operating Expenses

  • Software
  • Cell phones
  • Landline telephones
  • Internet services
  • Postage
  • Necessary office equipment

Office Supplies

  • Computers
  • Printers
  • Fax machines
  • Paper
  • Ink
  • Pens
  • Furniture

Personnel

Employee Expenses

  • Wages
  • Salaries
  • Payroll taxes
  • Benefits

Marketing and Advertising

Conventional

  • Print ads
  • Billboards
  • Television
  • Radio
  • Coupons

Digital

  • Search engine marketing (Google AdWords, Bing, Yahoo)
  • Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube)
  • Banner ads
  • Podcasting

Transportation

Automobile Expenses

  • Monthly mileage

Travel Expenses

  • Flights
  • Hotels
  • Meals

Entertainment Expenses

  • Meals
  • Sporting events
  • Theater tickets

Taxes

  • Income taxes
  • Self-employment taxes
  • Unemployment taxes
  • Workers compensation taxes
  • Federal, state and local taxes

Services and Maintenance Expenses

  • Facility maintenance (painting, lighting, plumbing)
  • Landscaping
  • Snow removal

Insurance

  • Property/casualty/liability
  • Malpractice
  • Product liability
  • Disability

Professional Fees

Business Groups

  • Memberships
  • Associations

Consultants

  • Attorneys
  • Marketing
  • Information Technology
  • Strategy
  • Human Resources
  • Certified Public Accountants

Business reports are spread out on a table. A pen and a pair of glasses rest on top of the papers.

How to Manage Common Expenses

Keep a Paper Trail

As a small business owner, it’s in your best interest to pay off as many expenses as you can via a checking account or with credit. Not only does this provide an avenue to improve your business credit score, it establishes a paper trail for your expenses. Having documentation simplifies recordkeeping and future tax write-offs, and provides payment verification.

Indeed, paying for small business expenses with cash is more than acceptable, of course. It simply means the onus is on you to provide an accurate receipt of any payments if you wish to deduct them.

Separate Business and Personal Expenses

Drawing a clear line between personal and business expenses is crucial for keeping your records clean. While sole proprietors can pay bills through a personal checking account, other business organizations don’t have this luxury. Establishing a business checking account is one of the smartest decisions you can make for your organization and provides many benefits, including the ability to accept credit cards for customer payments.

Aside from improving your customer experience, keeping your business and personal expenses separate limits the amount of income tax liability surprises during tax season.

Automate Your Payment Schedules

Clearly, staying on top of your payments is the easiest way to maintain good standing with lenders, vendors and creditors. Signing up for automatic payments removes the risk of missing a payment for expenses, allowing you to focus on more pressing business matters. However, monitor your business’s checking account to make sure there are enough funds to cover each installment.

Add Working Capital When Needed

In every business, there will be times when expenses outpace revenue, leaving business owners to decide whether to ride it out and hope for the best or pursue small business financing. When used properly, small business funding — whether for a sudden opportunity or an emergency expense — is an extremely helpful tool. With small business financing, owners can cover their costs during a specific period, handling anything from operating expenses to payroll.

Jon Steiert Contributing Writer at Fast Capital 360
Jon Steiert is a content writer focused on making business and financial information accessible to any business owner. He’s always on the lookout for fascinating stories that just haven’t been told properly.
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