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Business OR Hobby?

17 Oct 2018

We all want to make a living doing something we enjoy. For many artists, making money isn’t the central goal, and running a business isn’t even a concern. However, success in creating and disseminating your work requires certain business-like considerations. The first question for yourself (and the first thing the IRS will be interested in knowing) is whether or not your art is a business or a hobby.

Most artists do not make a profit, and incur losses for great spans of time. You are allowed to deduct these losses on your tax return, but only if you can show that you are carrying on the activity for profit, or the attempt at profit.

The following is a list of factors that the IRS considers in determining whether or not you are a for-profit business:

  • You carry on the activity in a business-like manner,
  • The time and effort you put into the activity indicate you intend to make it profitable,
  • You depend on income from the activity for your livelihood,
  • Your losses are due to circumstances beyond your control (or are normal in the start-up phase of your type of business),
  • You change your methods of operation in an attempt to improve profitability,
  • You, or your advisors, have the knowledge needed to carry on the activity as a successful business,
  • You were successful in making a profit in similar activities in the past,
  • The activity makes a profit in some years and the amount of profit that it makes,
  • You can expect to make a future profit from the appreciation of the assets used in the activity.

Not all of these must pertain to you, but you should be able to show that you are trying to make a profit and that you are running things in a business-like manner. The best way to do this is to BE ORGANIZED, keep track of your income and expenses. Poor to none in record keeping is a good sign that the IRS can classify your art as a hobby and disallow any losses you may try to take. With very little effort, you can avoid this.

Another easy way to show your determination as a for-profit business is to take the time to establish the proper business entity for your art. To do so shows that you are serious about being successful (and yes, you still need to keep good records!). 

NOTE: Although the above focuses on artists, the same rules apply to any business that may incur losses for numerous years.