Business meals and entertainment: how to maximize tax deductions

Many businesses consider the occasional wining and dining of customers and clients just to stay in touch with them to be a necessary cost of doing business. The same goes for taking business associates or even employees out to lunch once in a while after an especially tough assignment has been completed successfully. It’s easy to think of these entertainment costs as deductible business expenses, but they may not be.

As a general rule, meals and entertainment are deductible as a business expense only if specific conditions are met. What’s more, the deduction for either type of expense generally is limited to 50 percent of the cost.

Meals and entertainment directly connected to the business. To be considered directly connected to the business, the meal or entertainment event must meet three conditions:

  • It must have been scheduled with more than a general expectation of deriving future income or a specific business benefit from the event. In other words, a meal or dinner date arranged for general goodwill purposes does not qualify.
  • A business meeting, negotiation, or transaction must actually occur during the meal or entertainment, or immediately preceding and following it. In other words, business actually must be discussed.
  • The main character of the event, considering the facts and circumstances, is the active conduct of your company’s trade or business.

For example, an executive employee who treats a client to a golf game in order to discuss the general parameters of a business deal in an informal atmosphere is engaged in entertainment that is directly connected to the business. So is a manager who discusses sensitive business plans with a subordinate over lunch at an off-premises restaurant.

Applicable limitations. In general, only 50 percent of expenses incurred for entertainment and meal expenses is deductible. A limited exception applies to entertainment or on-premise meals provided to employees.

Expenses with respect to entertainment facilities generally are not deductible at all. A facility includes any item of personal or real property owned, rented, or used by a taxpayer if it is used during the tax year for or in connection with entertainment. They include yachts, hunting lodges, fishing camps, swimming pools, tennis courts, bowling alleys, automobiles, airplanes, apartments, hotel suites and homes in vacation resorts.

Country club dues are not deductible (although the meals purchased with business clients at the club are, up to the 50 percent limit). Deductions for skyboxes or other private luxury boxes at sporting events are limited to the face value of a nonluxury box seat ticket multiplied by the number of seats in the box.

Record-keeping requirements. Even if a meal or entertainment expense qualifies as a business expense, none of the cost is deductible unless strict and detailed substantiation and recordkeeping requirements are met to the letter.

Please contact our offices for assistance on how to comply with these requirements at minimum cost and expense, and how your business’s typical meal and entertainment expenses fare under the deduction rules.

Written by

Steve Moss, CPA is a partner at Holden Moss CPAs and loves helping businesses and their owners grow to be the very best they can be. Our other offices include Raleigh, Oxford and Warrenton.

We are a little different at Holden Moss CPAs. While we still provide traditional tax and accounting services, years ago we realized many clients wanted help in running their businesses and were hungry for ideas, solutions, strategy, and execution. In response, we expanded our skill set and joined Ran One, a global network of business consulting firms. Our membership with Ran One gives us access to proprietary resources and analytical software to help our clients grow, become more profitable and valuable, and have the lifestyle they desire.

Now, blended into the fabric of our normal tax and accounting needs, we are focused on our clients’ businesses in a very different way. While our approach is not right for everyone, for those whom it is, incredible results may be obtained. Whether you have a new, or established, business, or for those in transition of selling or retiring, or for those who simply need to develop an exit strategy or succession plan, our unique approach to client service may be the edge you need.

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