After your business opens its doors, you can claim many of your expenses as tax write-offs. The money you invest before the grand opening is another story. The IRS classifies your startup investment as capital expenses. You may be able to write off some of that investment immediately but not all of it.
You can deduct up to $5,000 in start-up costs incurred before you open the business, at the time of publication. Startup costs include market analysis, advertising, salaries and travel costs. You must amortize the rest of the startup costs, writing some of the investment as a small annual deduction over the course of several years. If you make a startup investment in business assets -- buying an office building or manufacturing equipment, for instance -- you can claim an annual deduction for depreciation, representing the gradual loss of value from age.
You can also deduct up to $5,000 if you spend it organizing your company as a corporation or a partnership. Deductible expenses include state fees for filing paperwork, the cost of lawyers and the expense of any organizational meetings. You cannot include the cost of selling the corporation's stock or securities. If you transfer any assets to the company's ownership, the purchase price the company pays for the assets is not deductible. Deductible costs must be necessary for you to create the company, not for you to run it once it's established.
If you expect your company to turn a profit from the start, it might be worth delaying some of the bills from your startup investment. If the bills come due after your business opens, you can deduct them as regular expenses. Many businesses take several years to make a profit, in which case depreciation and amortization work better; you'll be able to claim those deductions for years to come, hopefully when you have profits from which to deduct them.
It's possible the business you're investing in isn't going to make it. If the business fails, you can claim your startup investment spending as a capital deduction if you spent it to launch a specific business. Money you spent just researching the general field or the possibility of launching a business isn't deductible. If you bought any assets, you can't deduct the cost even if the business fails. To recover your money, you'll have to sell the assets.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.