Freelance writer Alison Espach lists a bunch of the things she wonders if she could write off as business expenses.
I asked Ken Krasny, a tax attorney in Houston who happens to be my father, for his take on what she could get away with.
“There was period of time when I became obsessed with re-enactments on horrible cable shows … What was it like to make a living re-enacting other people’s tragedies? I didn’t know. But I wrote a short story about it.”
Krasny’s take: “Cable TV can be deductible if it’s used in your trade or business,” says Krasny. “For example, if you’ve got a waiting room and you’re a doctor and need people to be entertained. Or if you’re a stock trader and need to watch CNBC or Bloomberg to keep an eye on the markets. It’s a stretch, but she might be able to get away with it if she can prove that it was related to her work and that she actually obtained research info. from it.”
“Visiting my childhood home is essential to my writing process; it depresses and exhilarates me in certain ways that help me write teenage characters.”
Krasny’s take: “The IRS might argue that it’s a personal visit and she’d need to demonstrate that it bore some relationship to her effort to write a book. If the bedroom has casual mentions in the story, she’s probably not going to get very far with it. That falls into the realm of a personal expenditure, much like buying a suit for work.”
Road Trips & Moving Expenses
“My characters are in cars a lot … This is probably because I am always in a Cavalier or a Volvo, always taking very long road trips from one part of the country to another … “
Krasny’s take: “Road trips, movies and concerts fall into a similar genre as a trip If you can show it bears some relationship to the work you’re doing, then it’ll be fine,” says Krasny. “Say you’re a food writer and sample various restaurants, but don’t want to be comped or for them to know you’re there. You pay cash so no one can identify you and you can write it off. Keeping a log of what she’s doing, hopes to get out of the trip and what she saw would help. It’s not just enough to keep a receipt; you need to explain how it relates.”
“Since I’m a writer who primarily works from home I have no co-workers… I believe loneliness in the work place is one of the many reasons writers often get cats. “
Krasny’s take: “A cat is not an individual. The cat is not a dependent, though it is in an economic and personal sense. It’s actually negligent and could cause a penalty since it’s a false deduction.”
“(Delivery) was what made someone a New Yorker. Someone who orders Seafood Fra Diavolo and eats it on a tray while watching Law & Order.”
Krasny’s take: “No way. Unless she’s on a trip. Or if she’s having people over to put together a manuscript, that’s a business expense. A lot of this stuff depends on the context.”
“As a fiction writer, it’s difficult to predict the images or sounds or moments that will stay with us and worm their way onto our pages …” This was one of them.
The IRS allows some deductions for employees buying tools of their trade, but this might be taking it a bit too far. As Gail Rosen, CPA, explains, it’s like claiming airfare to Brazil—when the trip was for purchasing spatulas.