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Where Exactly Is Your Principal Place of Business? Accountants Explain

Heather D Satterley

Heather D Satterley

EA, Advanced QuickBooks ProAdvisor, Member Intuit Trainer/Writer Network at Satterley Training & Consulting, LLC
Heather Satterley is founder of Satterley Training & Consulting, LLC - a firm dedicated to helping accounting professionals learn and implement QuickBooks and related applications. She works with sole practitioners and teams to streamline internal processes as well as consulting on a variety of client engagements.

With over 20 years experience as a bookkeeper, accountant and enrolled agent, Heather has helped thousands of small business owners and accounting professionals sharpen their skills and increase their confidence with accounting technology. As a member of the Intuit Trainer/Writer network, Heather teaches QuickBooks to accounting professionals all over the country via live training events, webinars, and conferences.
Heather D Satterley

It can be confusing to determine your principal place of business when you operate in different locations. Some businesses have multiple store locations in different cities or states, and some smaller businesses operate out of a home or spend most of their time on the road visiting customers.

In fact, with the recent surge in individuals working for on-demand services companies like Uber and TaskRabbit, more and more taxpayers are faced with the challenge of trying to figure this out.

Why is your principal place of business important? Properly defining your principal place of business affects:

  • The deductions you can tax on your tax return
  • The type of taxes you are required to pay in the different places you operate in

Let’s figure out your principal place of business.

Deductions Based on Principal Place of Business

You can deduct the expenses you incur to maintain the locations of your business, whether you rent or own the property. If you operate three retail stores for your business, for example, you can deduct the costs to maintain all three stores. But if you also work out of your home, you might be able to deduct costs to maintain your home if you can establish that it is your principal place of business.

The IRS lets you deduct certain expenses if you use your home to conduct business and you meet certain tests. According to IRS Publication 587, to qualify for this deduction you must consider:

  • The relative importance of the activities conducted at each location
  • The amount of time spent at each location
  • Whether you use part of your home exclusively and regularly for administrative or management activities for your business
  • Whether you have another fixed location where you conduct substantial administrative or management activities for your business

If you operate three locations but do most of the administrative and management work such as bookkeeping, scheduling, and management activities from an office in your home that is used exclusively for that purpose, you can deduct some of the costs associated with keeping up your home, such as mortgage interest, insurance, real estate taxes, repairs, and utilities.

The key to determining the principal place of business is where most of the administrative or management activities are performed. The IRS has special rules for those who conduct business on the road or are away from their homes for a significant amount of time. For example, if you conduct administrative or management activities from a hotel room or from your car, this won’t necessarily disqualify you from being able to take the deduction. Neither will hiring an outside company, like a bookkeeper, to perform these activities outside of your home.

There are other tests and requirements associated with this deduction that you’ll want to talk over with your qualified tax professional when considering whether you’re eligible to take the deduction.

Other deductions that may be affected by your principal place of business are travel expenses. There are special rules regarding the distance between places that you work and your “tax home” that can affect whether some costs are deductible.

Types of Taxes You Are Required to Pay

It’s also important to establish your principal place of business in order to determine which state and local authorities require you to pay tax and the types of taxes you’re required to pay. Many states require that you collect and remit sales tax and pay income tax if you conduct business in any capacity within their borders. But other states don’t have the same requirement if you spend an insignificant amount of time there or your income from the state is less than a certain amount.

You need to know your principal place of business in order to calculate the amount of income tax to pay to each state where you file. Typically, you’re required to report all of your income on the tax return for your home state (the state you have determined as your principal place of business), but you can take a credit for any taxes paid to other states, which reduces the tax you owe. Make sure to check with each state to determine which taxes you need to pay.

Where your employees work can also affect the types of taxes you pay. If you hire remote employees and they work in different states, you need to register as an employer in those states and remit payroll taxes. And if you provide services in surrounding areas outside of your principal place of business, you need to be aware of the laws and obligations that you might have.

Resources to Help

The best resource you can have as a business owner is a qualified tax professional. Working with a CPA, enrolled agent or other qualified tax pro will help you navigate the federal and state tax laws and make sure that you stay compliant. Another place to look is this explainer from the IRS: IRS Publication 587.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
Heather D Satterley

Heather D Satterley

EA, Advanced QuickBooks ProAdvisor, Member Intuit Trainer/Writer Network at Satterley Training & Consulting, LLC
Heather Satterley is founder of Satterley Training & Consulting, LLC - a firm dedicated to helping accounting professionals learn and implement QuickBooks and related applications. She works with sole practitioners and teams to streamline internal processes as well as consulting on a variety of client engagements.

With over 20 years experience as a bookkeeper, accountant and enrolled agent, Heather has helped thousands of small business owners and accounting professionals sharpen their skills and increase their confidence with accounting technology. As a member of the Intuit Trainer/Writer network, Heather teaches QuickBooks to accounting professionals all over the country via live training events, webinars, and conferences.
Heather D Satterley

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