What Business Advertising Expenses are Deductible?

What Advertising Expenses are Deductible? What's Not?

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What are Advertising Expenses?

Businesses may deduct all ordinary and necessary business expenses, including advertising expenses. But what does the broad category of "advertising expenses" include? What doesn't it include? And was expenses are deductible? 

Advertising is a broad category of business expenses that includes business activities such as: 

  • Advertising in various media like newspapers, TV and cable, and magazines
  • Marketing activities such as direct marketing.
  • Online activities such as email newsletters 
  • Costs of producing advertising materials such as business cards, brochures, and web pages. 
  • Costs of advertising events such as a publicity campaign or special promotion. 

Advertising Expenses You Can Deduct

You may deduct expenses for advertising your business. It's important to note that these must be ordinary and reasonable expenses for advertising. Some examples would be printing of business cards, Yellow Pages ads, newspaper advertisements, TV and Radio ads costs (including production costs), and costs for setting up your business website.

Expenses for promotion activities, like sponsoring local events, special events to bring people to your business, publicity costs.

Costs for meals and entertainment for promotion activities are not subject to the 50% limit on meals and entertainment for business travel. For example, if you have a grand opening event for your local community that includes a meal and entertainment, the IRS considers this advertising, and you can deduct the full cost of the event, including food and entertainment. 

The IRS says your business can "usually" deduct the cost of goodwill advertising to keep your name in front of the public. For example, an ad by a company selling beer that promotes responsible driving would probably be deductible. 

Costs for advertising when starting a business. The IRS considers all costs for starting a new business as capital expenses. That means they are like an investment which you expense over time. All startup costs are lumped together when figuring tax deductions. You may deduct up to $5000 of startup costs, including advertising, in your first year of business. The rest must be depreciated over time. 

Costs for advertising your home business. Advertising expenses are not linked to your home, so they are fully deductible business expenses. 

What You May NOT Deduct as Advertising Expenses

You may not deduct costs that are primarily personal, even though they may have some promotion value. For example, if your daughter is getting married and you invite some of your best customers to the wedding, you can't deduct the wedding costs.

You may not deduct costs of personal hobbies carried on with business associates. For example, if you and a customer like to go to NASCAR events, you can't deduct these costs as "advertising."

You cannot deduct advertising expenses associated with research and development activities. 

Ads on Vehicles. You can deduct the cost of putting an advertisement for your business on your car (business or personal), but you can't deduct the cost of driving your car around town as an advertising expense. The IRS specifically discusses this subject, because it's misunderstood. The IRS says

Putting display material that advertises your business on your car does not change the use of your car from personal use to business use. If you use this car for commuting or other personal uses, you still cannot deduct your expenses for those uses.

Advertising as an Indirect Political Contribution. You can't deduct the cost of advertising in any publication or web site used by or for a political party or candidate. No political expenses are deductible for businesses. 

Advertising costs vs. Selling Costs and Other Costs

 Business costs for both advertising and selling are deductible, but in separate places on your business tax return. For example, 

  • If you use your web site for advertising, you may deduct web maintenance costs as an advertising expense. If you use your website for selling (having a shopping cart, for example), this is a cost of selling and is considered separately.
  • Costs for temporary signs are considered advertising. Costs for permanent signs (that last more than a year) are not advertising, but signs may be depreciated as long-term assets.
  • Costs for help-wanted ads are a deductible business expense, but they are not considered 'advertising.'

    Where to Deduct Advertising Expenses on Your Business Tax Return

    Read more about Advertising Expenses in IRS Publication 535: Business Expenses.