How To Claim a Business Loss on Taxes

Taking a Business Loss To Reduce Your Taxes

Business owner calculating taxes for his small business

 kate_sept2004 / Getty Images

No business owner wants to have a loss, but losses aren't entirely a negative thing. They can yield some benefits in certain situations. You may be able to recover losses to offset income from other sources and cut your tax bill. This article discusses how to deal with a business loss, including limits to losses and how to carry over excess losses to future years. 

Key Takeaways

  • Losses for small businesses are included in the owner’s personal tax return. 
  • Business owners may be able to use business losses to offset other income in a tax year.
  • You will need to calculate net operating loss by subtracting non-allowed deductions to determine the amount of the loss.
  • The business loss you can take in a year may be limited, but you may be able to carry over some of the excess loss to offset profits in future years. 

Business Losses and Your Personal Taxes

Your small business may have several types of losses, depending on the type of income. These include: 

  • Net operating losses from normal business operations
  • Capital losses on the sale or exchange of business property 

Both types of losses affect your personal income taxes because most small businesses pay taxes through their personal tax return. These types of businesses include sole proprietorships, limited liability companies (LLCs), partnerships, and S corporations.


Corporations calculate net operating losses the same as other types of businesses, but a corporation takes different deductions, uses different forms, and must use carryovers differently. 

A business loss from operations can offset other income to give the owner a lower tax bill. For example, a business owner’s Schedule C might show an operating loss of $10,000, and the owner’s other taxable income is $45,000. If the total amount of the business loss is allowed, the owner’s net taxable income would be $35,000. 

Capital losses result from the sale or exchange of a capital asset, like a business vehicle, equipment, or a building, or an intangible asset like a patent or license.  You can only deduct the amount of losses up to the amount of the capital gains (or $3,000 if the net loss exceeds $3,000).

Deductible Business Expenses

Most small businesses intend to make a profit and are at risk for losses, so they may take all ordinary and necessary business expenses to determine operating profit or loss. These expenses include: 

  • Advertising and promotion
  • Expenses related to having employees
  • Fees to professionals and other non-employees 
  • Insurance
  • Interest on loans 
  • Office expenses
  • Cost of company vehicles and travel
  • Home office expenses
  • Cost of goods sold (COGS) for businesses that sell products

Capital expenses for costs of long-term assets like vehicles, equipment, and furniture are also deductible by spreading out the cost over several years through depreciation.

Limits on Business Losses 

Both operating losses and capital losses may be limited for a specific tax year. These loss limitations are applied to business owners, not the businesses themselves. 

Net Operating Loss 

If your total deductions for a year, including business tax deductions, are more than your total income for a year, you may have a net operating loss (NOL), which is limited to 80% of the individual’s excess taxable income for that year. The excess loss is calculated by starting with the business net income for the year and subtracting any of these non-allowed deductions and losses: 

Losses from At-Risk and Passive Activities

Business losses may also be limited from at-risk and passive activities may also affect the amount of business loss you can take. 

Passive activity means that the business owner didn’t actively participate in managing the business on a regular, continuous, and substantial basis. For example, an owner who rents real estate is considered a passive owner, even if they do participate in management, while a limited partner in a partnership is considered a passive investor.

At-risk rules limit the amount of business loss to the net allowable deductions for the business for the year, including depreciation and tax amortization

How Loss Carryforward Works

If your net operating loss for a year is limited, you may be able to use all or part of that loss in future tax years through a process called loss carryforward. The amount carried forward is the excess of your NOL deduction over your modified taxable income for the year, subject to the 80% limit for 2021 and beyond. You can’t claim an NOL deduction for the NOL carryover for the current or any later NOL, and your modified taxable income can’t be less than zero. 

 The calculations for net operating loss and loss carryforward are complicated. Get help from a licensed tax professional for this part of your tax return. 


The 2020 CARES Act allowed a special five-year tax carryback for 2018, 2019, and 2020 tax years and eliminated the 80% limit on net operating losses. These special provisions expired on Dec. 31, 2020.

How To Claim Your Losses

Net income is calculated by adding up all sources of income and subtracting deductions and credits. Complete Schedule C (or other tax form for your business type) and enter the net profit or loss on Schedule 1 of Form 1040 or 1040-SR (for seniors). The information from Schedule 1 is added to income from other sources, and any adjustments to income are included in Schedule 1. 

You must also complete IRS Form 461 Limitation on Business Losses. This form adds up all types of losses from various sources, including operating losses and capital losses, adjusts for non-business losses, and runs a calculation for excess business losses. 


Form 461 was suspended for 2018, 2019, and 2020 tax years. For your 2021 taxes, be sure you have the 2021 form. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How often can I claim a business loss on my taxes?

You can claim a business loss each year, but the amount of your loss in any year may be limited. If your loss in one year is limited, you may be able to carry that loss over to future profitable years. But if you don’t have profitable years in the future, you may not be able to carry over these losses. 

Because you are in business to make a profit, several years of loss can be a red flag for the IRS. The IRS guidelines presume you are in business to make a profit if you have a profit in at least three of the last five tax years. If you can’t meet this test, the IRS may consider your activities a hobby, not a business, and you may not be able to take business tax deductions. 

How much business loss can I claim on my taxes?

To know how much you can claim on operating losses for the year, you must go through several calculations. You will need to know the amounts of business losses from operations, from the sale of business assets, and from other less common types of activities.

First, check to see if your losses might be limited because you might be a passive owner, meaning that you don’t participate actively in your business. This is typically the case for limited partners in a partnership or individuals in rental real estate businesses. 

Once you have your net operating loss, you can include all the information about your business losses on your Form 1040. If you can’t take all of your loss for the year, you may be able to carry some of that loss over to future years, through a process called loss carryforward. This is a complicated process, so you should get help from a licensed tax professional. 

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  1. IRS. "Topic No. 409 Capital Gains and Losses."

  2.  IRS. "Schedule C Profit or Loss from Business."

  3. IRS. "Net Operating Losses."

  4. IRS. "Publication 536 Net Operating Losses (NOLs) for Individuals, Estates, and Trusts," Page 2.

  5. Tax Foundation. "Individual and Business CARES Act Tax Provisions Due to Expire on December 31."

  6. IRS. "Publication 535 Business Expenses," Page 7.

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