Building Your Business Business Taxes What Is Net Operating Loss (NOL)? By Jean Murray Jean Murray Facebook Twitter Jean Murray, MBA, Ph.D., is an experienced business writer and teacher who has been writing for The Balance on U.S. business law and taxes since 2008. She has taught accounting, business law, and business finance at business and professional schools for over 35 years, has authored several books on saving money and simplifying your business, and was the owner of startup-focused company Emence Enterprises, LLC. learn about our editorial policies Updated on September 13, 2022 Fact checked by Daniel Rathburn Fact checked by Daniel Rathburn Daniel Rathburn is an associate editor at The Balance. He has over three years of experience working in print and digital media as a fact-checker and editor. Daniel holds a bachelor's degree in English and political science from Michigan State University. learn about our editorial policies In This Article View All In This Article Definition of Net Operating Loss How to Calculate Net Operating Loss Carrying Forward Excess NOL Calculate and Report an NOL Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Photo: adamkaz / Getty Images A net operating loss (NOL) occurs when a business owner or individual has more allowable tax deductions than taxable income. Key Takeaways A net operating loss occurs when a small business's tax deductions are higher than its adjusted gross income.Business owners, estates, and trusts can claim a net operating loss.While the business may have a net operating loss, it's the owner who takes the loss for the year on their personal tax return.Net operating losses may be limited in one tax year, but losses in excess of the limits for a year may be carried forward to offset gains in future years. How Net Operating Loss Works A net operating loss (NOL) is a situation in which the annual tax deductions of a business or other entity are worth more than the owner's adjusted gross income (AGI). The owner may be able to use this loss to offset other income on their personal tax return, reducing the owner's total tax bill. Instead of taking all of the NOL deduction on the year of the loss, a business may carry some of those deductions forward to years when it has a profit, effectively decreasing its tax bill in those years. Note Net operating losses are losses on business operations. Capital gains and losses on capital assets and investments are calculated and taxed using a different process. Most net operating losses are related to business losses. To take the loss, you must include it on your personal tax return, along with other deductions, credits, and income. While different entities can claim an NOL, there are limitations on the types of deductions that can be factored into the equation. To calculate the amount of an NOL, you can use some nonbusiness deductions, including: AlimonyContributions to an individual retirement account (IRA) or self-employed retirementYour work as an employeeLosses due to casualties or theftRental property Certain types of losses and deductions aren't allowed when calculating NOL, including: Capital losses (from investments or sale of business assets) in excess of capital gains Gains excluded from the sale of small business stock Nonbusiness losses Section 199A (Qualified Business Income) deduction Note A business, individual, estate, or trust can have an NOL, but a loss from operating a business is the most common reason. Sole proprietors and single-member LLC owners can take an NOL. Partnerships, S corporations, and LLCs taxed as partnerships can't take an NOL, but the partners, LLC owners, or S corporation owners can take a loss on their share of the total business loss. Corporations can also have a net operating loss, but this loss doesn't affect individual owners (shareholders). Example of a Net Operating Loss Here's a simplified example of an NOL for a sole proprietor: An individual taxpayer takes the standard deduction of $12,400 and has an AGI of $11,000, including wages from a part-time job, interest income, and a business loss. The person has a preliminary net operating loss of $1,400, but they will have to adjust the amount of the loss for some disallowed deductions. How to Calculate Net Operating Loss To calculate your net operating loss, subtract your deductions, either the standard deduction for your filing status or itemized deductions, from your AGI. Carrying Forward Excess Net Operating Loss Tax laws limit the amount of net operating loss you can take in any one year. But If you had an NOL in any one year that exceeds the limit, you may be able to take that deduction in future years when you have a profit. This process is called a tax loss carryforward. There are specific rules for calculating the amount of allowable loss. Note The 2020 CARES Act temporarily allowed loss carrybacks and 100% NOL deductions for the 2018, 2019, and 2020 tax years. The provisions of this law ended December 31, 2020. How to Calculate and Report a Net Operating Loss To calculate and report NOL, here are some key steps to follow: Begin by completing your tax return for the year, including your business income or loss. Use the calculation above to get a tentative calculation for NOL. Check to see if you have a net operating loss. You can use the worksheet o page 3 of IRS Publication 536 Net Operating Losses to see the steps in this process. Decide if you have an excess loss that can't be taken totally in a year, or if you want to carry a part of the NOL over to a future year, and how to calculate the carryforward amount. Report the NOL deduction amount from your business on the "Other Income" line of Schedule 1 (for Form 1040). If you are claiming a carryforward, enter the NOL deduction as a negative amount. For carryforwards, you must also attach a statement describing all the important facts about the NOL, including how you calculated the deduction. Getting Help With NOL The process of determining, calculating, and carrying over an NOL is complicated. The IRS has limits and restrictions on this process and the amounts you can carry forward and the calculations are daunting. Get the help of a tax professional if you think you have an NOL and you want to use it to reduce taxes. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) What is the formula to calculate net operating loss? The basic formula for calculating net operating losses for an individual taxpayer is to subtract the total tax deductions for the year, including the standard deduction, from adjusted gross income. But the actual calculation is much more complicated. Some types of deductions are not allowed, including:Losses on the sale of capital assets (like buildings, equipment, and vehicles) that are more than capital gains on those assetsExclusions from gains on qualified small business stocknonbusiness deductions greater than nonbusiness incomeThe section 199A deduction for qualified business incomeThe NOL deduction itself Are net operating losses bad? Certainly, a business loss isn't as good as a profit, but you can use a loss to offset other income on your tax return. A net operating loss in one year may be limited, but the IRS allows businesses to move these losses to offset gains (profits) in later years, through a process called loss carryforward. Because business profits and losses fluctuate from year to year, this process can help you even out taxable income over several years.For example, you could have a loss of $100,000 in one year and carry that loss over to several future profitable years to reduce your taxes in each of those years until the full amount of the loss has been taken. How many years can NOLs be carried back? Effective with the 2021 tax year, you can no longer carry back a loss from one year to a previous year. But you can carry a loss forward to later years. Net operating losses may be carried forward indefinitely, but deductions are limited to 80% of taxable income. Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Tell us why! Other Submit Sources The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. IRS. "Publication 536 Net Operating Losses (NOLs) for Individuals, Estates, and Trusts." Page 4. IRS. "Publication 536 Net Operating Losses (NOLs) for Individuals, Estates, and Trusts." Page 2. IRS. "Publication 536 Net Operating Losses (NOLs) for Individuals, Estates, and Trusts." Page 2. IRS. "Net Operating Loss." Accessed Sept. 29, 2021. IRS. "Publication 536 Net Operating Losses (NOLs) for Individuals, Estates, and Trusts." Page 6. Tax Foundation. "Net Operating Loss Carryforward." Accessed Sept. 29, 2021.