Claim a business
Claiming a business is the easiest way to "cheat" on your taxes. Bought a domain to start a blog? You're a journalist on the side. Advised your friend on a cover letter and resume? You're a consultant. You can even "legally write off payment for office work done by family members, even if they're in middle school."
To be clear, no CPAs I interviewed condoned this sort of move. They did explain, however, the keys to understanding how business expenses play out.
"You'd be surprised the benefits you can get from running a business," said Lisa Greene-Lewis, CPA and TurboTax expert. "If you use your car to see clients, you can deduct the mileage or actual expenses for that car. Startup costs, advertising, legal fees, those would be deductible. If you had a dedicated space in your home you use for a home office, you can deduct a portion of mortgage or rent/property taxes."
The easiest method is the simplified option for home office deduction, which allows you to deduct $5 per square foot of home office space, up to 300sqft. That's $1,500. Additionally, any equipment you buy -- computers, phones, printers -- can be deducted.
Again, it's a lot easier to bring this info into an accountant than to try to do it yourself. But think about your daily activities that might be considered business-related, and you can start building a paper trail for your write-offs. Just don't get carried away on claiming vacations, meals, and other dalliances. Oh yeah, and keep your receipts.
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Ryan Craggs is Thrillist's senior news editor. He files his taxes as early as possible. It's not that tough, really. Follow him: @ryanrcraggs.