skip navigation
Search Help
Navigation Help

Tax Map Index

Tax Topic Index

Affordable Care Act
Tax Topic Index

Tax Topics

About Tax Map Website
Publication 535

Not-for-Profit Activities(p5)

If you do not carry on your business or investment activity to make a profit, you cannot use a loss from the activity to offset other income. Activities you do as a hobby, or mainly for sport or recreation, are often not entered into for profit.
The limit on not-for-profit losses applies to individuals, partnerships, estates, trusts, and S corporations. It does not apply to corporations other than S corporations.
In determining whether you are carrying on an activity for profit, several factors are taken into account. No one factor alone is decisive. Among the factors to consider are whether:

Presumption of profit.(p5)

An activity is presumed carried on for profit if it produced a profit in at least 3 of the last 5 tax years, including the current year. Activities that consist primarily of breeding, training, showing, or racing horses are presumed carried on for profit if they produced a profit in at least 2 of the last 7 tax years, including the current year. The activity must be substantially the same for each year within this period. You have a profit when the gross income from an activity exceeds the deductions.
If a taxpayer dies before the end of the 5-year (or 7-year) period, the "test" period ends on the date of the taxpayer's death.
If your business or investment activity passes this 3- (or 2-) years-of-profit test, the IRS will presume it is carried on for profit. This means the limits discussed here will not apply. You can take all your business deductions from the activity, even for the years that you have a loss. You can rely on this presumption unless the IRS later shows it to be invalid.

Using the presumption later.(p5)

If you are starting an activity and do not have 3 (or 2) years showing a profit, you can elect to have the presumption made after you have the 5 (or 7) years of experience allowed by the test.
You can elect to do this by filing Form 5213. Filing this form postpones any determination that your activity is not carried on for profit until 5 (or 7) years have passed since you started the activity.
The benefit gained by making this election is that the IRS will not immediately question whether your activity is engaged in for profit. Accordingly, it will not restrict your deductions. Rather, you will gain time to earn a profit in the required number of years. If you show 3 (or 2) years of profit at the end of this period, your deductions are not limited under these rules. If you do not have 3 (or 2) years of profit, the limit can be applied retroactively to any year with a loss in the 5-year (or 7-year) period.
Filing Form 5213 automatically extends the period of limitations on any year in the 5-year (or 7-year) period to 2 years after the due date of the return for the last year of the period. The period is extended only for deductions of the activity and any related deductions that might be affected.
You must file Form 5213 within 3 years after the due date of your return (determined without extensions) for the year in which you first carried on the activity, or, if earlier, within 60 days after receiving written notice from the Internal Revenue Service proposing to disallow deductions attributable to the activity.

Gross Income(p5)

Gross income from a not-for-profit activity includes the total of all gains from the sale, exchange, or other disposition of property, and all other gross receipts derived from the activity. Gross income from the activity also includes capital gains and rents received for the use of property which is held in connection with the activity.
You can determine gross income from any not-for-profit activity by subtracting the cost of goods sold from your gross receipts. However, if you determine gross income by subtracting cost of goods sold from gross receipts, you must do so consistently, and in a manner that follows generally accepted methods of accounting.

Limit on Deductions(p6)

If your activity is not carried on for profit, take deductions in the following order and only to the extent stated in the three categories. If you are an individual, these deductions may be taken only if you itemize. These deductions may be taken on Schedule A (Form 1040).

Category 1.(p6)

Deductions you can take for personal as well as for business activities are allowed in full. For individuals, all nonbusiness deductions, such as those for home mortgage interest, taxes, and casualty losses, belong in this category. Deduct them on the appropriate lines of Schedule A (Form 1040). For tax years beginning after December 31, 2008, you can deduct a casualty loss on property you own for personal use only to the extent it is more than $500 and exceeds 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). The 10% AGI limitation does not apply to net disaster losses resulting from federally declared disasters in 2008 and 2009, and individuals are allowed to claim the net disaster losses even if they do not itemize their deductions. The reduction amount returns to $100 for tax years beginning after December 31, 2009. See Publication 547 for more information on casualty losses. For the limits that apply to home mortgage interest, see Publication 936.

Category 2.(p6)

Deductions that do not result in an adjustment to the basis of property are allowed next, but only to the extent your gross income from the activity is more than your deductions under the first category. Most business deductions, such as those for advertising, insurance premiums, interest, utilities, and wages, belong in this category.

Category 3.(p6)

Business deductions that decrease the basis of property are allowed last, but only to the extent the gross income from the activity exceeds the deductions you take under the first two categories. Deductions for depreciation, amortization, and the part of a casualty loss an individual could not deduct in category (1) belong in this category. Where more than one asset is involved, allocate depreciation and these other deductions proportionally.
Individuals must claim the amounts in categories (2) and (3) as miscellaneous deductions on Schedule A (Form 1040). They are subject to the 2%-of-adjusted-gross-income limit. See Publication 529 for information on this limit.


Adriana is engaged in a not-for-profit activity. The income and expenses of the activity are as follows.
Gross income$3,200
Real estate taxes$700 
Home mortgage interest900 
Depreciation on an automobile600 
Depreciation on a machine2003,700

Adriana must limit her deductions to $3,200, the gross income she earned from the activity. The limit is reached in category (3), as follows.
Limit on deduction$3,200
Category 1: Taxes and interest$1,600 
Category 2: Insurance, utilities, and maintenance1,3002,900
Available for Category 3$ 300

The $800 of depreciation is allocated between the automobile and machine as follows.
x$300=$225depreciation for the automobile
x $300=$75depreciation for the machine
The basis of each asset is reduced accordingly.
Adriana includes the $3,200 of gross income on line 21 (other income) of Form 1040. The $1,600 for category (1) is deductible in full on the appropriate lines for taxes and interest on Schedule A (Form 1040). Adriana deducts the remaining $1,600 ($1,300 for category (2) and $300 for category (3)) as other miscellaneous deductions on Schedule A (Form 1040) subject to the 2%-of-adjusted-gross-income limit.

Partnerships and S corporations.(p6)

If a partnership or S corporation carries on a not-for-profit activity, these limits apply at the partnership or S corporation level. They are reflected in the individual shareholder's or partner's distributive shares.

More than one activity.(p6)

If you have several undertakings, each may be a separate activity or several undertakings may be combined. The following are the most significant facts and circumstances in making this determination.
The IRS will generally accept your characterization if it is supported by facts and circumstances.
If you are carrying on two or more different activities, keep the deductions and income from each one separate. Figure separately whether each is a not-for-profit activity. Then figure the limit on deductions and losses separately for each activity that is not for profit.