What is My Principal Place of Business?

Principal Place of Business Described
Principle Place of Business Described. Robert Daly/Getty Images

Julia the Plumber has a home based business.  She has a separate office at home where she does bookkeeping, receives calls from customers and vendors, and where she does other work related to her business.  But she also writes bills and does some administrative work in her car at at the homes of customers.  

How about Roberto, who works as a salesperson, traveling from his home office to client offices?

He has a small office at his employer's site, but he rarely uses it. The employer requires him to maintain a home office in his territory, to get to client sites more quickly. 

What is the principal place of business for Julia and Roberto? 

What is a principal place of business?

Understanding the concept of "principal place of business" is an important issue, because you can only deduct expenses for business use of your home if your home is your principal place of business. It's confusing (of course, it's the IRS!), but maybe I can help make it clear.

If your home is your only business location

This one is easy. If you work from home running your business (not as an employee of someone else), and you have no other business location, your home is your principal place of business. But what if you have other locations where you do business?

If you have another business location

If you have several locations from which you do business, you cannot deduct the expenses for use of your home unless it is your principal place of business.

To make this determination, the IRS looks at:

  • The relative importance of the activities performed at each place where you conduct business, and
  • The amount of time spent at each place where you conduct business.

Your home office can qualify as your principal place of business  ONLY if you meet the following IRS requirements:

  • You use it exclusively and regularly for administrative or management activities of your trade or business. This means that the location at your home where you run your business is used exclusively and regularly for this purpose.
  • You have no other fixed location where you conduct substantial administrative or management activities of your trade or business. You may, however, do some administrative or management activities outside your home (in your car, for example), or someone else may do administrative work for you outside your home (a bookkeeper, for example).

If you are an employee

The principal place of business for an employee is a little less clear than for a solo business owner. To qualify as the employee's principal place of business, the home office: 

  • Must be used for the convenience of the employer, not the employee (not just "helpful"), and 
  • You must not rent any part of your home to your employer and use the rented portion to perform services as an employee for that employer.

The Examples Continued

Julia's does her plumbing work at customer locations and she has a bookkeeper, but her home office qualifies as her principal place of business, because

  • (a) it is used regularly and exclusively for business purposes, and
  • (b) she has no other place where she does most of her administrative and managerial work.

She can take the appropriate deductions for her home office.

Roberto's home office is required by his company for its convenience and to save money, so it can be classified as his principal place of business, and his home office expenses are deductible. 

(The IRS provides more examples in the article on "Principal Place of Business." (part of Publication 587: Business Use of Your Home).)  

An IRS Flow Chart to Help - Sort Of

The IRS has a handy little flow chart to help you figure out whether your home business qualifies for tax deductions.  Unfortunately, the flow chart doesn't help when you get down to the question "Is it [your home] your principal place of business?" Unless you know what the "principal place of business" means, you can't use the flow chart.

 

For more information, check out Everything You Need to Know about Home Business Taxes

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