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How to Deduct Meals and Entertainment in 2018

By Ryan Smith on December 18, 2018

Writing off meals and entertainment for your small business can be pretty confusing. Some things are 100 percent deductible, some are 50 percent, and a few are nondeductible. It all depends on the purpose of the meal or event, and who benefits from it.

From a company-wide Beer Friday to a fancy steak dinner with your biggest client, we’ll walk you through the different meal deductions your business can take advantage of so you can save big on your tax return.

2018 vs 2017 meals and entertainment deductions

The 2018 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act brought a few big changes to meals and entertainment deductions, compared to previous years.

The biggest one: entertaining clients is now 0% deductible. But some things haven’t changed. Here’s a summary table of the most popular deductions, and how they’ve changed since 2017.

Type of Expense 2017 (old rules) 2018 (new rules)
Entertaining Clients (Concert tickets, golf games, etc.) 50% Deductible 0% Deductible
Business Meals with Clients 50% Deductible 50% Deductible
Office Snacks and Meals 100% Deductible 50% Deductible
Company-Wide Party 100% Deductible 100% Deductible
Meals & Entertainment (Included in Compensation) 100% Deductible 100% Deductible

Common 100% deductible expenses

Here are some common examples of 100% deductible meals and entertainment expenses:

  • A company-wide holiday party
  • Food and drinks provided free of charge for the public
  • Dinner provided for employees working late

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Common 50% deductible expenses

Here are some of the most common 50% deductible expenses:

  • A meal with a client where work is discussed (that isn’t lavish)
  • Employee meals at a conference, above and beyond the ticket price
  • Employee meals while traveling (here’s how the IRS defines “travel”)
  • Treating a few employees to a meal (but if it’s at least half of all employees, it’s 100 percent deductible)
  • Food for a board meeting

So what’s nondeductible?

Most work-related meal purchases you can think of are either 100 or 50 percent deductible. But there are a few exceptions. For example, if you pay for your clients’ night out but you don’t actually go with them, it’s nondeductible. The same applies to a client meal at a restaurant where you invite friends or spouses—the cost of your friends is nondeductible (but you can write off half the client bill).

And of course, with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, client entertainment is also nondeductible—no more golf games or courtside tickets.

Someday we’ll all wear smart devices that identify, categorize, and file every deductible expense under the sun, so we all get the biggest tax deduction possible. Maybe. But until then, your categorization decisions matter. Keep these guidelines in mind and you’ll thank yourself come tax time.

This post is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, business, or tax advice. Each person should consult his or her own attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in this post. Bench assumes no liability for actions taken in reliance upon the information contained herein.

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