Business profits will always incur income tax, but a business loss does not necessarily provide a tax benefit. Typically, individuals may use business losses to offset income from other sources when determining their adjusted taxable income. But there are limitations.
A business owner with a loss can determine if the loss is tax-deductible by applying at-risk rules. The at-risk amount generally comprises money or property contributed to the activity in question plus the amount borrowed that, legally, the owner must repay personally.
Individuals in partnership businesses are also subject to the at-risk limitation; plus, they must satisfy the requirement for a sufficient tax basis. A partner’s basis is generally the amount of money and property contributed to the partnership, plus the partner’s allocation of undistributed profits that have accumulated over all past periods. A tax basis, therefore, decreases as a consequence of distributions received along with nondeductible expenses.
The income tax consequence for a partnership’s profit or loss is assessed on the individual tax returns of the partners. But deduction of a loss is limited when a partner has no tax basis or at-risk amount. Here, a capital contribution or a personal guarantee of partnership debt is required so the partnership’s pass-through of loss can be deducted from each partner’s personal return.
This presents a complication for limited partners, who avoid liability for the entire enterprise because their exposure to a business is limited to their contributions of cash. That said, having less money at risk may also restrict a limited partner’s ability to deduct a partnership loss.