Can I deduct country club dues as a business expense?
No. But there is a small silver lining. The IRS in Publication 463 (Travel, Entertainment, Gift and Car Expenses) is very specific regarding deducting club dues and membership fees. Any club that is organized for pleasure, recreation OR other social purposes is not a deductible expense.
This also applies to any membership organization if one of its principal purposes is either to host entertainment activities for members or their guests, or to provide members or their guests with access to entertainment facilities (see below).
The club’s activities will speak louder than words. The purposes and activities of a club, not its name, will determine the deductibility of the expense. However, the IRS has specifically denied the deduction of country clubs, golf and athletic clubs, airline clubs, hotel clubs, and clubs operated to provide meals under circumstances generally considered to be conducive to business discussions. It doesn’t matter how many deals you sign on the 18th green.
A common retort among taxpayers is why can’t I consider the renting of halls and banquet rooms as entertainment. This too is denied. Typically, you cannot deduct any expense for the use of an entertainment facility. An entertainment facility is any property you own, rent, or use for entertainment. Prior creative deductions that were denied by the IRS include a yacht, hunting lodge, fishing camp, swimming pool, tennis court, bowling alley, car, airplane, apartment, hotel suite, or home in a vacation resort.
Here’s the silver lining: the expenses you incur at the club while entertaining clients where you have substantial discussions related to business are deductible as meals and entertainment although the club dues are not. Do you see the distinction?
Of course professional organizations specific to your business are deductible. These include bar associations, chambers of commerce and other trade associations. Civic or public-service-type organizations, such as the Lions, Kiwanis or Rotary clubs may also be deducted. Again, you cannot deduct dues associated with an organization whose principal purpose is to provide entertainment facilities to its members, or to conduct entertainment activities for them.
Don’t forget that a deductible business expense must be ordinary and necessary for the operation of your business. So, while the club dues that you are thinking about deducting actually fit into one of the round holes above, it can’t be a square peg as it relates to your business.