Thursday, June 03 2010
Working from home can offer many advantages including tax deductions, just take care what you try to write off for your home office on your return.
If you work from home, even on a part-time basis, you can probably save a few dollars come tax time. That’s because if you itemize your deductions on your federal tax return, you can write off as a business expense part of the cost of owning and operating your home. Everything from electric bills to property taxes may be fair game.
Those tax deductions can add up, thus lowering your taxable income and reducing the amount you owe Uncle Sam. Before you start spending that refund, however, there are a few rules you need to understand and heed. It’s a good idea to consult a tax adviser to be sure that you’re filing the right schedules and maximizing your deductions.
Passing the IRS litmus test
To meet IRS guidelines, your home office must be your principal place of business, or the place you see clients in the normal course of business. Parts of your home you use to store products or equipment for your business also count. That doesn’t mean that all your work has to be done from home. If you’re an outside salesperson, you probably spend most of your work time elsewhere. But if you do you billing and return customer calls primarily from your home, your home office should qualify.
Measuring your home office
The amount you can deduct for your home office depends on the percentage of your home used for business. Your work space doesn’t need to be a separate room—a table in a corner qualifies. But it has to be an area that’s used solely for business. The tax break also covers separate structures on your property, like a detached garage you’ve converted to an office. Unlike an office inside your home, a separate structure doesn’t have to be your main place of business to qualify for a deduction. That’s because the IRS believes your family is less likely to use a separate structure as a part-time play area or den, says Mark Luscombe, principal analyst for tax and consulting at CCH.
What can you deduct?
Once you’ve figured out what percentage of your home you use for business, you can apply that percentage to different home expenses. These include:
Just take each expense and multiply it by your home office percentage (the 5% mentioned above). That’s the amount you can deduct as a business expense. So if you spend $150 a month on electricity, you can deduct $7.50 as a business expense. That adds up to a $90 deduction per tax year. If your annual business expenses total $10,000, your deduction is $500. In 2009, lowering your taxable income by $500 to $99,500 would’ve cut your tax bill by $113.
Don’t forget depreciation
Depreciation is based on the idea that everything—even something like a home—wears out eventually. To figure home office depreciation, start by calculating the tax basis of your home: generally the purchase price plus the cost of improvements, minus the value of the land it sits on. Next, multiply the tax basis by the percentage of your home used for work. This gives you the tax basis for you home office. Finally, multiply that by a depreciation percentage that’s set periodically by the IRS. There are caveats. For a crash course, read IRS Publication 946 or talk to a tax professional.
This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but is not intended to be relied upon by readers as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Readers should consult a tax professional for such advice, and are reminded that tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.
Donna Fuscaldo has written about personal finance for more than decade for Dow Jones Newswires, the Wall Street Journal, and Fox Business News. She’s currently a freelance writer with her own home office.