Archive for the ‘utilities’ Tag

Back to Basics Part XXX – Form 8829 Expenses for Business Use of Your Home

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

My vision of Santa’s workshop is that it is built into his home at the North Pole.  Being that it is quite chilly there, why would you want to leave the warmth of one building to go to another?  It is also highly unlikely that he would need a separate office “in-town” at the North Pole.  Betting on the idea that it is built into his home, he would certainly seem eligible for a home office deduction.

Whether or not he would use the Form 8829 – Expenses for Business Use of Your Home would depend on his legal structure, however.  Is he Santa Claus, sole proprietor?  Is it Santa Claus, Inc. of which he is a greater than 2% shareholder employee?  Or maybe it is Santa’s Workshop, LLC?  If it is an LLC, it is possible it could be a Single Member LLC if the North Pole has community property laws.  If that is the case, Santa and Mrs. Claus would be treated as one member and the entity disregarded for federal tax purposes.  Well, I suppose that is for Santa and the IRS to worry about!  Maybe we should focus on you instead…

If you use part of your home for business purposes, you may be able to claim a home office deduction using Form 8829 – Expenses for Business Use of Your Home.  The space must be used exclusively and regularly for business purposes and it must be your principal business location – meaning that it must be the main place where managerial activities occur for your business, and you have no other space where substantial managerial activities occur.

You can claim this deduction as a sole proprietor, but also as an employee, if your employer expects you to maintain an office in your home and provides no other fixed location for you to work.  It is best if this type of arrangement is spelled out in your employment agreement.

The Form 8829 is used specifically for sole proprietors filing a Schedule C.  If  you are an employee claiming a home office deduction, or a partner, or if you are filing in conjunction with a Schedule F for a farm, you must use the “Worksheet to Figure the Deduction for Business Use of Your Home” in Publication 587 to calculate the expenses instead.  It essentially accomplishes the same purpose, except whereas the Form 8829 is filed with the returns, the worksheet is not.

The Form 8829 and the worksheet in Publication 587 focus on calculating a deduction based on actual expenses.  There is a relatively new simplified method also.  It allows you to deduct a flat $5 per square foot up to a maximum of $1,500 a year.

We will now spend some time focusing on the Form 8829 itself.  If you would like to read a more in-depth analysis on the home office deduction discussed above, I wrote a three part series on this topic on July 26, August 9, and August 23 of 2013.  You can find them on my website at:

https://blog.tlongcpa.com/2013/07/26/home-office-new-option-for-2013/

Part I of the Form 8829 determines the business percentage you will use to apply to the home office expenses you incur.  You divide the business use square footage by the total square footage to determine the percentage that will be applied to the expenses.

Home daycare providers have special rules as they are allowed to use the space for both personal use and work use.  They have an additional calculation in Part I where they divide the total hours for the year that the space was used for daycare services, by the total number of hours in the year.  This percentage is then multiplied by the square footage percentage to finally arrive at the reduced percentage to apply to the expenses.

Part II of the Form 8829 is where you will list all your expenses of maintaining your home, such as property taxes, mortgage interest, insurance, utilities, repairs, etc.  The direct column is for expenses that were 100 percent deductible and should not have the business use percentage applied.  Perhaps you repainted your home office only.  This would be an example of a direct expense.  If you had painted the entire house, then you would list it under indirect expense.  The business use percentage would then limit your deduction to the relative portion of the home used for business.

A home office deduction is generally not allowed to create a loss on your schedule C with the exception of the portion related to real property taxes and mortgage interest since they would have been deductible on Schedule A anyway.  If the other operating expenses of your home office create a loss, that loss is suspended and carried over to future years.  Part II has additional lines to handle any carried over losses from prior years as well.  The amount of deduction from the bottom of Part II carries over to your Schedule C for deduction on that form.

Part III handles the depreciation expense on your home – basically its wear and tear over time.  Depreciation is a use-it-or-lose-it concept, so you are better off taking it if eligible.  Some tax preparers incorrectly advise people not to take depreciation expense on their home in order to avoid tax recapture problems when they sell.  What they are failing to grasp is that recapture is based on depreciation that was “allowed or allowable.”  So even if you do not take the depreciation expense when you were entitled to it, you have to treat it as if you did take it when you sell, and you would still be subject to any of the same recapture taxes.  Part III is a feeder calculation back into the depreciation expense line in Part II.

Part IV is essentially the final summary of any carryovers available for the next year.

If you have questions about other schedules or forms in your tax returns, prior articles in our Back to Basics series on personal tax returns are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog .

Travis H. Long, CPA, Inc. is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. Travis can be reached at 831-333-1041.

Back to Basics Part XVI – Form 3903 – Moving Expenses

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

June 12, 2015

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that average Americans will move 11.7 times in their lifetimes, with 6.4 of those moves between the ages of 18 and 45.  Most of those moves between 18 and 45 will likely be work related moves that will qualify people for tax breaks on the expenses incurred during the moves.  Today we will be talking about Form 3903 – Moving Expenses.  If you would like to catch up on our Back to Basics series on personal tax returns, prior articles are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog .

A lot of people may not realize they can deduct expenses related to a move.  It is true, that in order to receive preferable tax treatment, a move must have a change of work location component, but it does not actually mean you have to find a job before you move, or even be the reason you move in the first place.  You could move to the Monterey Peninsula, or anywhere for that matter, simply because it is beautiful, and you could still deduct moving expenses as long as you meet two primary tests – time and distance.

The time related test says that you must have a full-time job for 39 weeks out of the first 52 weeks in your new location.  You do not have to know in advance.  The weeks do not have to be contiguous, nor do they even have to be with the same company, or even start when you arrive, but they do need to be full-time.  There are some exceptions to this 39 week requirement, such as getting laid off, getting transferred by your employer, or retiring to the U.S. from another country.  Another out for you is to keel over and die, at which point your executor can still claim the moving expenses on your final return…people rarely go for this tax planning strategy.

If you are self-employed, you have to work full-time for 78 weeks out of the first 104 weeks after moving.  You might wonder how you are supposed to take a deduction for something that takes longer than a year to really know if you qualify.  The answer is that you claim the deduction in the tax year or tax years the moving expenses are incurred if you have reason to believe you will meet the requirements.  If you are wrong, and you claimed expenses you should not have, you are supposed to either amend the prior return(s) or add it as additional income to your next tax return.  If you did not claim expenses and later realized you qualified, then you have to amend.

The other test is the minimum 50-mile distance test.  People often think the distance test is based on the distance from their old home to their new home, but it is actually based on the difference between the distance from your old work place to your old home and your old work place to your new home.  So if your old commute was 10 miles one-way to work, then the distance from your new home to your old work place needs to be at least 60 miles.  This could create some interesting situations.  Let’s assume you work a block from your house.  Then you receive a high-paying job offer in another town 51 miles away.  Your family is rooted in your existing community so you really do not want to leave the area.  With the increased pay you decide to buy the house for sale which is next door to your old house.  In this case you would meet the distance test, even though you will have only moved next door, and you can deduct any qualified expenses.

So what expenses qualify?  In a thimble, the answer would be packing costs, transit of household goods and family members, as well as lodging costs.  In other words, all the packing boxes, tape, markers, bubble wrap, movers, truck rentals and related fuel, airline costs, parking and tolls, pet transportation costs, hotel bills, etc.  If you drive your cars to transport them, or if you use them for trips back and forth to haul goods, you can deduct 23.5 cents per mile or deduct gas and oil receipts.  You can also deduct the cost of storing your goods between houses for up to 30 days.  In addition, you can deduct the cost of disconnecting or reconnecting your utilities.  If you are moving overseas, you can deduct the costs of storage of your household items in the U.S. each year until you return.  After the year of move, these expenses would not go on a 3903, but directly on your 1040 or 1040NR.

There are number of costs you are specifically NOT allowed to deduct as well.  Some of these include meals during the move, extra driving or lodging due to sightseeing during the move, pre-move house hunting expenses, fees paid for breaking leases, or security deposits given up on your old home, among others.

If you are in the military, and you receive PCS (Permanent Change of Station) orders, you are automatically qualified, and neither the time nor distance tests apply.  You can also deduct the costs of your move within one year of ending your active duty.  There are other special rules for military moves as well.

Regardless of who you are, if you get reimbursed by your employer and the reimbursements are not treated as taxable income to you (included in box 1 of your W-2 as income), then you can only deduct the expenses in excess of the reimbursement.  Normally, employers report moving expense reimbursements in box 12 with a code ‘P,’ and they are not treated as income in box 1.

Once you figure out your deductible expenses and reimbursements, the Form 3903 is a short five-line form.  It feeds into the adjustments to income section on the face of your 1040.  This is positive since it is available to all taxpayers, and not just those who itemize deductions.

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.

Home Office Part III – How Big is My Deduction?

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

August 23, 2013

Four weeks ago, I discussed a new simplified option for calculating the home office deduction that is effective for 2013.  Two weeks ago I discussed the rules to qualify for a home office deduction.  In this final installment on home office deductions, we will discuss the standard method of determining your deduction, which will still yield the greatest benefit for most people – especially in high cost localities.  (If you missed the prior two articles, you can find them on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog.)

The standard method of calculating your home office deduction is done on a Form 8829 or on tax worksheets.  It typically starts with a square footage calculation of the livable space in your home, and a calculation of the portion used exclusively for your business activity, to determine the percentage used by the business.  You can use a calculation based on the number of rooms in the house if they are similarly sized, but in practice hardly anybody uses this method.

The next step is to gather your expenses and multiply them by the business percentage you just determined.  Add up in separate categories your utilities, water, trash/recycling service, janitorial (house cleaner), repairs and maintenance, homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, and any other recurring expenses used to maintain your house.   If you regularly meet with clients at your house, you can generally do the same for your landscape maintenance expenses as well.

If you rent your home, you add up your total rent and multiply it by the business percentage.  If you own, you apply the business percentage to your mortgage interest and real estate taxes (the balance go on Schedule A).  Some people will throw their internet access fees on the 8829, but often a better deduction is obtained by thinking about actual business use versus personal use, as square footage is not a great metric for internet use.  You could then put that directly on your schedule C if you run a business, or Form 2106 if you are an employee with a qualifying home office.  If you buy furniture or equipment exclusively for your office, that is generally put on a depreciation schedule and often linked directly to your Schedule C or Form 2106 instead of running it through your business use of home form.

The first telephone line into the house is not deductible at all.  A second line could be, however.  But in that case it is typically a dedicated business line, and you would put that on your schedule C or Form 2106 in full to get a better deduction.  Your cable or satellite service is probably off limits for most people since there is such a high degree of personal use and it is an area subject to abuse.  Based on facts and circumstances some people may be able to build a case for part of it – such as a day trader that depends on the financial channels, or if you have a waiting area which clients regularly use to watch television.

If you own the home you need to set up the home and and any improvements on a 39-year depreciation schedule (not 27.5 like a rental home – common mistake) and run depreciation deductions through your business use of home calculation (beyond the scope of this article).  Many people fail to do this thinking it is a choice.  It is not.  There is a use or lose it rule, and you are responsible for depreciation recapture taxes upon the sale of the home whether or not you claimed the deduction.  So you might as well take it!

Facts and circumstances and reasonableness will generally rule the day as an overarching principle to the application of all of these rules.  Technically, if you only painted your office, you can take 100% of the cost into consideration for your business use of home deduction.  On the flip-side, if you painted everything but your office, you shouldn’t really take any deduction.  In practice, records are generally not kept that precisely, and the dollar figures are not that large, so  you often end up applying the business percentage to everything in that category for the year for practical purposes.

Even after calculating the deduction, there is another hurdle you must pass – you cannot create an overall loss on your Schedule C from business use of home expenses with the exception of real estate taxes, mortgage interest, or casualty losses which would be deductible on Schedule A regardless.  If you have a loss, the excess business use of home expenses will get suspended and carried over to a future year when your business is profitable.

Employees have a different hurdle since their home office deduction is an employee business expense which is a miscellaneous itemized deduction subject to a two percent of adjusted gross income floor.  So if their total miscellaneous itemized deductions exceed two percent of their adjusted gross income, then the excess is an itemized deduction, and if their itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction, then they can benefit!

Of course there are many other considerations that can come into play depending on your circumstances such as separately metered properties, or separate structures, multiple offices in the same home, or different homes, a daycare home office, etc.  This article should be enough to give you the gist, but it is always best to consult with a professional to ensure you are complying with the laws as well as getting all the deductions you deserve.

Prior articles are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog.

IRS Circular 230 Notice: To the extent this article concerns tax matters, it is not intended to be used and cannot be used by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law.

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.

Home Office Part I – New Option for 2013

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

July 26, 2013

In January, the IRS issued Revenue Procedure 2013-13 which discusses a new option for calculating the home office deduction.  (You may want to clip this article and put it in your tax file as a reminder.) Instead of tracking the actual expenses of operating your home office such as water, utilities, garbage, repairs and maintenance, depreciation, etc., you can now elect a safe harbor $5 per square foot of qualified office space, up to 300 square feet ($1,500).  It is kind of like taking a standard mileage deduction on your car instead of tracking gas and repair receipts, and calculating depreciation expense.  Unlike vehicles, however, you can switch methods back and forth from one year to the next.

There are a few interesting provisions that will make it a good option for some people, and a bad option for others.  In other words, when preparing your return you will need to analyze the short and long term impacts, and determine which method is best each year. Since the $5 per square foot figure is not adjusted by region or for inflation, individuals living in high cost states like California are at a disadvantage.

If there is more than one person in the house, such as a spouse or roommate, they can each use the safe harbor as long as they are not counting the same space.  If one person has more than one office in the home for more than one business, the person can either use actual expenses for all the businesses, or the person must use the safe harbor for all the businesses.  However, the maximum deduction allowed is still $1,500 for all the businesses in the home combined, which may have to be allocated pro rata to the businesses based on square footage used by each. If one person has qualified home offices in more than one home, the person can use the safe harbor for one home, but must use actual expenses for the other home.

When claiming the safe harbor deduction, you are allowed to take your property taxes and mortgage interest in full as itemized deductions on Schedule A as well as claiming the safe harbor deduction.  On the surface this sounds like a plus, but for self-employed individuals you are effectively converting expenses that used to be on your Schedule C reducing self-employment taxes to itemized deductions which do not reduce self-employment taxes, and perhaps do not even reduce income taxes if you do not itemize.

Another big difference when claiming the safe harbor deduction is that no depreciation expense is allowed to be taken.  Traditionally, any depreciation expense taken on your home is required to be recaptured at the time you sell your house, and you must pay tax on it.  Even the section 121 exclusion ($250,000 tax-free gain for single/$500,000 for married couples) when living in the house for two out of the last five years will not exempt you from recapture taxes.  Occasionally that can produce negative results, but it is usually helpful because it often helps people avoid income AND self-employment tax which are typically higher than recapture rates.  Nonetheless, I regularly see tax returns where no depreciation was taken on a home office, to “avoid recapture.”  This is incorrect as recapture rules require you to recapture any depreciation “allowed or allowable.”  It does not matter whether you took the deduction or not, you are technically still on the hook for the recapture.

One other notable exception in the 15 pages of new rules explaining the safe harbor is that carryover expenses are not allowed for safe harbor years.  Ordinarily, if your business produces a loss, you are not allowed to create a bigger loss from business use of home expenses with the exception of the portion of mortgage interest, property taxes, or casualty losses which would have been allowed as itemized deductions even if you had no business.  The rest of the expenses get carried over to future years until you make a profit and can use the losses.  Using the safe harbor, any loss generated by the safe harbor disappears forever.  You would be better off in these years using actual expenses in order to preserve the losses for the future.

At the end of the day, you might as well just continue to track the actual expenses, and let your tax professional figure out which method will give you the best benefit each year.

In two weeks, we will go over the basic requirements in order to claim a home office deduction.

Prior articles are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog.

IRS Circular 230 Notice: To the extent this article concerns tax matters, it is not intended to be used and cannot be used by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law.

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.