Home office deductions can save taxpayers a bundle, if they meet the tax law qualifications. However, claiming expenses for a home office has long been a red flag for an IRS audit since many people don’t qualify. But don’t be afraid to take a home office deduction if you’re entitled to it. You just need to pay close attention to the rules to ensure that you’re eligible — and that your record keeping is complete.
For Self-Employed Individuals
For self-employed individuals, a home office qualifies for deductions if it is used:
- Exclusively and regularly as your principal place of business;
- Exclusively and regularly as a place where you meet or deal with patients, clients, or customers in the normal course of your trade or business; or
- In the case of a separate structure, in connection with your trade or business.
There are also special rules for portions of a home used as a child care facility or for storage of inventory or product samples.
If you are self employed, have no other business location and perform the work at home, you should qualify. You can also qualify if you perform administrative or management activities in a home office and have no other fixed location where you can conduct such activities.
For example, suppose you’re self-employed and take orders while visiting clients. Your only location for processing orders and following up on inquiries is your home office, so it likely qualifies for a tax deduction.
Regularly meeting customers or clients at a home office also qualifies it. The key word is regularly. Seeing customers twice a month is unlikely to meet the threshold.
The exclusive use requirement is also strictly interpreted. A spare bedroom converted into a home office will probably qualify, unless your relatives use the room when they come to visit.
The rules for employees are stricter. An employee’s home office qualifies if it is:
- For the employer’s convenience and
- Required as a condition of employment.
To be a condition of your employment means it is necessary for you to properly perform your work. For example, suppose you’re an engineer who inspects construction sites during the day and performs administrative tasks at night. If your employer’s office is locked after hours, your home office would probably qualify for home office deductions if you use it to write up daily reports. In these types of cases, get a letter from your employer to substantiate the facts.
Crunching the Numbers
When computing your deduction, there are two types of expenses that are deductible — indirect and direct. Indirect expenses are those that pertain to the whole house, such as utilities and homeowners insurance. Those are apportioned based on the percentage of the space used for business.
Some expenses — such as housekeeping and gardening expenses or repairs to another room in the house — don’t qualify as an indirect expense and would not be deductible at all.
Direct expenses don’t have to be apportioned. For example, if you have a separate electric line and meter for your home office, the full amount of the electric bill for that meter would be deductible.
New Simplified Option
Starting in 2013, you can deduct a simplified safe harbor amount of $5 per square foot up to a maximum of $1,500 (300 square feet). That’s not overly generous, but it means you can itemize your full mortgage interest and real estate taxes on Schedule A of your personal tax return.
In some parts of the country, the effective savings of the new simplified option may be as much as if you claimed actual home office expenses. But if you live near a major metropolitan area, the simplified option might amount to a fraction of the actual expenses.
Keep in mind, the simplified option only makes the recordkeeping burden easier. It does not change the criteria for who can claim home office deductions. There’s no simplified method for qualifying in the first place.
Pick One Method for the Year
Below is a chart from the IRS comparing the two options for claiming home office expenses. Once you choose a method for the tax year, you cannot change to the other method for the same year. If you use the simplified method for one year and use the regular method for any subsequent year, you must calculate the depreciation deduction for the subsequent year using the appropriate optional depreciation table. This is true regardless of whether you used an optional depreciation table for the first year the property was used in business.
New Simplified Option
|Deduction for home office use of a portion of a residence allowed only if that portion is exclusively used on a regular basis for business purposes||The same rules apply|
|Allowable square footage of business home use (not to exceed 300 square feet)||Percentage of home used for business|
|Standard $5 per square foot used to determine home business deduction||Actual expenses determined and records maintained|
|Home-related itemized deductions claimed in full on Schedule A||Home-related itemized deductions apportioned between Schedule A and business Schedule C or F|
|No depreciation deduction||Depreciation deduction for portion of home used for business|
|No recapture of depreciation upon sale of home||Recapture of depreciation on gain upon sale of home|
|Deduction cannot exceed gross income from business use of the home, less business expenses||The same rules apply|
|Amount in excess of gross income limitation may not be carried over||Amount in excess of gross income limitation may be carried over|
|Loss carryover from use of regular method in prior year may not be claimed||Loss carryover from use of regular method in prior year may be claimed if gross income test is met in current year|