Claiming tax deductions for an office in your home is one of the benefits enjoyed by many home-based business operators and telecommuters. Unfortunately, there are tests that need to be met and consequences to consider before you just jump right in and claim these deductions. You need carefully consider your options for several reasons, including:
- There is some argument that claiming the Office in Home deductions makes you a target for an IRS audit. Opinions are mixed.
- The IRS has specific requirements that you must meet in order to claim these deductions. Make sure you meet the requirements to the letter.
- There are certain limitations on deductions and there are certain consequences of claiming some of the deductions, especially with regard to depreciation on your home should you decide to sell it later.
The best way to stay out of trouble is to only claim the Home Office deduction if you qualify, only to claim the expenses you are entitled to, and to properly document your expenses in case the IRS questions your eligibility or the amount of expenses you attempt to claim. When in doubt, consult a qualified tax professional (best choice) or contact the IRS for clarification - just be sure to document you communications with the IRS.
What Home Office Deductions are at Stake if You Qualify
If you meet the IRS' requirements for claiming the Home Office deduction on your tax return, you may be able to deduct a percentage of:
- Your real estate property taxes on your home
- Mortgage interest (Be careful not to claim the interest twice - once on Schedule A for your Itemized Deductions and a second time here. I've even had tax software programs trip me on this.)
- Your rent payments if you are not a home owner
- Homeowners or Renter's insurance
- Depreciation on your home (if you own)
- Painting, and repairs. (Permanent improvements are added to the basis of your home for calculating depreciation and you can then recover these if you claim deprecation as part of your Home Office deduction.)
What is a Home for Tax Purposes?
The IRS defines a “home” as a house, condominium, apartment unit, or even a boat.
Who Qualifies for the Home Office Deduction?
Self-employed individuals who operate a home-business usually find it easy to qualify for the Home Office deductions. In some cases, telecommuters may also qualify to take some of the deductions.
There are two essential requirements you must meet in order to qualify for the deduction:
- You must use that part of your home regularly and exclusively for business purposes.
- The business part of your home must be either your principal place of business or the location where you meet with clients or customers in the normal course of conducting business. For detached garage or other separate structures, the requirement is only that the building is used in connections with your trade or business. You can also claim deductions if you use an area of your home for storage of inventory or product samples.
Special Requirements for Telecommuters
If you are employed by someone else and you use part of your home for business, you need to meet the previous tests PLUS:
- Your business use of your home must be for your employer's convenience, AND
- You can't be renting any part of your home to your employer and then use the rented portion to perform services for your employer.
What is Regular and Exclusive Use to the IRS?
The IRS gives several examples of regular and exclusive use. If your home is the only location of your business - except for perhaps a PO box or mailing service that you use as a mailing address - you can pretty much expect to qualify as long as you are operating a business and not a hobby. Many of us these days have virtual businesses - we don't generally see too many live customers "in the flesh" - so we would qualify. However, you still need to meet the exclusive use requirement - that the area of the home you are claiming is only used for your business - it doesn't even need to have partition walls - and not for any personal use whatsoever.
You must use a designated part of your home for business purposes on a continuous basis—not just occasionally for business.
If you use a computer in your home office, you cannot use this computer to send personal e-mails as doing so would disqualify you from taking the home office deduction. You can use the area of your home for more than one business but you cannot mix business with personal use.
IRS Exclusive Use Exceptions
The IRS provides that you do not have to meet the exclusive use requirement in either of these two cases:
- You operate a licensed day care center in your home.
- You store inventory or products for sale in your business.
In cases that meet these exceptions, personal use and business use may be mixed. With regard to inventory storage, you can only have mixed use of the area you use for storage if you do not have any other business location besides your home.
More IRS Restrictions and Requirements
Hang on to your hats. It even gets to be more fun to try to understand the IRS guidelines if you have more than one business location because you then have to show that your home is your principal place of business. To confuse the issue even more, a home will automatically qualify as a principal place of business if you conduct administrative or management activities of your business solely from your home and no other fixed location. For example, if you're a consultant, you may work at client sites and do all of your bookkeeping and invoicing from your home office. You would qualify because your are conducting administrative or management activities solely from your home.